OPINION: COVID-19 AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENT UNHEALTHY RIVALRY WITH OYO STATE
The incident of COVID-19 in Oyo State, one of the states most ravaged by the rampaging novel virus, and the apparent inadequacy of funds at the state’s disposal, worsened by what seems like a dramatic avoidance of the state by the Federal Government, can potentially snowball into a full blown pandemic (God forbid) if the state does not receive the urgently needed adequate support from the Federal Government and other prospective sources.
The World Health Organisation has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. This has a myriad of implications! Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi, at a press conference recently, projected 3,000 plus cases in the state and, truly, the figures are rising, but it is comforting to know that the state has received, very promptly, a grant of N10bn from the Federal Government in addition to whopping donations from individuals and corporate organisations.
Lagos State, being the hub of Nigeria’s big businesses, is self-sufficient with monthly internally generated revenue of about N45bn. The state is, therefore, in a better stead to manage emergencies and forestall possible escalation of the virus. While Ogun State, another hub of Nigeria’s big businesses, has received food items and other relief materials from the Federal Government, Oyo State, unfortunately, has not received anything! The neglect of Oyo State, or perhaps a national oversight, will be counterproductive to what should be a concerted fight against COVID-19 and, ultimately, to winning the battle against it.
The Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, at a recent press briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, announced the provision of 1,000 bed-space treatment and isolation centres for COVID-19 patients in the FCT with the capacity for expansion. Of course, Federal Government has the funds; when N10bn was given to Lagos State, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control received N5bn.
As part of steps in the first line of action to curb the spread of COVID-19, it would have been reasonably logical for the Federal Government to extend early assistance to all affected states, particularly the worst hit, at the same time. If Lagos, despite its high income viability, requires huge assistance to effectively combat COVID-19, Oyo State definitely requires overwhelming support of the Federal Government and other prospective donors. The frank truth and the reality of the present situation is that Oyo State, like some other affected states, lacks the enormous financial resources required to effectively tackle COVID-19.
The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele has been variously quoted on the colossal amount of money that Nigeria would need to combat the dreaded virus.
President Mohammadu Buhari should explain to Nigerians why he placed a lockdown on Lagos and Ogun states, exempting Oyo State, when the three neighbouring states are already caught in the web of COVID-19.
Perhaps, the President could argue that he does not necessarily have to be the authority to pronounce a lockdown on a state because the constitution also empowers governors to do so. While a lockdown is not even considered the best option for Oyo State at the moment, the exclusion of the state from the lockdown, under the prevailing circumstances, signals a strong political bias. By the exclusion, it is possible that the president has technically avoided rendering certain obligatory assistance – that should normally be rendered – had the state been covered. When there is no cause, there is no effect! Obviously, Oyo State is not an All Progressives Congress state and, incidentally, the only Peoples Democratic Party state in the South-West for now. Could that be the reason for the exclusion?
In reality, the implications of a total lockdown are far beyond the capacity of any state government, and the consequent social issues are better imagined than experienced. If Lagos State could not embark on a total lockdown until the FG did, it would be pretty difficult for any state government to do so without adequate resources to care for the masses. Even by the third day of the presidential lockdown, the rules have been relaxed to allow markets to open between 10am and 2pm daily, so that people can buy foodstuff, and the level of compliance with the order is dwindling by the day even in Lagos and the FCT.
The reality of a total lockdown is remote in a country where the governments do not have comprehensive data of their citizens. People will just be subjected to a cycle of ‘corona frustration and suffering.’ I guess these are the realities that restrained Governor Seyi Makinde from the option of a total lockdown, particularly the challenge of inadequate resources. So far, so good, GSM’s ingenuity of 7pm to 6am curfew in the state has been effective and, I think, productive.
The much-needed collaborative fight against the novel coronavirus in the country may suffer progressive setbacks if the Federal Government continues to play politics with financial assistance and distribution of relief materials to the affected states. COVID-19 is, of course, a subject of national emergency. The entire country is nearly on a shutdown while top government officials and experts have been working round the clock to battle the virus. At this juncture, Federal Government should repent of its indifferent posture to some states with the virus and correct evidential politicisation of funds and materials given to them. Neglecting any of the affected states in the Federal Government’s so-called holistic approach for containment of the virus will be tantamount to a waste of human and material resources.
If the concerted fight against COVID-19 must be won, states with the infection must be factored, constantly, into the holistic strategic actions for containing the virus. For instance, Oyo State shares boundaries with Ogun and Lagos states. The interstate trade volume among the states is enormous, resulting in influx of traders travelling rapidly within the three states. If Lagos and Ogun are finally rid of COVID-19 and Oyo is still battling the virus, is there victory anywhere? The lockdown imposed on Lagos and Ogun states by the Federal Government, leaving out their next-door neighbour, Oyo State, will surely lead to migration of people from the two states to Oyo State, a development that will further complicate issues.
Few months ago, when commercial motorcycle riders popularly called Okada riders were banned in Lagos, many of the riders found their way to the neighbouring states. The Federal Government, henceforth, needs to properly weight the likely consequences of its decisions before implementation. Oyo State deserves, very urgently, the magnitude of support given to Lagos and Ogun states by the Federal Government. With the Brent Crude presently selling at $32 per barrel in the international market, there is likelihood of a significant reduction in the monthly federal allocation that will accrue to states subsequently. This will further worsen situations in the affected states. Consequently, this is not the time for politics of neglect.
Governor Makinde’s unarguable dividends of good governance in the state are not particularly of interest to me at the moment. However, in all fairness, I cannot ignore them because they top issues of public opinion among the citizens. The governor, in less than a year, has made indelible giant strides in the state, and he is reputedly prudent with the state’s financial resources. Prompt payment of salaries; implementation of the new minimum wage without the usual hullabaloo; regular payment of pension to retirees; deliberate denial of statutory official rights and privileges of political office holders; improved security architecture; improved budgetary allocation to the education sector and a host of other ‘breakthroughs’ are remarkable feats of his administration frequently mentioned in public domain, and they attest to the financial frugality of his administration. If we recall our experiences in the state, we will be quick to say that those achievements are no mean feats.
But now, citizens of the state are particularly worried that the state’s spendings on COVID-19 might halt the progress of the state. Although coronavirus pandemic is not peculiar to the state, lack of support by the Federal Government, as done to Lagos and Ogun states, constitutes a great worry. Dear President Muhammadu Buhari, people of Oyo State are Nigerians. This is the time for Your Excellency to be apolitical and demonstrate the true spirit of nationalism, patriotism, and unity.