Northern govs’ uninspiring response to COVID-19 crisis by Nigeria Punch Newspapers Editorial Board

SEVERE danger lies ahead of Nigeria in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, particularly with the stance of the Northern Governors’ Forum on locking down the region. In spite of the escalation in the rate of infections and deaths from COVID-19, the NGF, at its last virtual meeting, decided that it would not prescribe a lockdown of the region. Essentially, the body of governors in the 19 northern states cited the economic losses that would arise from such action. That decision is wrong and shows that these governors are not handling the pandemic scientifically.

Among other factors, the chairman of the forum and the Plateau State helmsman, Simon Lalong, said the region could not afford to shut down because of the onset of the rainy season, arguing that doing so would imperil agriculture, the region’s mainstay. Instead, the NGF advised individual states to impose their own measures to curb the spread of the plague, which had infected over 2.59 million persons and killed more than 179,000 as of Wednesday.

These are genuine concerns, but they are not enough to prevent a total lockdown of states that have recorded high rates of infections. Economically, a lockdown entails serious costs to society. The health crisis stares nations in the face with the International Monetary Fund projecting that the global economy will shrink by 3.0 per cent this year because of the pandemic. It says 170 countries will experience a negative GDP per capita growth in 2020. China, where it all began in December, has seen its GDP shrink for the first time in four decades by 6.8 per cent in the first quarter 2020. In particular, the IMF projected that sub-Saharan Africa would experience a negative growth rate of -1.6 per cent, the worst fall since 1970. Certainly, the situation is bad for everyone.

Yet, human life is worth protecting at all costs. Powerful nations, including the United States, Italy, the United Kingdom, Spain, Iran, South Korea and China have witnessed excruciating COVID-19 death tolls. Despite the scientific advancement in many of these countries, their systems have been overwhelmed. No country is sure of when the virus will recede and normal life resume.

In combating the scourge, governments have locked down 4.5 billion people or more than half of the global population. Primarily, this is the most potent remedy for now; highly recommended by the World Health Organisation. It says shutting down cities is the best way to break the chain of infection notwithstanding the negative impact on economies, perhaps because an economy can recover, but a life lost is gone forever. India decreed the world’s largest lockdown beginning on March 25. Asia’s third largest economy has just extended the measure until May 3. On their own, the worst hit states there including Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Odisha have already ordered extensions. Just like Northern Nigeria, the nation of 1.3 billion people, whose economic heart is still farming, is heading into the most important harvest time of the year, but it has refused to lift the restrictions. As of April 14, India had only 339 COVID-19 deaths and 10,000 infections. Comparatively, the infections and deaths spiked in the countries that were late in ordering a lockdown.

Therefore, it is alarming that the NGF is showing indifference to this pandemic that may be too costly to handle. Since their last video conference, the plague has extended to Kaduna, Katsina, Borno, Adamawa, Jigawa, Bauchi and Niger. As of Wednesday, the pandemic has spread to Kano and Benue.

Kaduna, Kogi, Nasarawa and Niger states all share boundaries with the Federal Capital Territory, which has the second highest cases in the country. Within a week of the NGF’s decision, the rate of infection in Kano surged dramatically to 37 and one death. It thus became the third most afflicted place in Nigeria.

With the North densely populated, the NGF should face reality and review its decision insofar as the region is also home to a high population of almajiris. These itinerant child beggars are vulnerable to the disease. Potentially, this constitutes great danger ahead for the bigger society. The idea of reopening the states for religious activities, as it was done earlier this April, is unnecessary.

The forum should take cognisance of the fact that as a whole, the health system in Nigeria is in a crisis, more especially in the North. As of the time of the NGF’s meeting, there was no COVID-19 testing centre in the entire North, Lalong said. Isolation centres, where infected patients are treated, are not as common as in other parts of the country. This should guide the NGF to undertake a methodical review of the North’s response to the deadly virus.

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