In a continent where, since independence era in the late 1950s, local rule has proved worse substitute for colonial administration, Nigeria, we must agree, is not only lucky but also blessed with ever alert citizenry compelling local emperors to account for their actions. While not completely perfect or politically detached, these society guards, well educated in their own right, are there for their value and sincerely speaking, if stripped of their nuisance value, must also be adored for their patriotism, without which our story might have been disastrously different.
Inevitably, side by side with them are opportunists and self-serving unsolicited seasonal advocates, akin to split personalities with, unknown to the public, one role in the day and romance with the government at night in search of goodies for their ever-nodding dogs. Either group was at its best in faulting President Muhammadu Buhari for delayed action, more at that time inaction, on coronavirus fast spreading all over the world. Obviously, as an ex-military officer, Buhari, even with his back to the wall, has acquired the image of never headaching.
Hence, all the expectation that Buhari should speak on coronavirus ravaging Europe, Britain, United States, Far East, especially China and South Korea. Surely, the prospects were there that, eventually, the plague would spread to Africa. But even till now, comparatively, the continent is not much hit by the virus as are developed countries. Perhaps, coronavirus found Africa too underdeveloped to thrive here. But on a serious note, out of the 40,000 deaths so far recorded all over world, barely 1,000 if not less occurred in Africa, and Nigeria’s toll is less than four.
Put in a better way, could the three or even two Nigerian fatal victims have been saved if Buhari had spoken earlier? Critics must be crediting him with magic tongue. If speaking out four to six weeks ago could have saved fatal victims, why did America’s Donald Trump’s daily briefings not save over 4,000 dead in that country so far? Despite Trump’s daily briefing, American medical experts have prepared people’s mind for up to 200,000 more to die and, indeed, in the worst case, up to two million Americans to die. Was that because Trump failed to address or was too late to address the nation?
How did it happen that over 10,000 Spaniards and similar number died in Italy, victims of coronavirus? Was it because their respective leaders failed to address them? What do we say of Britain? Prime Minister Boris Johnson took to the podium to daily address the nation on how to avoid the fatal blow of coronavirus only for himself and heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, to be infected. Prince Charles only lately successfully completed treatment. On the other hand, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still in self-isolation but continues to administer Britain without any tension. That should be noted. In Nigeria, the mob would have taken over, demanding his resignation.
After Buhari spoke to the nation, has that necessarily enhanced Nigeria’s chances of completely surviving or even minimising potential fatalities of coronavirus? What should he say but left out? The valid point has been made that Nigeria is ill-equipped to battle coronavirus. Is that peculiar to Nigeria or should it be Buhari’s fault? Are Britain and United States better placed? Why is New York governor Andrew Cuomo on the neck of President Trump every day demanding funds and medical equipment with which to combat the plague? By the way, New York state is the hardest hit by coronavirus. But even the greatest and most powerful country in the world, United States, is not well equipped to combat coronavirus. While New York governor Cuomo is demanding 10,000 medical kit/equipment from the federal government, all President Trump could supply was mere 400 (not 4,000). Hence New Yorkers are dying in hundreds these days than any other state in the country.
In contrast, as Lagos State is the centre of patients of coronavirus, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu has emerged hero of the moment, without necessarily forgetting federal health minister, Osagie Ehanire, whose effective communication skill stands him out. Obviously, because Sanwo-Olu constantly briefed Aso Rock on the magnitude of his task and in appreciation of his efforts (much to the enhancement of Nigeria’s image in the battle against coronavirus), Federal Government (through Buhari) released N10 billion to Lagos State government. He also appealed to comfortable Nigerians to donate towads special fund for the expected battle against coronavirus. Would it have been fair to Governor Sanwo-Olu to be robbed of his glory if Buhari had intervened? Even till today, the coronavirus is largely limited to Lagos State and the governor is coping with his responsibility in that regard.
The impression all along that only Federal Government (specifically Buhari) could and should be handling the coronavirus problem was untenable. The present situation in which each state is handling it is what federalism is all about. It is the same situation in the most notable federal republic, United States, where each of the 50 states is handling the issue and federal government is providing the wherewithal. There are other similarities. New York is to United States what Lagos is to Nigeria. New York was America’s former capital, just like Lagos was Nigeria’s former capital. But, till today, New York and Lagos remain the commercial capitals of the two respective countries. Also, New York and Lagos states are the worst hit by coronavirus in America and Nigeria. There the similarities end. Yet, in Nigeria, President Buhari (surely, not ignorantly) was being stampeded to assume an authority not only unobtainable under Nigerian constitution, but (the same authority) America’s President Thump was being warned not to contemplate in his country. Overwhelmed by fatality figures in New York State, President Trump hinted that he might within the next few hours, order lockdown of the state. Instantly, Governor Andrew Cuomo countered and without mincing words that any such order by President Trump would amount to declaration of (civil) war and would be challenged in court, a political classic, which always brings the country on edge.
President Trump immediately piped down and ordered a travel advisory be sent to Governor Cuomo. The New York governor did not stop at that victory. Here in Nigeria, one state after another has been closing borders with another state. In the United States, Rhodes Island was reported to be closing its border with NewYork state, which in effect would have trapped New Yorkers returning from Rhodes Island. New York governor Cuomo considered such closure illegal and would contest it in court. On the other hand, in Nigeria, autonomy of component states or might of federal authorities is rubbished at every convenience
By far, one issue, which the coronavirus row has solved is whether Federal Government has the power to order lockdown in any state and, if so, without necessary approval of parliament? And, if so, on what basis? As it happened, the power of Federal Government is not exclusive, as states can also order closure in a situation of health hazard. Such state(s) would only formally inform Aso Rock, whose consent, more than likely, would easily be forthcoming. By the time Buhari acted, he merely ratified an already existing situation in Lagos/Ogun states as well as Abuja. But critics still emerged on the ground that Buhari acted unlawfully without th consent of parliament. Federal attorney-general Abubakar Malami stood his ground that Buhari acted within his powers.
Critics, especially lawyers, should have alerted all along on the need for Buhari to obtain parliamentary approval. Such alert would not necessarily be against or in support of Buhari. Instead, society would have been enlightened on such tricky issue. Failing to do this, a lawyer already threatened to sue against Buhari’s alleged violation of his freedom of movement in Lagos State. The stage was thus set for an epic legal battle except that such action would have to wait for the resumption of law courts throughout the country, forced on vacation by coronavirus.
Apparently, the legal combatants never reckoned with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who waded in and waved an almost a century-old Quarantine Act under which President Buhari derives the power to close down any part of the country for health purposes or against health hazard. All arguments suddenly ended. In boxing, such decision is sourced to technical knockout (TKO) and in the card game, a joker, which snatches victory, whatever the situation. Osinbajo thereby, once again, displays his element as the strongest complement in Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency, with such confidence, such authority and yet such modesty.