Coro­n­avirus: How po­lit­i­cal lead­ers’ reck­less­ness en­dan­gers Nige­ri­ans


As the chief of staff to Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari, Abba Kyari is the chief priest of the in­ner sanc­tum of the pres­i­dency, a buf­fer against ev­ery un­de­sir­able in­flu­ence. Now he is its greatest threat.

Kyari re­cently vis­ited three coun­tries that are cur­rently deal­ing with a sig­nif­i­cant COVID-19 emer­gency. He went to Germany on March 10, 2020, in the com­pany of Saleh Mam­man, min­is­ter of power, and James Mo­moh, ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, Nige­rian Elec­tric­ity Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion, for dis­cus­sions with Siemens on im­prov­ing the coun­try’s power sup­ply. They re­turned to Nige­ria on March 14, pass­ing through the United

King­dom and Egypt.

Upon his re­turn, Kyari did not fol­low guide­lines by the Nige­rian Cen­tre for Dis­eases Con­trol ( NCDC) to self- iso­late for 14 days, thus en­dan­ger­ing ev­ery­one that came in contact with him, in­clud­ing

the pres­i­dent.

Pres­i­dent Buhari and Vice Pres­i­dent Os­in­bajo are self­iso­lat­ing, though they have both tested neg­a­tive, but ex­perts say it is a close call for Nige­ria where the health­care sys­tem is un­der­equipped to deal with the pan­demic.

On March 21, Kyari wrote a let­ter which was leaked on so­cial me­dia rais­ing alarm about re­peated vi­o­la­tions of screen­ing pro­ce­dures at the na­tion’s air­ports by law­mak­ers. He coun­selled Femi Gba­jabi­amila, speaker of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, to im­me­di­ately rein in the ex­cesses of law­mak­ers and ask all those who have re­fused to sub­mit to a med­i­cal test for COVID-19 to re­port them­selves at the screen­ing cen­tres across the coun­try.

Yet, Kyari failed to heed his own coun­sel.

The NCDC guide­lines re­quire all re­turn­ing trav­ellers to Nige­ria and any­one who has been in close contact with a con­firmed case of COVID-19 to self-iso­late. The guide­lines stip­u­late how re­turnees are re­quired to move from ar­rival point in Nige­ria to place of self-iso­la­tion where they would be mon­i­tored dur­ing the 14-day pe­riod.

Kyari did not ob­serve any of these. On March 16, he met with Adams Osh­iom­hole, chair­man of the All Pro­gres­sives Congress (APC), to re­solve the im­passe within the APC leadership.

On March 17, he led a del­e­ga­tion which com­prised Ge­orge Akume, min­is­ter of spe­cial du­ties, Lai Mohammed, min­is­ter of in­for­ma­tion, cul­ture, and tourism, Ra­matu Ti­j­jani, min­is­ter of state for FCT, Zubair Dada, min­is­ter of state for for­eign af­fairs, and Garba Shehu, pres­i­dent’s spokesman, on a con­do­lence visit to Ya­haya Bello, Kogi State gov­er­nor, over the death of his mother.

On March 18, Kyari met with Pres­i­dent buhari in the aso rock Villa, with other guests present. That same day, he at­tended the Fed­eral ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil( fec) along­side the vice pres­i­dent and most of the min­is­ters.

Kyari also at­tended a meet­ing of the Pres­i­den­tial Task Force tasked with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of co­or­di­nat­ing the coun­try’s re­sponse to the pan­demic on March 21. In at­ten­dance at the meet­ing were min­is­ters of health, avi­a­tion, and hu­man­i­tar­ian af­fairs as well as the direc­tor-gen­eral of the NCDC. That same day he at­tended a wedding cer­e­mony which had in at­ten­dance Gover­nors Ab­dul­lahi Umar Gan­duje of Kano State and Bello Masari of Katsina State.

Mam­man too was seen days later re­ceiv­ing guests, in­clud­ing a US of­fi­cial, and also at­tended the last FEC meet­ing.

Some of Nige­ria’s law­mak­ers too, af­ter re­turn­ing from trips to high-risk coun­tries, also failed to self-iso­late. Se­nate Pres­i­dent Ahmed Lawan had to di­rect mem­bers a few days ago to ob­serve iso­la­tion af­ter re­turn­ing from trips abroad.

As of March 25, Nige­ria has recorded 46 cases of COVID-19 in­fec­tions and apart from a case of com­mu­nity trans­mis­sion, all have been from per­sons who re­turned from high-risk coun­tries and in many cases only pre­sented them­selves for tests af­ter symp­toms man­i­fested.

Since Kyari tested pos­i­tive to COVID-19, Nige­ri­ans have ex­pressed pro­found out­rage over the reck­less­ness of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers who re­turned from high-risk coun­tries without ob­serv­ing iso­la­tion but rather chose to ex­pose more peo­ple to the virus.

“It is sad that the po­lit­i­cal class is lead­ing this gross act of ir­re­spon­si­bil­ity,” said Ukachi Chukwu, a broad­cast jour­nal­ist, on Facebook.

“Kyari re­turned from a trip abroad and re­fused to iso­late…more im­por­tantly, he ex­posed the pres­i­dent to the virus. If the po­lit­i­cal class will not obey in­struc­tions and self­iso­late, how can they ex­pect or­di­nary cit­i­zens to do (the) same?” Chukwu queried.

To be clear, ne­go­ti­at­ing a power deal is not the re­mit of Kyari, any more than be­ing on the board of the na­tional oil com­pany, but with wide pow­ers con­ferred on the pres­i­dent’s chief of staff, a po­si­tion that is merely ad­min­is­tra­tive and doesn’t even re­quire se­nate con­fir­ma­tion, Kyari su­per­in­tends over even govern­ment’s min­istries, ef­fec­tively run­ning govern­ment.

Chikwe Ihek­weazu, head of the Nige­rian Cen­tre for Dis­ease Con­trol (NCDC), could not be reached for com­ment on this re­port. Calls to his phone Wed­nes­day morn­ing were not an­swered.

How­ever, the agency had said it would not pro­vide de­tails of the in­di­vid­u­als that had been tested and their test results.

In the UK and other parts of Europe, leg­is­la­tions man­dat­ing sanc­tions and fines have been passed to deal with reck­less per­sons who fail to self-iso­late. In Nige­ria, Health Min­is­ter Osagie Ehanire threat­ened to pub­lish the names of those who failed to self-iso­late, but noth­ing fur­ther has been heard on the mat­ter.

In the ab­sence of of­fi­cial sanc­tions for vi­o­lat­ing the guide­line on self-iso­la­tion, as those who should pass and en­force the law are them­selves reck­less, some Nige­ri­ans may be tak­ing a cue from their lead­ers, lead­ing to the call for those who at­tended the Africa Magic View­ers’ Choice Awards (AMVCA) on March 14 to self-iso­late as some­one who re­turned from the UK and at­tended the event tested pos­i­tive.

If Nige­ri­ans take a cue from their leadership on com­pli­ance with health and safety mea­sures, it would take less than a week for Nige­ria to be in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion as Italy given the weak health in­fra­struc­ture in the coun­try.

“De­spite hav­ing a three­month head start, and with the aware­ness that the na­tion’s weak health in­fra­struc­ture would crum­ble un­der the strain of a full-blown out­break of the pan­demic, Nige­ria failed to pre­pare ad­e­quately,” Olare­waju Ru­fai, a fi­nan­cial and strat­egy an­a­lyst, wrote in a com­men­tary for Busi­ness­day.

“Now, the na­tion is seem­ingly speed­ing to­ward a health and eco­nomic catas­tro­phe,” Ru­fai said.

Nige­ria cur­rently has less than 500 ven­ti­la­tors across the 36 states and the FCT, a med­i­cal doc­tor at LUTH said. The bed ca­pac­ity of hos­pi­tals in Nige­ria is half-a-bed for 1,000 peo­ple and there are less than one doc­tor for ev­ery 4,000 Nige­ri­ans.

Nige­ria’s health ex­pen­di­ture as a per­cent­age of the Gross Do­mes­tic Prod­uct (GDP) av­er­aged 3.4 per­cent be­tween 2007 and 2016, com­pared with South Africa (6.5 per­cent) and Kenya (4.5 per­cent), ac­cord­ing to data sourced from the World Bank.

The un­der­in­vest­ment in the coun­try’s health­care fol­lows years of ne­glect by the po­lit­i­cal elite who have pro­moted med­i­cal tourism of other coun­tries.

In 2016, Pres­i­dent Buhari trav­elled to Lon­don over an ear in­fec­tion. A year later he was back again in the coun­try for undis­closed med­i­cal causes.

Pres­i­dent Buhari in 2017 spent no less than 150 days abroad on separate med­i­cal tourism trips that by some es­ti­mates cost the coun­try around £250 per hour for med­i­cal care dur­ing his stay at the UK. Garba Shehu, the pres­i­dent’s spokesper­son, in 2017 said the cost of keep­ing the pres­i­den­tial air­craft on standby in Lon­don air­port is $1,300 per day, deny­ing claims it cost £4,000.

Us­ing con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mates of 100 days and former of­fi­cial rate of 306/$ (which was the rate at that time), the trip to UK alone cost Nige­ria $130,000 or N39.78 mil­lion (306/$) ex­clud­ing cost of med­i­cal care, feed­ing and sim­i­lar costs.

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