By Washington Osa Osifo, Esq.
The Coronavirus pandemic has globally exposed governments and authorities to the highest form of public test and scrutiny. Many highly rated political leaders have been caught flatfooted having failed to demonstrate capacity in the face of the deadly threat of mass annihilation.
In Nigeria, the Governor of Lagos State and his Commissioner for health have so far written their names in Gold in the heart of Nigerians and of the World. Not only have they demonstrated knowledge and insight on the subject matter, they have taken policy steps and actions that have continued to assure the World and the Nation that Nigeria is on top of the situation. May God continue to guide them against any slip!
Here, in Edo State, the citizens have been exposed to all forms of possibilities and almost abandoned to their fate but for the daily updates by the Presidential tasks force on COVID19. While citizens waited to hear from their Governor to provide strong leadership, the photographs of the Governor shaking hands with the Bauchi State Governor and the Chief of Staff to the President who had tested positive to COVID19 conspicuously adorned publications in the social media.
After bracing up from initial state of quandary and goaded by the outcome of test conducted, Edo people heaved a sigh of relief when Government House announced that the Governor had tested negative to COVID19.
That was followed by an usual long period of self isolation which has seemingly become endless. There have been an uneasy lull in government activities, broken twice by uninspiring but well choreographed broadcast by the Governor from his residence. The unusual set up and the demeanour of the Governor spoke louder than his voice could convey.
The point to note, is the fact that many people, among them Governors, who tested positive to COVID19 have returned to work. Edo State citizens would have fared better if their Governor, like his colleagues who tested negative had stepped out full of life and vigor to identify, encourage and inspire the people at this very uncertain and trying times!
While the State awaited a roll out of a welfare package to cushion the effect of work restrictions and stay-at home order of Government, they were visited with a tyrannical order labeled as ‘No Face Mask, No Movement ‘order. The order mandates every citizen to acquire and wear face mask before going anywhere outside their homes and residential places.
There is no doubt that Government has the responsibility to make policies in response to challenges and problems confronting the society. But while seeking to solve identified problems, a good policy must not create new set of problems.
In other words, the process of formulating policies must take into account the nature of the problem, identify the causes, identify possible solutions, evaluate costs and benefits of the solutions and design an efficient strategy for its implementation in order to serve public interest. The policy of “No face mask, no movement”, in my view did not apparently go through the time tested bureaucratic processes of decision making and therefore, not protective of the largely vulnerable people of Edo State. It is whimsical and impulsive!
First, as someone who understands the meaning and import of expert opinions in the language and spirit of the Law, it wouldn’t be an overview to reiterate that medical experts, in several fora have repeatedly said that it is not needful for individuals not on the frontline of the fight against COVID19 to wear hand gloves and face masks for several reasons. Besides, the specification of face mask for COVID19 is different from the one required for other viruses and other medical interventions.
Second, face masks are disposable and not readily available. Each one cost a minimum of N500.00 if available. It means, a food stuff dealer or anyone no matter how highly or lowly placed in the society, would be required to spend an average of N15, 000.00 a month to protect himself/ herself. The logical question to ask therefore would be, in the obvious fact of penury and very low or no income, how many Edo citizens will be able to afford N15, 000 per month for protective gadget? Government has so far not addressed the question of availability and affordability of the commodity.
Worse still, it is speculated that some imported face masks are infected by COVID19. As ridiculous and incredible as the allegation may sound, it cannot be brushed aside by the wave of the hand. Therefore, no responsible government will enforce a policy of this nature without allaying the fears of the people and addressing other critical issues associated with her pronouncement.
In a sane society where the interest of the people is uppermost, the leader is expected to demonstrate empathy and compassion in the formulation and implementation of State policies especially at critical times like this. I find these critical twin elements of empathy and compassion manifestly missing in the “No face masks no movement” order.
I enjoin all political, traditional, religious, civil society and community leaders, and all men of good conscience and gravitas in the State to promptly call on Governor Godwin Obaseki to immediately withdraw the poorly incubated policy. It is thoughtless, obnoxious, repulsive to good conscience and not implementable. We owe it a duty to save our people from imminent harassment, intimidation and exploitation by a compromised and debauched security agencies of Government.
The mandatory order of “No face masks, no movement” as solution to the spread of COVID19 is scientifically incongruous with the opinion of medical experts including the findings by WHO. Therefore, it is an unnecessary imposition of additional cost on an already overstressed and over burdened populace, most of whom are, in most cases grappling with abject poverty,excessively high cost of living and huge loss of income with little or no compensation.
If the government in her characteristic display of blind courage and legendary lack of compassion insist on going ahead with her dictatorial and high handed commandment, she must in the least ensure their availability across the state at no cost to the people; at least, the vulnerable poorest of the poor. It is only then that any form of enforcement should be contemplated!
The idea of making plans for local production of face masks by the association of tailors is one flash of light from the dark tunnel of government flip flops on the matter. In order to be taking seriously, the plan must be transparent and comprehensive enough to include specifications and projected targets in terms of quality along with timelines.
It therefore stands to reason that until the right specification and quantity are produced and tested for quality assurance, the policy must be put on hold. More so, as government do not seem to have the capacity or plan to immediately import the right quality and quantity of face masks required in Edo State available for the people at no cost!
I wish to appeal to the people of Edo State to remain calm, alert and obedient to the laws of the land! However, the “No face mask, no movement” policy in my opinion does enjoy wide public support, neither does it enjoy endorsement by any known legitimate experts opinion.
Consequently, it is my considered opinion that the “No face mask no movement ” order cannot produce positive outcomes intended at this material time. It is ill advised and completely anti people! It must therefore, be withdrawn forthwith!