For several months, beginning August, 2019, Ripples Nigeria took on the task of ranking Nigerian governors based, among others, on policy initiatives and execution.
In March, we deviated from the tradition and appraised the governors on the strength of their individual responses to the COVID-19 pandemic which had gripped the world. Our regular template (Top 5, Bottom 5 ) was retained.
Because the pandemic remains both a local and international threat, we are forced by existential realities to continue the use of the COVID-19 parameter as a yardstick to measure how well Nigerian governors acquitted themselves in April, 2020, in the area of ideas generation and execution.
The Nigerian landscape in the month under review throws up very disappointing scenarios, leading to conclusions that Nigerian governors have returned less than below average performance.
We are disturbed that the COVID-19 pandemic seems, in the main, to have presented these helmsmen an opportunity for grandstanding and fund shopping.
We acknowledge the efforts made by a sprinkle of governors but quickly add that their contributions have been largely drowned by the incompetence of many others which have bred widespread discontent in the land.
So, for the month of April, we shall, instead of a ranking, examine some broad areas considered germaine to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and how Nigerian governors have generally performed, acknowledging in the process, whoever appeared to have done anything worth mentioning.
These areas of concern include management of Palliatives, Security and Enforcement of Quarantine Rules, Contact Tracing and Sample Collection, Communication, Accountability and Transparency. Attempt will also be made to appraise the resourcefulness of the governors in harnessing innovative ideas and building synergy with different strategic publics for purpose of containing the pandemic.
One of the things that arguably defeated the lockdown order across many states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and ultimately exposed the level of incompetence in governance is the issue of palliatives for the poor and the vulnerable in the society.
In many states, especially in Delta, there were protests in Sapele and altercation with security agents in Warri, as locals insisted they could stay at home, running from the COVID-19 virus only to killed by what they described as the ‘hunger virus’.
In others, like Lagos, where government made actual moves to provide some form of palliatives for residents, the exercises were reported to have been mired in controversies and widespread disappointments.
For instance, while the administration of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu promised food stuff for 250,000 households to last two weeks, what came out of the exercise left sour grapes in the mouth.
The social media were replete with videos of overcrowded lines of people trying to access palliatives in different parts of the state only to end up with almost empty bags that could barely meet the needs of one person, while others claimed to have gotten such for a whole street.
We are concerned that the state governors may never have planned to adequately support residents and citizens of their states to get through with total or partial lock downs or that their intentions were hijacked by politicians who took advantage, as usual, of government’s lack of proper planning to derail it for their own selfish interests.
We searched for shinning examples and dare say that no Nigerian Governor delivered anything spectacular in the area of palliatives for the poor and vulnerable in the society.
Who needs quarantine rules?
At the beginning, most of the governors made a grand show of the various orders shutting their state borders, restricting entry and exit as a way of stopping inter-state transmission of the virus, even before the Federal Government banned interstate travels and imposed lockdown in some parts of the country.
It is worrisome to note that most of the orders have largely remained cosmetic, as Nigerians continued to cross state borders, importing the virus from one state to the other.
From reports, vehicles continue to convey passengers to different parts of the country, especially between the Northern parts of the country to the Southwest and vice versa, in flagrant disregard for the ban on interstate travels.
Even more worrisome is the ease of movement noticed within states, especially in Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, where total lockdown was imposed and meant to be enforced.
Special mention must be made of Borno State as the state remained free from the virus for a long time only to, for lack of adequate monitoring and enforcement of the rules, join the league of virus infected states, that have unfortunately contributed significantly to the number of fatalities too.
Two events illustrate the inadequate response or lack of it in Borno. These are the 3rd day prayers held for the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, Mallam Abba Kyari and the burial of the father of the former Governor of the state, Ali Modu Sheriff. Both drew a large number of persons with near total disregard for the COVID-19 protocol on social distancing.
For Governor Babagana Zulum, a man many see as a fresh breath in the governance of the state, leading many to these events without a care for its larger implications left much to be desired.
We would, however, acknowledge the efforts of three governors namely Nyesom Wike of Rivers, Ben Ayade of Cross River and David Umahi of Ebonyi for their vehement insistence on enforcing the restrictions ordered to help control the spread of the virus in their states.
Though some of their decisions may appear unpopular, high handed, potentially infringing on peoples rights and antagonistic of other arms of government, they have undoubtedly showed good leadership in a time like this, with a resolute mindset that put the health and safety of their people first.
Living in pretentious denial
It is over two months since the outbreak of COVID-19 and many state governments are still unprepared, especially in the area of contact tracing and sample collection.
It’s a shame that some appear to be somewhat unwilling to exercise the initiative required in contact tracing and sample collection, only waiting for citizens to come forward to say they have symptoms.
Kano State, just like many others up North, might have been spared the spike in confirmed cases if the state Governor, Abdulahi Ganduje, had attacked the pandemic with a bit more seriousness and embarked on aggressive contact tracing and sample collection when the index case was confirmed in the state.
More disturbing, in our estimation, is the fact that even with the spike, the state government continues to play cheap politics with a life and death situation, leading to avoidable deaths.
The same goes for Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State, who, from the day cases were confirmed in the state, chose to play cover up games. Of great concern are allegations that he might have sacked a top official of his team for aggressively pursuing sample collection and testing in the state.
The sack of Dr. Aniekeme Uwah, the Chief Epidemiologist of Akwa Ibom State, brings to the fore concerns in many quarters that there may be under reporting in the number of cases in the country.
Dr. Uwah was reportedly sacked by the state government for going against the instruction of the Commissioner for Health, Dominic Ukpong that not more 10 people should be tested in a day for the COVID-19 disease.
It is a shame that the governor has been so mentioned for allegedly insisting that random testing is not a necessity for the state.
For Kogi and Cross River states, though they have remained without any confirmed case, it is doubtful if the governors of the two states can confidently continue to claim that their states are completely free of COVID-19 without testing persons of interest, or embarking on random tests of people, especially with the knowledge that some carriers of the virus may be asymptomatic.
We however acknowledge the efforts of Lagos, Oyo, and Edo governments for their proactive and aggressive approach in the areas of contact tracing and sample collection, which no doubt have led to a spike in the number of confirmed cases.
Lagos had embarked on house to house sample collection in several areas of the state, instead of sitting back and waiting for people to come forward, while also activating 20 locations in the state as sample collection centres, where people can easily walk into and have their samples collected.
The Oyo State Government also has a walk-in centre in Ibadan, the state capital, and mobile sample collection facilities, where people can go to and be tested. Same goes for Edo, which has partnered with private hospitals and pharmacies to collect samples. This, according to the state government has led to the collection of about 40,000 samples.
When blissfull ignorance rules
Crisis communication and response to enquiries or queries from citizens is one of the hallmarks of managing emergencies, especially the type the world is currently grappling with.
Some governors have shown very little regards for this process, choosing to experiment, indeed, with blissful ignorance. Major culprits are Governors Ganduje and Yahaya Bello.
The lack of willingness of the Kano State Government to admit that there is crisis may have been partly responsible for the notorious position currently occupied by the state in the COVID-19 pandemic chart. Ganduje had strenuously tried to downplay the cause of the spike in deaths in the state. His actions were akin to living in a fool’s paradise.
Though the state government said the rise in the number of deaths had been traced to acute malaria and other sicknesses, including diabetes, the Presidential Technical Team, sent to the state by President Muhammadu Buhari, differed, saying they are as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
State governments must up their games by properly communicating and responding to enquiries from citizens and residents if the fight against COVID-19 pandemic must be won.
Lagos, Kaduna and a few other states have performed above average in this regard, but more certainly can be done.
Where are the monies?
It would seem that the nation is awash with some free funds. Several private sector players have provided critically needed funds to state governments to support their efforts. How are these funds being managed? How transparent are the process of managing them? How much has been provided till date?
These are questions the governors need to answer if they do not want Nigerians to believe that the pandemic is just another avenue for unbridled corruption in the states.
Curiously, there are many people who believe that the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria is just a ruse and an avenue for state governors to corner funds from the Federal Government, international organisations and the public, especially private sector donations.
Though this claim can be grossly faulty, some governors have, by their conducts, left little to imagination. Ganduje of Kano State, for instance, made headlines when he pointedly asked the Federal Government for N15 billion to attend to the pandemic. It was even common knowledge that he appointed his daughter, though a medical personel, to preside over the committee battling to contain the spread of coronavirus in the state. Governor Wike of Rivers, on his part, has consistently alleged that the Buhari-led administration was treating some states better by providing funds for the COVID-19 pandemic response.
And, synergy becomes a scarce commodity
COVID-19 has aptly been described as a world war requiring synergy and partnership with relevant bodies, including federal and local government authorities, international organisations, civil society organisations, faith based organisations and other non-governmental organisations, especially in the areas of mobilisation and enlightenment.
While some states can be said to have performed well in this regard, others continue to be at loggerheads with the Federal Government and the private sector.
Governor Wike of Rivers State readily comes to mind in this regard. Though he has argued that as the Chief Security Officer of the state, his most important responsibility is to the people of Rivers, he appears to have played to the gallery and become unduly confrontational on occasions when synergy was most needed for overall good.
The controversies that greeted the 1,800 bags of rice sent to Oyo State as COVID-19 palliatives is another sore point in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Without disputing the claims of the Oyo Government on the edible nature of the rice, it is our belief that the situation could have been handled in a more mature way, without attracting the media brick bat and political undertones that attended it.
With the lockdown imposed in several states, security of life and property became a major issue, with residents constantly living in fear for as long as the lockdown lasted.
In Lagos and Ogun states, residents were at the mercy of thugs, especially the now famous One Million Boys and Awawa Boys, who visited mayhem on many neighbourhoods, while robbing them and breaking stores to cart away goods.
While these lasted, residents bore the brunt, as youths were forced to improvise, organizing themselves into vigilantes to secure their areas.
The fear of descent into anarchy is, indeed, real and state governors must take responsibility and do less of the regular excuse that blames everyone but themselves.