By Samuel Orovwuje
The issue of COVID -19 global pandemic has generated one the most emotive discussions in the traditional and social media amongst public health practitioners, sub national and national governments. While scientists and health workers in the frontline are leading the way in the fight against the noxious virus, nevertheless my super hero in Nigeria, is the Coalition of Private Sector Against COVID-19 under the arrowhead of Aliko Dangote, Dangote Foundation and the CEOs of the organised private sector, that raised funds in support of the Presidential Task Force to mitigate the scourge of the dreaded disease and to bring existential hope to the vulnerable in the society.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, the cases summary as at April 18 is 493 confirmed cases in Nigeria. At the heart of the discussions, is the apprehension of its impact on humanity, the socio-economic cost, and the practical sticky situation that Nigerians will face- before, during, after the containment of the dreaded virus, and the dire lack of credible and evidence- based data to help understand, how many Nigerians are really afflicted with the disease apart from the figures being brandish in the traditional and new media, and to what extent humanitarian relief operations are able to deliver for the public good.
Interestingly, the coalition strategic engagement is to foster an agenda for public health advocacy and simultaneously inform policy making for timely and appropriate relief; grounded in a clearly defined, sound reasoning, focusing on discussions on public health challenges, substantive matters of public interest, and charting a practical guide for decision makers in sustainable human development, and targeting social protection to reducing national chronic poverty particularly during the lockdown and their interconnections with inequality, human security and ethnicity.
The new climate of uncertainty amongst political leaders and global stakeholders, the weakness or complete failure of the Nigeria state structures and the vulnerability of the poor in the context of
emergency preparedness and the challenge of the will and capacity of the country has become troubling.
Sadly, the government is under greater scrutiny from the citizens, the media, and victims and from the public space. The real danger and the public expectations create panic and an environment in which the national and sub- national government are under severe pressure than ever to response faster and more effectively.
While the government faces difficulties in anticipating and responding adequately to this emerging global health crises-due in part to lack of tangible investments in basic health systems and the neglect of basic emergency preparedness template domiciled in the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and the
National Emergency Management Agency, (NEMA). Nevertheless, the financial contributions and the advocacy engagements of the coalition through the sustained Pan – Nigeria radio messages is making an uncommon impact in the stay safe, stay home campaign and it is helping to bridge the gaps for our common destiny.
Dreadfully, given the dimensions and dynamics of humanitarian threats, the difficulties will be daunting in the days ahead. In this regards, going forward with the lessons learnt so far, the government and non– state actors like the Coalition Against COVID-19 in its advocacy must enhance capacity to anticipate potential threats and at same time need to be sufficiently proactive to respond in ways that will address the threats. It is noteworthy that the CACOVID-19-initiative response has been massive and commendable in my view.
Indeed, one of the fine points of the Coalition Against COVID -19 is to save lives now and urgently.
There is an increasing recognition that we must bring all our responses together, providing same services in a one- stop shop manner for the most vulnerable in the society and it is now. With more support from corporate Nigeria, there are groundswells of hope. The government on the other hand,
must be willing to engage and learn from other stakeholders, including the corporate and business sector, particularly the newly created Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, to strengthen overall response, prevention and emergencies preparedness capacities. This is not only about our collective will and humanity, but also about social context in which the disease spread and the overall issue of food security for Nigerians after the lockdown.
From a social and behaviour change perspectives, the impact of the high-quality strategic communications particularly the people driven Pan- Nigeria empathetic and convincing radio campaigns blast in various channels and networks and the frequency of the messages since the lockdown remains
one of the utmost contribution for the fight against the spread of the pandemic by the Coalition Against Covid-19 in Nigeria.
The message of hope and staying alive, the simple hygiene protocols embedded in simple pidgin language is the hallmark and critical success factor in our collective resolve as a people to stamp out this evil virus from Nigeria. In addition, the positive feedback from media audience and consumers across
the country in this trying time underscore the importance of the logical, robust and creative media interface and engagement with the people by this private sector led initiative is second nature.
Manifestly, it is not clear of what interventions, must be implemented, to mitigate the adverse public health consequences and what standards must we as people strive to achieve, similarly the range of interventions at the disposal of citizens is grossly inadequate. Despite the global dimension of the disease, there is an apparent failure to deliver on Humanitarian relief efforts, particularly with the poor, where the lockdown impact is unprecedented.
The coalition and Nigeria’s main concern at this moment in my view is the nexus to multidimensional poverty and the existential links to national security, shelter, food, water, sanitation and indeed the failed national identity management system as well as some corrupt public sector officials not acting in line with international best practices in emergency and crises management. Therefore, the ravaging pandemic should be a call to action in building local and national capacities to ensure coping
mechanisms to sustain the achievements made by the government and respond to future emergencies.
The proposal to leapfrog social development is massive investment in robust health infrastructure, communities and the organised private sector must be engaged in risk management measures beyond public information interface of announcements and press releases that create more panic than the real threat, and public information managers and opinion leaders must inspire compassion and openness in citizen’s communication.
Pointedly, accesses to basic health services are nonexistent during emergencies and it should be of note
that adequate health services are vital to preventing excessive death rates. Furthermore, more efforts must be made to address the requirement for sustainable human and financial resources in the health sector.
In addition, hunger has emerged as a major issue at the top of the national conversations and dialogue with high food prices- aggressively rising in geometric proportions. The recorded high food prices are placing food out of reach for the vulnerable and majority of Nigerians most especially for those living on less US$1 a day.
Correspondingly, the poorest households are already spending a larger part of their income on food. Nigerians most affected are small farmers, urban poor, rural landless, and some of the notorious pastoralists! These challenges beyond the current pandemic are massive investment on social and human capital, which is one of the most critical success factors and key performance benchmarks to ensuring sustainable peace and security.
Consequently, as people we must ensure we stay ahead of the curve on the prevalent chronic hunger crises with early warning systems dotting their entire geo- political landscape. The business community and indeed Nigerian government can draw lessons from Ethiopia, which has used food and cash interventions to address hunger at its earliest symptom. The critical tripod for this government and other strategic partners in the wake of this pandemic should be clear vision, authentic leadership and above all, and perhaps the most crucial is capacity.
Crucially, if the interventions’ being promoted by the Coalition is sustained, then we can quickly win the war against covid -19. We also know for sure that there is not enough investment in these areas.
Nevertheless, this is not the time for blame game. This is partly about our collective will and humanity, but also about social context in which the disease spread and the overall issue of food security.
All things considered, the government and the other stakeholders will, we hope the pandemic serve as a bitter bill and catalyst for safeguarding lives, livelihoods is at the centre of governance, which means the promotion of pro-people policy options to enable Nigerians to be protected and indeed protect themselves from a broad range of existential threats to their lives and livelihoods, ranging from threats of kidnapping, banditry, boko haram, hunger, political corruption and threats to economic security remain paramount to corporate Nigeria and the common good.
Orovwuje is founder, Humanitarian Care for Displaced Persons, Lagos. 08034745325, firstname.lastname@example.org