COVID: 19: Leadership at times like these, By Issa Aremu

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Many leadership types abound, from the “ascribed”, to the “achieved”, the “inspirational” to the “complacent”, “libertarian” to the “authoritarian”, from the “redefining” to the “transformational”, “single leader” to the “collective”, “conservative” to the “revolutionary” ad infinitum. But that was before the outbreak of the novel COVID 19, first documented in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019!

The notorious Virus seems to redefine  everything globally, leadership type inclusive. Leadership type is a matter of choice. But  the meaning of leadership is universal: Simply  put: It is a “process of directing the behaviour of others towards the accomplishment of some common objectives”. We are truly living in hard times. It’s defining (and deafening!) noisy trade mark is the  rampaging disease with its spiral data of despair. According to Johns Hopkins University, confirmed cases worldwide had surpassed 1 million, nearly  23% of which are from the United States. More than 51,000 had died. In Nigeria there are more than 209 confirmed cases, with 25 “Recoveries” and 4 Deaths. 

The preventive sound bites  are by now globally familiar:  “wash your hands”; “use sanitizers”, “ Don’t touch your face” “ensure social (read:physical) distancing”, etc. The mantra of the World Health Organization (WHO) is “test, test, test”. Undoubtedly  COVID 19 storm will come to pass like past pandemics which through ages periodically ravaged humanity. But the definitive history would judge statesmen (and few women!), non-state leaders alike by their respective responses to the ongoing pandemic. How many leaders have so far directed the behaviour of others towards curtailing the spread of the pandemic? First is the group of “doubters’.

This group questioned the existence of the Virus and  down played it’s negative  impact until it was out of the window. Donald John Trump, the 45th and current president of the United States tops this group. The pandemic broke out mid January 2020 in USA when a 35-year-old man in Washington state, returned from visiting family in Wuhan in China, turned  the first person to be with the virus. A month later, Trump reportedly said the virus “maybe go away. “We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.” He even predicted it was “going to disappear. “One day it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.” Compelled by the  citizenship’s pressure  to the grim reality, Donald John Trump, had turned a full cycle from sheer indifference and bared face denial to some overreaction, necessitating deployment of as many as 1000 military personnel  to New York City, (including military doctors and nurses).

It will be interesting  to know the reaction of  Professor Wole Soyinka and Femi Falana, my human rights friend/ lawyer to this singular incoherent extrajudicial/ extra clinical  over action of Donald Trump, the President of “free world”? Is Trump set to shoot an invisible virus or forcefully enforce a lock down in New York? New York State reportedly recorded 630 more coronavirus deaths. Coming to terms with   Trump leadership type of cynicism, indifference and opportunism (in-that-order) with its attendant casualties at times like this certainly tasks imagination. Another notable doubter’s companion is Brazil’s president Bolsonaro. He repeatedly  downplayed the dangers of Covid 19. He even urged Brazilians to get back to work – in defiance of the informed policy advice from the World Health Organization and his own health ministry. President Bolsonaro actually mirrors Donald Trump in climate change rejection and in other worst forms of reactionary conservative views. Brazil had since reported over 10, 300 cases with as many as 435 deaths.  Many Brazilian  states had since ignored President  Bolsonaro’s movement relaxation directive, with almost 60% of Brazilians are staying at home in self isolation. The second group is made of countries that readily accepts the reality of the global pandemic. It’s reassuring that Nigeria tops the countries that accept that the disease is class, race and gender blind.

I agree with President Muhamadu Buhari that the pandemic is  a matter of “life and death”  that requires drastic solutions. The Secretary to Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha also puts it rightly that  is a potential danger “to all of humanity, threatens our economy and the national security”. In containing the spread, Kaduna state acting Governor Hadiza Balarabe has creditably done well in her successive broadcasts (after Governor El Rufai’s status broadcast). The interventions had promoted  mass enlightenment and compliance with public health guidelines. Her call for solidarity and empathy at times like this is heeling. “Be our brothers’ keepers,  be cheerful givers, especially to the less privileged amongst us. A little kindness goes a long way at all times, but more so in these times. Observe respiratory hygiene, endeavour to wash your hands regularly with soap and running water, continue maintaining social distancing”.

This message resonates with Kaduna residents! Regular briefings by all members of the Presidential Task Force should be sustained at time like this and even post Coronavirus. It should henceforth be visible leadership on all outstanding health and livelihood challenges that include Malaria which still kills as many as 300,000 a year in a Nigeria despite having a cure. The Secretary General of UN António Guterres rightly acknowledged the massive proactive measures of Nigeria. However it’s time for quality control and measures consolidation. CBN’s , Godwin Emefiele is the first to commendably initiate proactive 6-point new measures to ameliorate the impact of the disease on the economy that include: Cuts rates from 9 to 5 percent per annum for one year effective March 1, 2020.

There is also an import substitution intervention fund another N100 billion in loan this year to support the Health Authorities to ensure laboratories, researchers and innovators. What then about N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund “mopping up resources from various special accounts” as announced by honorable Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed? Monetary and fiscal interventions must be harmonized. At times like this, Nigerians need empowerment not palliatives: pay workers in private and public sectors as long as the lock down lasts. Pay pensioners with no pensioners earning below statutory minimum wage. Old retirees are easy prays of Covid 19.  There should be unconditional cash transfers to all Nigerians, especially daily paid informal workers such as tailors. All Nigerians are vulnerables without  work. All labour market Institutions such as Pencom and National Social Insurance Trust (NSITF)  must offer data on workforce for empowerment. Post Covid 19, must usher  a radical transformation of the economy and income distribution to address the current huge divide between the few rich and mass poor. While few corporate Nigerians are socially responsible intervening in billions, it must task imagination that many can hardly raise a N1000 to feed and even go on  riots for handouts  distributed as palliatives. 

Oxfam puts it better “Nigeria is not a poor country yet millions are living in hunger. It must free millions of Nigerians from poverty by building a new political and economic system that works for everyone, not just a fortunate few”. At times like this Doctor Amarachukwu Allison, stands out for his exceptional vigilance and brilliance which “led to the early diagnosis and rapid containment of the Italian first Covid-19 infection. Dr Allison’s vigilance timely slowed down the pandemics which had since risen.

At times like these we are leaders who must act safe to contain the Virus.

Issa Aremu, mni

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