Monday, June 1, 2020 12:20 am
By Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
The robust and dynamic response of the Lagos State government to the outbreak of COVID-19 compels us to revisit the nature of the federal system which we operate with a view to suggesting how we could best embrace 21st century models in governance. For, the character of the Lagos State government, its historical and cultural antecedents and the quality of persons in charge of affairs suggest that Lagos has keyed into international best practices in crisis management. How Lagos has been able to create that persona in a country that seems to celebrate mediocrity and offer excuses for its leaders’ failings, is a different matter. The 2014 outbreak of Ebola disease both showed the skills and competence of medical personnel in Lagos and prepared them for COVID-19. This is what experience does. The name of Dr Ameyo Adadevoh has entered medical history in Nigeria, never to be forgotten because of her sacrificial role in that ugly episode in the chequered history of the country. What does this say for how we should manage the affairs of Nigeria?
For, if Lagos were to depend on the style of the federal authorities to handle the outbreak, we would all have died like flies as has happened in Kano State. This in no way undermines the competent manner the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) led by Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu has handled the COVID-19 outbreak. Indeed, just listening to him gives one the satisfaction that indeed a knowledgeable person has been placed in charge of things. He is not the product of a crony system that makes a government appoint persons to positions simply on account of their state of origin, religion or their link with the powers-that-be. Also, the character and colour of the different states of the federation is beginning to show in different ways. From the sheer moronic incompetence of Kano State government to the confused Kogi state approach and the violently repulsive and dictatorial Lord-of-the-Manor attitude of Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, the true nature of the Nigerian state is becoming clear. Nigeria cannot, should not be managed like a military establishment of command and obey!
The bottom line should be what works for us, at the federal, state or local government level, taking into cognisance the peculiarities of our social and political evolution. In other words, we should evolve a system in which even if the federal government or the presidency is out of touch with reality, the constituent parts of the federation do not have to go down into the drain. It is true that the character and competence of the president is crucial to national stability and growth. For, modern states require a leader who has a clear understanding of world politics and the intricacies of domestic situations especially in a country as diverse and active as Nigeria. Yet, we should run a federation in which local issues are not interfered with by the distant federal government.
Sometimes I shudder when I ruminate on how the future of millions of Nigerians has been handed over to some mediocre persons in Abuja and some states of the federation. How do you account for a governor insisting that a delegation of the federal authorities who came on an assessment visit be quarantined for fourteen days? Government House is not, should not be for everybody. Some persons should be stopped by the political party at the primaries stage to prevent them from being unleashed on the people. This point would have been unnecessary if the people really determined who got the position during elections. As we know, in Nigeria, if a goat or a donkey emerges as party candidate, he would win the elections because of rigging and cheating!
But in Lagos, the governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu is very much in charge supported by able lieutenants. The Commissioner for Health Professor Akinlola Abayomi exudes the confidence of a professional who can and performs his duties without let or hindrance. To be sure, this makes the governor feel and look good. Good for Lagos State. Good for Nigeria. One of the strengths of a good leader is appointing right persons into right positions and giving them unfettered access to the tools to do the job. Whereas I can boast about Lagos, I cannot say the same for Rivers and Kano States or the federal authorities. The Number One Citizen is missing in person when it comes to dealing with the pandemic. He has delegated responsibilities to a task force. He does not appear with the members of the Task Force. The impression is that that Number One Citizen is not coordinated enough to handle complicated matters in the full glare of the media.
In Kano State, there is an admixture of cultural and political confusion. There is also a mis-or narrow interpretation of the tenets of religion in handling the pandemic. When a high number of unexplained deaths were recorded in the state, one expected the government to take the lead and conduct autopsies and determine the level of infections in the state with a view to taking steps to deal with the situation. But the government lived in denial and attributed the ‘mysterious deaths’ to other health conditions. The Health Commissioner talked about ‘verbal autopsy! This is not the way to go. The people of Kano should be led by government officials who were elected for that purpose. One of the obligations of government is to provide leadership. Governor Ganduje in my view has not provided leadership. I expect him to deal with COVID-19 with the same despatch he handled the removal and ‘deportation’ of former Emir Sanusi Lamido!
In Rivers State, we have another approach to governance- the temper of a war-time military officer in a democratic state. It is true that often Nigerians need an iron hand to fall into line. But the combative temper of Governor Nyesom Wike is worrisome. The demolished hotels matter is a case in point. There is life after government. If the owners of the hotels had consistently disobeyed government directives, if they had used the hotel for nefarious activities the necessary sanctions of the law ought to have been invoked well before now. What about converting the hotels to isolation centres or sealing them off?
One final note about Lagos. As governor Babatunde Fashola impressed everyone with how he handled the state when Ebola struck. He was expected to perform magic when he mounted the saddle in Abuja as Works and Power Minister. For some reason, we are still waiting for that magic. Is there something about Abuja which kills a man’s initiative and competence?
-Professor Eghagha who writes from the University of Lagos, can be reached on 08023220393.