Time for FGN to empower states proactively to grapple with COVID-19 – Obaze

Mr Oseloka H. OBAZE , the MD/CEO of Selonnes Consult, is diplomat, politician, writer, policy consultant and former United Nations official, with broad experience in managing complex emergencies. In 2012, as the Secretary to the Anambra State Government under Governor Peter Obi he was credited for the effective and efficient management of the 2012 flood disaster that submerged six local government areas of the state. He reacted to media enquirers on Nigeria’s state of preparedness to combat COVID-19. Here are excerpts.

Q: Is Nigeria really ready to grapple with COVID-19 and do we have the human and material resources to do so?

Obaze: Watching major countries grapple with COVID-19 with quite some difficulty, I’m amazed at our general lack of overall and systematic national contingency planning. Simply, it’s delusional for us to think that COVID-19 won’t arrive in Nigeria with a bang sometime soon. The Nigerian numbers are already creeping up and we are losing lead time in planning adequately for that ominous 360 degree moment. The present situation and our scope of response is simply surreal. The Covid -19 pandemic is here and expanding in Nigeria. The federal health and emergency authorities including the CBN are responding as they deem fit. The healthcare providers need more support. But the reactive responses so far are grossly insufficient for the scope of impending complex emergency and crisis that could be cataclysmic for Nigeria.

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Q: Some states, including Anambra are closing schools and banning public gatherings, is that sufficient?

Obaze: Closing public institutions and banning public gatherings is salutary, but our national medical response capacity is far from efficient and sufficient for the scope of unfolding public health emergency. When the crisis unfolds fully in weeks or months ahead, and the ripple-effects manifest, individuals and communities will inevitably turn to state governments, which at this juncture are mostly ill-prepared and ill-equipped to respond efficiently and robustly. For now we are well behind the response curve. We need to start setting up centralized testing and holding spheres, as well as quarantine areas. We need to escalate public awareness preventive measures advocacy. If we are going to eventually lockdown cities, towns and communities, there must be contingency plans for food and materials for family sustenance for that to work. That is where NEMA and the SEMAs will come in.

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From a complex emergency response perspective, each of the 36 states should by now have multi-disciplinary crisis management and response teams that incorporates the security and military arms, frontline healthcare providers and other first responder teams. More importantly, this is the time for the federal government to reach out to states and make huge funding available to them.

Q: So far the FGN has released N 368 million and the CBN announced that N50 billion has been earmarked to support families and businesses affected by the impact of the novel coronavirus. Are these financial interventions adequate?
Obaze: The interventions are worthwhile but hardly adequate. In addition to these, I believe the FGN as a matter of urgency should release at the minimum, N74 billion to the 36 States, the FCT and NCDC for emergency preparedness and response. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) should unilaterally receive N2bn. The proposed funding is exclusive of any funding already released to the Federal Ministry of Health for emergency preparedness. If Nigeria must suspend the 2020 budgetary appropriations in order to effectively combat COVID-19, then so be it. Not responding robustly now, will in the longer term cost Nigeria more, financially, materially, morally and certainly, in terms of human casualties. We must seize the moment.

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From my humble policy perspective, besides the civil war period from 1967 to 1970, it can be envisaged that if and when COVID-19 hits Nigeria fully, the challenge and national mobilization required to respond adequately will require the replication another civil war-situation capacity.