After stirring the hornet’s nest by accusing religious centres, among other public places, of contributing to the uncontrolled increase of the second wave of COVID-19 infections in Nigeria, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, retreated to take a ringside seat and watch the blame game begin. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), which has long felt that the policy of shutting religious centres was needless and only a little better than upsetting their liturgical applecart, made no bones about just what they thought of the PTF chairman’s statement. CAN General Secretary, Joseph Daramola, was not having any of that.
He said: “It is not true that the reopening of churches caused the second wave of COVID-19. Is it the opening of churches that caused the second wave of COVID-19 in other developed countries? All the places they locked have been opened. Nobody should try and make issues out of this. They may have their statistics, but if you go to churches in Abuja, they are still wearing masks. They have been keeping to the social distance protocol. In my church, we are still abiding by the COVID-19 protocols. I do not agree so. Since the government is there and it has all its apparatus, they can set up a committee. The statement is too wide. I do not want to go into conflict with government officials. What is happening is all over the world.”
Although his arguments were not accommodating in scope, his panic is understandable. He had seen the Federal Government backtrack on its earlier decision to open schools on January 18. The same fate loomed before churches and he clearly had had enough of churches being the sacrificial lambs for the government’s attempts to look busy. But he was not being permissive in his reaction. In fact, he was not willing to understand Mr. Mustapha’s position. The PTF had not fingered only churches; they had also fingered schools, business centres and religious centres as being included in the propagation of the virus. Indeed, there is no evidence that the PTF, which has for quite a while now been threatening everyone and every sector of the country with a second lockdown, was targeting religious centres.
The taskforce has had its work cut out for it. It may even have been correct in its allegations concerning religious centres contributing to the spread of the virus. Churches and Mosques, as well as schools, businesses and indeed all other gatherings including the markets, transportation services and so on have contributed to the spread of the virus. The PTF had not singled out only religious bodies, so while it had deflected the real issue on ground, to wit the small question of what is to be done to arrest the spread of the virus, it was not wrong in its assessment of the situation on ground nor was it exaggerating about the factors influencing the spread of the virus. The National Supreme Council for Islamic affairs (NSCIA), for its part, simply deferred to the assessment of the PTF and expressed its willingness to close up shop should the eminent PTF require it to do so. This was another move which the PTF would not have missed. It will now probably stroke its beard and fancy its chances of throwing religious centres under the bus to keep up appearances of being business-like in its war against COVID-19.
Both parties are barking up the wrong tree by disagreeing with the PTF or even by focusing on responding to the chairman’s statements, which are diversionary rather than visionary. They should have focused more on what the PTF did not say than what it indeed said, for it said nothing new. The PTS’s exposition on the cause of the increase in infection rate of the new wave of COVID-19 was not novel at the time; it was simply stating the obvious. Everyone in the country knew that the reopening of public places contributed in its own way to the increase of the infections in the country. The religious associations should have instead focused on pressuring the government to develop a local vaccine or even a cure instead of throwing ludicrous sums of money at the procurement of an international but still controversial vaccine. A cure for the virus will be as welcome as a vaccine, if not more welcome. Word on the street suggest that the true number of infections in Nigeria is grossly underreported, as Nigerians have wasted no time in stigmatising anyone with even the remotest symptoms of the virus. As such, those that have manifested the COVID-19 symptoms have resorted to herbal remedies, which have traditionally lived up to the task of fortifying their immunities against the debilitating disease. People are afraid to get tested. Those who have been there and done that have told harrowing tales of their experience that many Nigerians want to operate in denial and self-medicate instead of getting tested.
Decades of neglecting pharmaceutical advancements have caught up with the government and, although there have been enough needles pricked into the federal ego by the small but deadly virus, the government has developed a thick skin to the problem. It would rather wait to be spoonfed with the vaccines from abroad than scrape the barrel and get something done locally by way of a medical remedy. Lack of innovativeness in anti-coronavirus policy formulation was quickly followed by a shocking allocation of 400 billion naira for the procurement of an unstable vaccine that has reportedly killed one and lamed another, which was in turn followed by reports of a more controversial sharing formula for the virus. No, both the CAN and NSCIA were dancing to the PTF’s diversionary tune by flogging the wrong horse. They would have fared far better pointing out to the government that the time for announcing causes of the increase in the spread of the virus was long gone, as everyone in the country was not inured to the facts. They should have humbly requested the PTF to focus on finding a cure or devising a means and a strategy that did not include locking down the country to arrest the virus.
Needless to say, Nigeria is poorly equipped with infrastructure to handle the virus, and the economy is already in a recession. If the Federal government locks down churches and mosques but does not lock down markets, which are clearly more effective in spreading the virus, it would look ridiculous and make a laughing stock of itself — more than it already has. If the federal government locks down schools, for just how long will that strategy hold? There is hardly infrastructure for online schooling. The virus will not go anywhere if it is not expelled by either a cure or a vaccine. The borders of the country remain open and flights come in from sundry continents on a daily basis.
Some fresh ideas, which the government and the PTF appear bereft of are needed in the tackling of COVID-19. The time for blindly copying foreign countries is passed. Medical doctors are perishing or alarmingly coming down with the virus, and foreign countries keen on brain drain are cherry-picking the fit and the able left in the country. Really, the religious associations should not have bothered to bandy words with the PTF, they should instead have pointed out these realities to the government.
Source: The Nation