The Anambra State administration has become exemplary in formulating a policy to fight the Coronavirus by combining the best elements from the major two schools of thought which have emerged in the global campaign against COVID-19.
The state has integrated the best elements from what may be termed the public health school which is in favour of a total lockdown comparable to 24-hour curfew everywhere until the disease is defeated completely and the second which may be called the economics/business school that believes a total lockdown will result in economic depression and, of course, the death of an unimaginable number of persons.
The option before any thoughtful public officer is not to take sides with any of the schools but to critically look at the situation before him or her and decide on a policy in the light of reason and experience. Ideological extremists or puritans have to be avoided. Dr Pius Okigbo, Africa’s most decorated economist, warned economists in General Ibrahim Babangida’s military government who were taking an extremist position on economic efficiency in the implementation of the structural adjustment programme (SAP): “Any government which pursues any policy under the guise of economic efficiency without regard to the social and political implications”, remarked Okigbo in Essays in the Public Philosophy of Development, “will only have itself to blame”.
Like every other government, the Anambra State administration is bound to protect its people from the ravages of COVID-19, but it cannot afford to do so by unwittingly allowing millions of its people to die of hunger and starvation or by causing their businesses to collapse through an unmitigated lockdown. The 28 days of lockdown, when all markets were shut down, vehicular and human movements restricted, schools closed, traditional religious services suspended, funerals, wedding and title taking ceremonies practically stopped, have already taken enormous toll on the people’s well being.
Social unrest must be avoided. If people in developed nations could not accept more than three weeks of lockdown, despite the immense social safety nets for the poor and the huge amounts paid by governments directly to the citizens who lost their jobs in the wake of COVID-19, we can imagine what the most vulnerable in our society and elsewhere in Africa have been going through.
Governor Willie Obiano did the right thing by announcing on Saturday, April 25, some policy fine tuning. He announced, for instance, the lifting of the restriction on intrastate vehicular movement, but not interstate movement because COVID-19 could be brought into Anambra State again from another part of the country. He directed that the foodstuffs and pharmaceuticals markets could now open daily, instead of only twice a week. Churches, he added, could resume normal services, but as directed by their leaders who have displayed a great appreciation of the severe COVID-19 dangers. The nonessential markets, he announced, would be reopened once a meeting is held on Monday, April 27, with their leaders and they agree to such protocols as observing social distancing, compulsory wearing of face masks by sellers, buyers and suppliers, and the availability of a big container of water with soaps in every line in each of the open markets which people will use regularly to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds on each occasion.
The easing of the restrictions came on the heels of the spectacular treatment of the state’s sole confirmed COVID-19 case. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced the index case on Good Friday, April 10, and the state government began managing the case within hours. After four days of solid treatment, the NCDC declared that the status of the index case had been reversed from positive to negative. This was a brilliant performance. What is more, all the tests conducted on 68 other persons in the state read negative.
There was, therefore, no justification for the lockdown to remain without any adjustment, just as it will be defensible for a state like Wyoming in the United States, which has no COVID-19 case, to be locked down like New York, the American coronavirus epicentre. In any case, relaxation of restrictions is the trend worldwide. The United States, now the world’s epicenter of the coronavirus, has seen the lifting of restrictions in places like Georgia. Even Spain, the country worst by COVID-19 in Europe after Italy, will no longer observe strict lockdown from this week. And next week Italy, of all places, will start to ease restrictions. From Ghana to South Africa to India, the story is the same. No wonder, in Nigeria states like Oyo and Edo are following in the Anambra footsteps.
Still, sight should not be lost on the fact that appropriate restrictions remain in the state. Schools are not yet open. Most civil servants still work from home. Burials, funerals, title taking and award ceremonies and marriages are still not taking place because they are likely to attract more than 30 persons in each instance, thereby enhancing the risk of violating the social distance rule. Needless to repeat, vehicles are not yet allowed from other states for fear of bringing COVID-19 into Anambra State; the index case came from Lagos on March 28. Anambra State’s boundaries are now policed with greater vigour.
Public policy is not cast in marble unless by a government run by ideologues, hawks, hardliners, puritans and extremists who, by their very nature, are allergic to facts, evidence and rational thinking. By formulating its COVID-19 policy with the best elements from the two main opposing schools of thought in the campaign to contain the coronavirus and allowing the implementation of the policy to be guided by facts and the interests of the majority of the people, Anambra State has, once again, demonstrated that it is truly the Light of the Nation. As the Great Zik of Africa used to state in the masthead of his eminently influential West African Pilot newspaper, “show the light and the people will find the way”. Anambra State is on the right trajectory. (MOI)
Adinuba is Anambra Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment.