On this day and time, with most of the country on lockdown due to the highly contagious COVID-19 corona pandemic, help and palliative measures are needed in all directions. The health care system is overwhelmed and it needs urgent help in personnel, equipment and medicines. State governments that are the first trench in the fight against COVID-19 need serious help in order to cope. Although Federal Government has its own problems, notably due to a sharp dip in revenues from falling oil prices, it must find the means to help the states.
President Muhammadu Buhari has already done what he can, with the release to N10 billion to Lagos State, which so far has the highest rate of infection, and another N5 billion to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control [NCDC] in order for it to equip and expand its facilities and laboratories. In this war, we are really on our own because every country in the world, including the richest ones, have their hands full trying to avert deaths and suffering from COVID-19 in their countries. We are very grateful for the help we received from the Chinese billionaire Jack Ma, but we can hardly hope for more help like that from foreign sources.
Apart from the problem of medical facilities and personnel, the biggest problem we have on ground has to do with the lockdown. In the best of times, majority of Nigerians were said to be so poverty stricken that they live on less than two US dollars a day. What we don’t often add is that most of them do not have these two dollars kept anywhere. They must go out every day and source for it. Lockdown creates problems even for those with money, because they have difficulty going out to buy things. It is much worse for those who don’t have any money. And they are in the majority.
We are grateful to the Nigerian billionaire businessmen who have stepped forward with billions each in donations. UBA and its chairman Tony Elumelu, BUA chairman Abdussamad Rabi’u, Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola, Jim Ovia, Segun Agbaje and Herbert Wigwe, among others, have donated medical kits, testing machines, respirators, medicines and cash to this effort.
There is however a problem as to how this aid could reach the most needy and provide them with food, health care and other essentials. If channeled through government bureaucracies, much of it is as good as lost. Religious centers such as mosques and churches are slightly better agencies, but they too have to be watched. Then also, neighbourhood associations and other voluntary societies are well placed to reach the poor and needy and provide immediate relief. The lockdown is extremely necessary in order to curtail the spread of COVID-19 but without urgent food aid to the needy, millions may not come out when the lockdown is lifted. Former president Olusegun Obasanjo also provided a house to serve as an isolation center while Nigeria Ports Authority [NPA] provided an Abuja hotel for the same purpose.
It is not only billionaires who should help in this situation. Millionaires too, and even those with less than a million but who have some food and supplies to spare, should assist their neighbours in this hour of serious need. The old adage about being your brother’s keeper has never been more relevant than it is today.
Then also, we commend the Central Bank of Nigeria [CBN] for rushing out with its policy measures to douse the adverse economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy. The measures announced last Monday by CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele included a moratorium of one year on all principal repayments effective March 1; interest rate reduction on all applicable CBN intervention facilities from nine per cent to five per cent per annum for one year as well as a N50 billion targeted credit facility through the NIRSAL Microfinance Bank for households and small-and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Palliative measures are needed in every direction by anyone who can afford it in this time of pandemic, lockdown and looming economic crisis. We urge all Nigerians to step and play their part.