africa

COVID-19, NIN, etc: leadership desperately needed


Idowu Akinlotan

 

IT is an understatement to suggest that Nigerian leaders are unprepared for high office. For over 10 years they have battled insurgency ineptly and are no nearer knocking the crisis into a cocked hat. In the middle of the insurgency, they have even adopted the harebrained idea of rehabilitating and, as they put it unconvincingly and scornfully, deradicalising Boko Haram militants, despite the poor attention given to fighting troops, displaced persons, and those widowed by the war. The counterinsurgency policy of the government exemplifies the total misplacement of priorities, and gives an indication of the poverty of leadership disabling the country. There are of course other disconcerting emblems of the poor leadership undermining the peace, stability and development of the country.

*N400bn for COVID-19 vaccines: The government plans to spend this whopping amount to procure vaccines to tackle this new and frightening plague. However, the proposed budget for the health sector in 2021 is N632bn, and N340bn in 2018 to get a comparative picture. The actual release may be smaller. Between 2006 and 2018, capital expenditure proposed for the health sector only reached N60bn in 2013. All other years were considerably smaller. How does any government defend N400bn for vaccines for a disease that has so far killed about 1,300 people and infected less than 85,000? Meanwhile, everyday, some 2,300 under-five-year-old and 145 women of childbearing age die from preventable causes. Neonatal mortality rate is also about 37 per 1000 live births or 250,000 every year. In addition, Malaria killed about 95,000 in Nigeria alone in 2018. These figures have not triggered the same kind of panicky response as COVID-19. Worse, Nigeria takes all its cues from Europe and America to formulate a national response to COVID-19. When the developed countries went for a lockdown, Nigeria heedlessly followed suit but without implementing relevant safeguards. Now Europe is rushing vaccines into the market, and Nigeria is waiting for the same vaccines rather than developing its own.

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*The NIN frenzy: Suddenly, the Nigerian government woke up in December to require its citizens to, in two weeks, link their National Identification Number (NIN) to their phones or else their SIM cards would be blocked. The directive had earlier been given and ignored in February 2020. Foreigners were expected to update their SIM with their passports. On the surface, the objective is not misplaced. But the problem is that the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) was simply not ready for the whole circus, having created a ponderous and laborious system of identity card registration. To give a two-week deadline, now extended to February, was not only foolish, it was reckless. Like the shutting of land borders, the government simply looked at the benefits of the scheme to the detriment of the huge attendant cost, not to say their own inefficiency. Apart from the dangerous crowding at NIMC registration centres in the age of COVID, the cessation of SIM card registration and all other ancillary businesses have been deeply affected. Is there nothing that can be done right in Nigeria? This, by the way, is the third time a national identity card scheme would be implemented. But every time the project miscarries, the people are left holding the short end of the stick.

*APC BoT: Like everything else about the party and the government it heads, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is reportedly proposing to amend its constitution to scrap its Board of Trustees (BoT) and replace it with an Elders’ Council. Since it took office, the party has been unable to inaugurate its BoT. They hope that changing that nomenclature would help them overcome their dithering. They have not considered why their BoT has been difficult to inaugurate, but they seem sure that once their constitution is amended, their hesitations would end. If they succeed, as they hope, and discipline is restored in their party without a corresponding enthronement of justice, why, there is nothing they cannot do henceforth, including going to the moon on a glider. Is it any wonder that of all the reforms they contemplate, and of all the programmes they formulate, justice and fair play have not been among their watchwords? If they can hardly lead themselves, how can they hope to lead the country?

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