Dear Governor Wike,
I decided to write this post in the hope that one way or the other, it may get to you. I truly hope it does. My primary concern is the way you’ve so far prosecuted the battle against COVID-19.
I will try not to sound critical, not because there’s anything inherently wrong with that but for two reasons. The first is that few people have a large heart to accommodate criticisms, however constructive they may be. The second is that in the highly polarized politics of Rivers State, anyone against your policies is put down as an Amaechi’s man or an APC member, even as the party exists only in name in Rivers State. This is actually sad because dissenting voices have been, and always will be, the foundation for real social progress. Be rest assured that I’m not an APC member. I’m simply one who’s concerned about the good and progress of Rivers State.
When in response to the imminent danger of COVID-19, you blocked the borders of our State and decreed the first dusk-to-dawn curfew, which was, quite curiously, interpreted to mean 24 hours curfew, I did several posts on this medium and had a live radio interview questioning the wisdom of that decision. In summary, my point was that it was the right thing done the wrong way. My argument was that since Rivers State is not self-sufficient in food production, starvation may flow from that decision and that we need to fashion out ways and means of letting food into Rivers State. When you also decreed that churches could hold Easter services and Muslims Jumat services, I felt the decision was wrong for the reason than pandemics have little regard for religious sentimentalities. I later got even more worried that you seem to have a propensity to lock down a neighborhood at your whims and caprices.
All that is in the past. Like I said earlier, I’ve re-invented a different way to communicate my pain. I so do in the lines that follow.
Our amiable Governor (this is an oft-used expression in Nigeria, even in circumstances that show the user has no understanding of the meaning), I’m still worried about certain steps taken and I truly want you to do a re-think. Your Excellency our amiable Governor, did you see the way people sandwiched themselves just to buy bread at Kilimanjaro, Skippers, Happy Foods, and all other places where other essentials are sold? No, you needed to have seen. If you did, you would come to the inescapable conclusion that your efforts in locking us up or down were in vain!
If anything, you may very likely feel guilty for creating the conditions that made rational human beings throw caution to the wind and inadvertently, spread the virus that causes this deadly pandemic. What am I saying? You locked down the state for 5 days and freed us for 2 days to lock us again on the 3rd day INDEFINITELY! This means at your pleasure.
Our amiable Governor; all the lockdowns I have seen are usually time-bound. You then renew at the expiration of the initial period. This provides a basis to plan for the essentials. By failing to give a time frame for imminent lockdown, you ipso facto activated a panic mode for Rivers State residents. We do not know the next time we will breathe another air of freedom, hence the panic buying. And coming against your supervised demolition of those Eleme hotels, many people are taking your threats very seriously. They remember that your campaign song “Wike dey Come ooo, Wike Dey Come ooo, You No Go gree, You No Go Gree Stay for Your House Ooo’
Our amiable Governor, but do we have to go through this? We sure know that it was not your intention to spread pain and disease. But the intention is one thing, the outcome, another. Do you know that by the clear absence of social distance that characterized the panic buyers the stage would have been set for an implosion of COVID-19 in the next 3 weeks? This would be sad.
Again at the borders. Can we think of new ways of doing things? Send back all almajiris. It’s a good thing to do. Forget the threat of war by Northern youths. We are solidly behind you. You know we were solidly behind you during the election and with God on your side, you won in spite of Federal might. In the same way, do not allow anyone to export almajiris to Rivers State. If possible, look for those already here and send them back. How can you come all the way from Kano to Port Harcourt and all you do is to hawk water? Is there no way to hawk water in Kano? Send them away. Rivers people are behind you. After all, even El Rufai, with all his extremist views couldn’t tolerate almajiris in his state.
But without yam, without beans, without onions, without carrots, etc from other states, can you imagine how life will be? What should we do to have these without COVID-19? I would suggest you look for responsible men in Rivers State, I mean men that have integrity, I mean, people who have a means of livelihood, I mean high profile individuals to man the borders. Jobless young men will see it as an opportunity to enrich themselves. This thinking is helped by your outburst the other day that anyone at the border would collect bribe. That was a very sad statement to make.
Alternatively, could you consider outsourcing the job of vetting those to come into Rivers State to a reputable audit firm or security company even if it”s a foreign one? Imagine Price Waterhouse Coopers vetting those to be allowed entry into Rivers State! This may seem an extreme view but given the enormity of the problem and the fact that COVID-19 does not appear to be in a hurry to go away, it may be something worth considering, The vetting procedure can be made more predictable: check the trailer/truck conveying essential; allow driver and Conductor to drive in. No 3rd person allowed. Besides my primary vocation as a university don, I’m an entrepreneur and I know exactly what we go through in bringing things into Rivers State.
When I was going home yesterday and I saw the mammoth crowd justling to buy bread, I asked myself how would these people feel if by this evening Gov Wike changes his mind? That’s exactly what you’ve done.
This suggests that decisions are not thoroughly thought through. As one who read Political Science, you ought normally to have known that the Muddling Through an approach to decision making has many downsides. Many people hate themselves for getting themselves enmeshed in maddening crowds just to buy bread. What if they’ ve caught the disease in the process?
And now, can we learn lessons from Taiwan and Sweden? These countries are not locked down. The case for Taiwan is quite heart-warming. Although human beings we have here are quite different, can we focus more attention on public enlightenment? My worry is that COVID-19 may have probably come to be with us just like malaria. Could you please invest money on washable nose masks to be distributed for free? Could you consider setting aside huge money for the Madagascar solution? Could you put public health officials in markets to enforce some kind of social distancing in big shops?
I’m making these suggestions because I’m concerned about the plight of the ordinary folk. Those who must go out to labor work before eating, could you spare a minute to try to understand how they survived? But our amiable Governor, but there was something you did that smacked of insensitivity. I wish I could say it differently. Your Excellency, think about this: when many folks are starving as a result of your lockdown, that was the most inauspicious moment to show off a well-prepared soup by your good self.
All I’m saying is, Your Excellency, endeavor to think outside the box in the battle against COVID-19. Listen to critics. Some, like my good self, have nothing personal against you. We only wish that the policymaking process is more people-centric. Indeed, listen less to those who applaud you. You demolish the hotel, the aleluiah boys say ‘good one’.You said ‘you that is saying people collecting bribe, if they send you, won’t you collect bribe yourself’? They tell you ‘apt response’. A good number of them do so because they are nothing without you. The day you cease to give them money and privileges, you become their enemy.
Kiikpoye Aaron, is a lecturer in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. you can reach him on Email Here
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.