The South-East South-South Network, SESSNet, has expressed concern over the lack of coordination between the governors of the South-East and South-South regions in tackling the coronavirus pandemic in the region and the consequent lockdown measures.
The socio-political group said the lockdown measures was not carefully thought through and lamented the failure of the 36 State governors throughout the federation to create an adequate awareness campaign and proper consultation with critical stakeholders regarding the reality of the coronavirus before imposing lockdown measures.
It further lamented the failure of the federal and state governments to procure adequate PPE and testing kits for healthcare workers and the entire citizenry.
Arising from a two-hour brainstorming video conference attended by over 200 Nigerians across the globe, during which members expressed skepticism that the South East region renowned for global business travel could have only 44 COVID-19 cases, SESSNet called for massive nationwide testing to ascertain the true extent of the coronavirus infection inside the communities.
Speakers at the conference suggested that traders may have arrived from China before the Christmas period carrying the virus without showing the symptoms.
Proffering solutions to the pandemic which led to the total lockdown of the economy, the group advised that Universities, research institutions, logisticians, economists, epidemiologists and virologists across the country be co-opted into the presidential task force for a sensible, expert and inward-looking response to the pandemic and the lockdown measures.
The conference implored on governments to look for ways of opening up the economy without spreading the Coronavirus adding that the SE/SS region might present a test case to the world on how to re-open the economy without spreading the Coronavirus.
The group stated, “We have huge human assets in the virology departments of our Universities, we have the experts that should be assembled for a sensible response, there is need to liaise with transporters and see how they can be gathering passengers manifest and also establish mechanisms for reopening the economy.
“The governors should embark on situational data gathering and not propensity data gathering to cater for the people’s welfare. The 1999 Constitution empowers states to gather numerical data but only Lagos state has conducted a census, whereas states have enormous power under the 1999 constitution that have not been put to use.”
The virtual conference organised by the Global South East/South South Network, SESSNet via Zoom and hosted by Tochukwu Ezeoke in the United Kingdom and moderated by Daniel Elombah, explored the opportunities for the South-East and South-South during the Coronavirus crisis and what is expected of the Governors during the lockdown and afterward. This was on the basis that both regions have been least hit by the raging pandemic relative to other regions in the country.
The conference was held on Friday, 24 April 2020 under the theme: “Covid-19: From Crisis to Opportunities – Where are Our Governors.”
Speakers at the video conference include a former minister of aviation, Osita Chidoka; the federal lawmaker representing Nnewi North/South/Ekwusigo Federal Constituency, Chris Azubogu, and former chairman of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission, Chidi Odinkalu, who joined from London.
Azubogu who is a third-term member of the House of Representatives called on state governors to take pro-active steps without waiting for the federal government. He argued that the legislative list gives much constitutional room for the governors to plan and execute economic policies to better their states, while Osita who served as aviation minister in the Goodluck Jonathan administration, said the coronavirus crisis presents unique opportunities for states in the area of aviation infrastructure, data acquisition, modern technology and logistics. Both agreed that while a lockdown appears desirable to stem or delay the pandemic, a balance need be maintained between the health and economic needs of the country.
Other panellists including Eze Eluchie, Obi Osuji, Marcel Ngogbehei, Valentine Ozigbo among many other contributors agreed that the Covid-19 and the oil crisis presents opportunities for Nigeria to urgently diversify the economy and invest massively in healthcare, job creation, IT technology and education.
Prof. Chidi Odinkalu argued that the fall in oil crisis portend grave economic dangers for the country even after the COVID-19 pandemic, while Marcel Ngogbehei, a Sloan fellow of London Business School implored state governors to activate and invest in their Statistic institutions. He said that “Leadership without data driven insights is a blind leadership…globally leaders and policy makers rely primarily on accurate data, coupled with experience for policy decisions”.
In a statement signed by Mazi Ezeoke following the conference, SESSNet called on state governors to take urgent measures to ensure that adequate testing kits is generously distributed across the country in order to facilitate mass testing of the people, and urged the Humanitarian Affairs Minister, Ms Sadiya Umar Farouk not to ignore the South-East and South-South in distributing covid-19 palliatives and food relief.
The group said, “The South-east and south-south states should begin to open gradually without spreading and see how others will copy from us, we have an advantage because of our small land mass, restarting without spread is the greatest opportunity for the regions. We have strong community and church system which may be a strong template for the entire world to copy with regards to how to open economy without spreading the Coronavirus.”
SESSNet also advised that states should look for ways to work in harmony, to tackle this virus together and create covid-19 awareness in the communities through traditional means of communication in the rural communities rather than applying brute force.
The statement added that, “States should coordinate their response, confirm the number of isolation centres in the region, the number of Ambulances; Abia and Anambra state governments should empower tailors to produce facemasks without compromising quality, and be used to strategically reopen the economy.”
“This is the time to reactivate the South-East and South-South Governors forum and create a governor’s taskforce as a matter of urgency”, the statement concluded.