By Issa Aremu
MANY leadership types abound, from the “ascribed”, to the “achieved”, the “inspirational” to the “complacent”, “libertarian” to the “authoritarian”, from the “redefining” to the “transformational”, “single leader” to the “collective”, “conservative” to the “revolutionary” ad infinitum. But that was before the outbreak of the novel COVID 19, first documented in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December 2019!
The notorious virus seems to redefine everything, leadership type inclusive. Leadership type is a matter of choice. But the meaning of leadership is universal: Simply put: It is a “process of directing the behaviour of others towards the accomplishment of some common objectives”.
We are truly living in hard times. Its defining (and deafening!) ringing tone is the rampaging disease with its spiral data of despair. According to Johns Hopkins University, confirmed COVID-19 cases worldwide had surpassed 1 million, nearly 23 per cent of which are from the United States. More than 51,000 had died. In Nigeria there are more than 254 confirmed cases, with 44 “recoveries” and six deaths. The preventive sound bites are by now globally familiar: “wash your hands”; “use sanitizers”, “Don’t touch your face”, “ensure social (read: physical) distancing”, etc.
The mantra of the World Health Organization, WHO, is “test, test, test”. Undoubtedly COVID 19 storm will come to pass like past pandemics which through ages periodically ravaged humanity. But the definitive history would judge statesmen (and few women!), non- state leaders alike by their respective responses to the ongoing pandemic. How many leaders have so far directed the behaviour of others towards curtailing the spread of the pandemic? First is the group of “doubters’.
This group questioned the existence of the Virus and down played it’s negative impact until it was out of the window. Donald John Trump, the 45th and current president of the United States tops this group.The pandemic broke out mid January 2020 in USA when a 35-year-old man in Washington state, returned from visiting family in Wuhan in China, turned the first person to be with the virus. A month later, Trump reportedly said the virus ‘maybe go away’. “We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.”
He even predicted it was ‘going to disappear’. “One day it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.” Compelled by the citizenship’s pressure to the grim reality, Donald John Trump, had turned a full cycle from sheer indifference and bared face denial to some overreaction, necessitating deployment of as many as 1000 military personnel to New York City, (including military doctors and nurses). It will be interesting to know the reaction of Professor Wole Soyinka and Femi Falana, my human rights friend/lawyer to this singular incoherent extrajudicial/extra clinical over action of Donald Trump, President of the “free world”?
Is Trump set to shoot an invisible virus or forcefully enforce a lock down in New York? New York State reportedly recorded 630 more coronavirus deaths. Coming to terms with Trump leadership type of cynicism, indifference and opportunism (in-that-order) with its attendant casualties at times like this certainly tasks imagination. Another notable doubter’s companion is Brazil’s president Bolsonaro. He repeatedly downplays the dangers of COVID-19. He even urged Brazilians to get back to work – in defiance of the informed policy advice from the WHO and his own health ministry.
President Bolsonaro actually mirrors Donald Trump in climate change rejection and in other worst forms of reactionary conservative views. Brazil had since reported over 10, 300 cases with as many as 435 deaths. No thanks to presidential denial. Many Brazilian states had since ignored President Bolsonaro’s movement relaxation directive, with almost 60 per cent of Brazilians staying at home in self-isolation.
The second group is made of countries that readily accepts the reality of the global pandemic. It’s reassuring that Nigeria tops the countries that accepted earlier that the disease is class, race and gender blind. Senegal is a star member of the group of countries boldly taking on the virus. President Macky Sall in an address to the nation on March 23, declared a state of emergency, imposed a night-time curfew and put off 60th independence anniversary scheduled for last Saturday, April 4, to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. Senegal also placed a ban on Friday prayers for Muslims and Sunday church services for Christians.
I agree with President Muhamadu Buhari that the pandemic is a matter of “life and death” that requires drastic solutions. The Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, also puts it rightly that COVID-19 is a potential danger “to all of humanity, threatens our economy and the national security”.
In containing the spread, Kaduna State acting Governor, Hadiza Balarabe, has creditably done well in her successive broadcasts (after Governor El Rufai’s status broadcast). The interventions had promoted mass enlightenment and compliance with public health guidelines. Her call for solidarity and empathy at times like this is heeling. “Be our brothers’ keepers, be cheerful givers, especially to the less privileged amongst us. A little kindness goes a long way at all times, but more so in these times. Observe respiratory hygiene, endeavour to wash your hands regularly with soap and running water, continue maintaining social distancing”.
This message resonates with Kaduna residents! Regular briefings by all members of the Presidential Task Force should be sustained at a time like this and even post-Coronavirus. It should henceforth be visible leadership on all outstanding health and livelihood challenges that include malaria which still kills as many as 300,000 a year in Nigeria despite having a cure.
The Secretary General of UN António Guterres rightly acknowledged the massive proactive measures of Nigeria. However it’s time for quality control and measures consolidation. CBN’s Godwin Emefiele is the first to commendably initiate proactive six-point new measures to ameliorate the impact of the disease on the economy that include: Cuts rates from nine to five percent per annum for one year effective March 1, 2020. There is also another N100 billion in loan this year to support the Health Authorities to ensure laboratories, researchers and innovators.
What then about another N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund “mopping up resources from various special accounts” as announced by the Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed? Monetary and fiscal interventions must be harmonised. At times like this, Nigerians need empowerment not palliatives: pay workers in private and public sectors as long as the lockdown lasts. Pay pensioners such that no pensioners should earn below statutory minimum wage. Old retirees with underlining health challenges are easy prays of COVID-19. There should be unconditional cash transfers to all Nigerians, especially daily paid informal workers such as tailors. It’s a right not a fa our.
All Nigerians are vulnerable without work. All labour market institutions such as Pencom and National Social Insurance Trust, NSITF, must offer data on workforce for empowerment. NSITF is actually mandated through Employees Compesation Act, ECA, of 2010 to pay workers in case of disease at work. Post COVID-19 must usher a radical transformation of the economy and income distribution to address the current huge divide between the few rich and mass poor.
While few corporate Nigerians are socially responsible intervening with billions, it must task imagination that many can hardly raise a N1000 to feed and even many are on riots for handouts distributed as palliatives. Oxfam puts it better well before the virus that: “Nigeria is not a poor country yet millions are living in hunger. It must free millions of Nigerians from poverty by building a new political and economic system that works for everyone, not just a fortunate few”.
At times like this, Dr. Amarachukwu Allison, stands out for his exceptional vigilance and brilliance which “led to the early diagnosis and rapid containment of the Italian first COVID-19 infection in Ogun State.” Dr. Allison’s vigilance timely slowed down the pandemic which had since risen, due to relative complacency such as allowing returnees from Abidjan to Osun State without isolation. At times like this we are all leaders who must guide others to live and act safe.
Aremu, General Secretary, National Union of Textile, Garment and Tailoring Workers of Nigeria, wrote from Abuja