Unforced errors – The Nation

  • Leaders as ‘misleaders’, in the season of COVID-19

Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde has made it public that he had tested positive to Coronavirus, thus joining the ballooning cases the pandemic has recorded in Nigeria. He is the third state governor to test positive, after Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State and his Kaduna counterpart, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai.

Testing positive to the virus is by no means a crime, and we must indeed continue to uphold confirmed cases in prayers, as we pursue all measures advised by the authorities to leash the pandemic.

But the particular circumstance of the Oyo governor’s case-listing graphically illustrated poor leadership and dereliction on the basic leadership mandate to set a good example that others may follow.

Nigeria reported its first case of Coronavirus infection on February 27.  By March 16, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had confirmed new cases that brought the tally, as at then, to three. Even though there were yet no lockdowns, the centre made clear it was tracing suspected contacts of the cases; and in addition to its self-isolation prescription to returnee travellers, it urged all Nigerians to take necessary precautions – key of which is social distancing.

Governor Makinde got a confirmation of his positive status on March  30. But that was against the backdrop of having hosted his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), on March 18, to what it tagged Southwest unification rally in Ibadan, where there wasn’t the slightest thought for social distancing, as political supporters crushed upon one another.

Makinde said enough at that rally to show the event was held in defiance of good advice to do otherwise. “They said we shouldn’t hold this rally because of Coronavirus…” were his words. Other attendees at the rally, among them Bayelsa State Governor Duoye Diri and other stalwarts of the party, poked fun about Coronavirus being in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and not in their own party.

The sheer indiscretion of purported leaders calling out supporters in defiance of precautionary advice by health authorities, aimed at protecting everyone, is mind-boggling. It is worse that the so-called leaders made light of an emergency that the global community is frantically rallying its best resources to counter – as if telling followers to disregard the whole alarm.

Arguments canvassed, after-the-fact, that there was no known case of virus infection in Oyo State as at then, and that the governor was asymptomatic are hollow because discretion, as the saying goes, is the best part of valour. And now that the country is awash with confirmed cases – with the NCDC following up on more than 6,000 of their contacts – the admonition lately by the Oyo governor that COVID-19 is real, and that people should stay at home and follow instructions, is avoidably belated.

But Governor Makinde and fellow travellers in his party are only a metaphor for rank unguardedness of the leadership elite, amidst this raging pandemic. Many in the elite have carried on with scant regard for necessary precautions as could have posed good examples for the public to follow after. The Oyo governor argued that he might have contracted the virus from either meeting of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and the National Economic Council he attended in Abuja after the rally.

That is up in the air — and could well be another propagandist bluster to hide behind a finger, in the fond hope to escape further censure.  However, what is not is that before it became public he had contracted the virus, presidential Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, had in a leaked correspondence to presiding officers of the National Assembly (NASS), called attention to refusal by NASS members to be screened at airports upon their return from foreign trips. But when Kyari himself returned March 14 from a trip to Germany, he did not self-isolate as expected before he was pronounced positive to the virus.

In the ongoing battle against COVID-19 pandemic, Nigerian leaders must set the pace in precautions necessary to halt further infections.

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