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COVID-19: President Buhari and Presidential governance

On Monday, April 27, 2020, the Nigerian president Mr Muhammadu Buhari delivered his third consecutive national addresses to Nigerians on the ongoing war against the Coronavirus pandemic in the country.  Thoughtfully, these "state of the nation" addresses were delivered within 30 days. The two previous speeches were delivered on March 29 and April 12, 2020. Last Monday night's speech was delivered in a great presidential aura. The president had looked quite collected and seemed overly aware of the very complex tasks facing his country. The speech was delivered with a strong, passionate and compassionate voice; and with an unbridled tone of emotion.
But what did the president's speech tell us? First, it is not my intention to recast the speech itself but to offer a critical and intelligent appraisal of the text. The speech was more or less a progress report offering a sufficient overview on the war on the Coronavirus in the country especially in the last 30 days in which the president had maintained an effective channel of communication with his fellow country men and women.
The president had humbly thanked his fellow citizens for their sacrifices so far in the ongoing war on Covid-19. He pointed out that Covid-19 is the greatest health challenge facing our generation, acknowledging that the virus has brought an unprecedented chaos, disruption and carnage across the globe. He would then assert correctly that about three million people are currently infected, and that about nine hundred thousand of them have so far recovered while over two hundred thousand causalities have been recorded so far across the globe.
The president then went on to talk about his government's decisive response to the pandemic and gave a vivid account of the ongoing efforts by his administration to get the country back on its feet. He said that the government had initially shot down the country's land borders, which preceded the closure of the nation's seaports and international airports. The government had in the course of his first broadcast declared lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja which were the flash-point of the disease then. The state governors had followed suit in locking down their various states. The president was pleased to announce that those containment measures had brought significant results for the nation. For instance, with over two hundred million people, Nigeria currently has less than two thousand infected persons, and less than one hundred casualties.
The president also dwelled on the crucial role which the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control is playing to keep the country safe amidst the pandemic. He urged Nigerians to keep to the instructions provided by the ccentre. The NCDC has demonstrated an unmitigated aggression against a virulent, merciless and earth-shaken enemy, the Covid-19. On the concern over the limited testing capacity of the agency, the president pointed out that the issue is been systematically addressed. According the president, the centre has now established fifteen functional test centres across the nation with the capacity of conducting two and a half thousand tests a day. It needs to do more. 
In both scope and intensity, the speech was a product of hindsight and a wide-range of consultation and engagement. This has depicted the president as someone who does not only communicate but who is also keen on audience feedback. On the contentious issue of lockdown, the president recognized the pain the lockdown has caused the citizens who have been kept in confinement under a government-imposed lockdown literally without any means of livelihood. He admitted that the initial Federal Government palliatives could not get to most people and stated that his administration is expanding its respond at both the financial, material and logistics levels.
To many, the lockdown is like a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea. The people had welcomed the lockdown though reluctantly. Frustrations have only risen due to the inability of the governments to ameliorate their plight under the lockdown. Lockdown could be utterly painful and distasteful, but the consequences of not keeping the people away from the streets and public places when it mattered most would have been quite devastating as it is the case in many countries in the West today. Its huge human and economic cost could only be imagined.
Under intense pressure from the Nigerian Governors Forum which wanted the lockdown restriction across the country to be relaxed, the president had ordered the relaxation of the ongoing lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja as from May 4, 2020 when it's expected to be replaced with a night time curfew of between 8 pm to 6 am each day. Strangely, this decision came at a time the pandemic is yet to be brought under control. However, interstate travel has been banned indefinitely except for travelers on essential journeys. Movement of goods and services will also be allowed within the interstate borders. In times of national crisis, such shrewd application of wisdom and resources becomes not only apt, but incredibly pertinent especially, amidst a terrifying pandemic.
The president had also thanked the Nigerian Governors Forum for its wide-range of commitments on the war on Covid-19. Governor Sanwo Olu of Lagos State has been outstanding. The success of the ongoing war will depend largely on what happened in Lagos State which is in many ways, Nigeria's own China, as well the development in Kano, the nation's most populated city now ravaged by the virus.
Nigerian state governors are beginning to relax the lockdown measures in their states. Many would think that they are acting in haste as the infection rates are not yet on the downward rope in most parts of the country. This is horrifying to say the least. But the governors are essentially handicapped by their inability to provide palliatives and they seem pretty unwilling to continue to keep a hungry and angry population under a lockdown. Authorities in Anambra State have slated May 4, 2020 for the opening of all the 63 major markets in the state. Anambra looks pretty safe with only one confirmed case so far. The government says the traders will strictly adhere to a specified safety measures when the markets are opened. Anambra is a delicate case.
Apart from its strong commercial status as a home to some of the largest markets in West Africa, it also has a sizeable population in Lagos and Kano States which are cauldrons of Covid-19 at the moment. Anambra constitutes over seventy percent of the Igbo population in Kano and relatively so in Lagos State. It should therefore keep its eyes on the developments in these states as it eases up.
Likely, the defining moment for our country on the war on COVID-19 will come between middle of June and middle of July, 2020 all things been equal even though the battle itself will continue in the weeks and months to come unless curative vaccine is found and made quickly available.
The president has shown an incredible leadership stride over the past month. Leadership is not always a popularity contest but the ability to define and provide a direction for the people on critical issues in an ongoing basis. Expectedly, in the course of his last speech the president had also turned its attention to the ancient city of Kano; the Nigeria's most populated city and the political hotbed of the North, and slammed an initial 14-day lockdown on the state.  The sad situation in Kano today should be a matter of concern to all. As Kano becomes the epicentre of the disease in the North, the critical need for strong, principled and visionary leaderships at all levels of organization becomes incredibly pertinent, especially amidst a pandemic. As I write, about 110 trucks loaded with assorted food items have been dispatched to Kano by the presidency and more reinforcements are ongoing. The Federal Government is also now working assiduously on the ground to establish the real cause of the many deaths that have occurred in the state in recent time.
The president also spoke glowingly about the health workers and their outstanding contribution so far on the war on the deadly virus.  No doubt, the country is amazingly gifted with incredibly talented and committed health workers who have dedicated their life and limb to the war on new Coronavirus. About 113 of them have so far been infected with the disease. These health workers have become our frontline soldiers against the willful, dangerous, and life-threatening enemy, the COVID-19. The government has thus offered them fifty percent of their basic salaries as their hazard allowances.
He also took time to thank the European Union, the United States of America, the Chinese billionaire, Mr Jack Ma, and some of the nation's top business leaders who had offered financial support to the government over the pandemic.
In the face of the Covid-19-induced global economic recession, the president delved on the Nigerian economy and the efforts been made by the nation's apex bank to stimulate it. Certainly, with the collapse of the crude oil prices at the international market which will likely keep the oil prices low for a while, coupled with the ensuing forex crisis and the concomitant economic recession in the country, life after the pandemic will no doubt be a difficult one. All hands must therefore be on the desk to support the president's efforts to make the transition for our country a less difficult and painful one. But time has also come for us to take a critical, intelligent and sufficient appraisal of our nation's stunted political system to ensure systematic reordering where necessary.
 The president will no doubt take Nigeria to the "Next Level" if he can exude the same level of optimism, openness, resilience, alertness, and aggression which he has deployed against Covid-19 in tackling other critical issues facing the country. Remarkably, Mr Muhammadu Buhari was on April 23, 2020 appointed the COVID-19 response "champion" in West Africa by the West African leaders.
No president anywhere in the world has ever come to the office fully prepared for the tasks of governance. But once in office, presidents learn the art of presidential leadership, especially those who are determined to deliver on their mandates. No doubt, in recent time, President Buhari has shown a commendable degree of the mastery of the art of presidential governance.
Chris Chukwubuzor Azuka, FCIDA
National Coordinator,
Save the Dream Nigeria-Project,    

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