One necessity for states to override adversity is promotion of unity and galvanisation of action to combat the common enemy. It’s not a time for partisan consideration, playing the ethno-religious card or sinking into the geo-political divide. Unfortunately, as usual, the Nigerian state is unable to come up with a common template to pull out of the doldrums when confronted with the coronavirus pandemic.
It is not only regrettable that the health authorities have not been able to pool their acts together fast enough to flatten the curve, political leaders at national and sub-national levels are working at cross purposes.
As the Eid-el-Kabir approached last week, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 warned that it would be too early to lift the ban on social gathering, including worship centres, imposed since March. President Muhammadu Buhari specifically called on state governors to cooperate with the PTF to prevent a surge in the cases. The Sultan of Sokoto, who leads Nigerian Muslims, called on the ummah to adhere to regulations by the PTF. It was one of those occasions that Islamic and Christian leaders agreed, as president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev. Supo Ayokunle, equally called on adherents of the religion to comply with the stay-at-home order.
However, the situation was different in some states as both governors and religious leaders kicked against the lockdown. Muslims agitated that they could not avoid the Eid praying grounds during the Eid-el-Fitr. Pastors, too, wondered why churches were still locked down when markets, companies and motor parks had resumed activities.
Consequently, many state governors rolled out counter orders. The Nasarawa State governor, Abdullahi Sule, lifted the ban and approved use of Eid grounds for the prayers. Of course, he gave a similar approval for reopening of churches, defying the COVID-19 raging storm. He said the relaxation order would subsist for two weeks.
In Kano, dubbed the second epicentre of the disease in Nigeria, Gov. Abdullahi Ganduje, too, flung open gates to the Eid grounds. Given the population of Kano city, the gathering was expectedly unruly. It was not a setting where social distancing could be maintained. The situation in Borno was not different. But in Sokoto State, Governor Aliyu Tambuwal and Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar led the faithful to Jumaat mosques to observe the prayers with the expectation that the crowd would be controllable. In the South, Ebonyi and Cross River states dismissed the federal rule. The defiant Cross River State governor, Professor Ben Ayade, basking in the euphoria that his state is yet to record any case of the novel flu, said reopening the worship centres portended no danger to the health of his people. He only insisted that every worshiper must adorn the face mask.
We call for caution. The religious leaders form a critical part of the elite in this country and their services are needed if the people are to be fully mobilised for the battle. The political authority at the federal level should continue to engage them in dialogue if we are to get out of the bind any time soon. It appears the state governors who broke ranks with the others merely succumbed to pressure from religious and traditional leaders. The critical factor, therefore, is to embrace persuasion. This is no time to let down the guard as the pandemic is yet to reach the peak, according to public health experts. The community spread stage already attained in some states is the most dangerous, it is therefore incumbent on all to work in unison towards ensuring that the disease does not spiral out of control.