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State of the states, coronavirus edition

My organisation is tracking responses by various states to the coronavirus pandemic and just as a sample, two states from each geopolitical zone: In the South-West, Lagos has been very proactive. Schools have been shut and places of worship restricted to 20 people per gathering. Furthermore, 25 tests per day are being conducted. Oyo took its time until the faux pas of a public gathering brought an apology from the governor and some form of action. But by then, the horse had bolted, and the Jegede area of Ibadan is somewhere we should watch. In the South-South, the most proactive state was Delta where the governor set up a response team and designated the seaports in Warri, Sapele, Koko, and Oghara as holding centres for any possible outbreak.

All hospitals across the state have been mandated to designate an isolated area as a detention centre. In Rivers, on the other hand, it took a lot of effort to get the government moving, and when they eventually did move, after a case had popped up, it was a sledgehammer kind of move. Maybe like China, it would work. In the South East, Abia set up a committee as early as 3 March to launch preventive media campaigns, but this lost steam and the governor was caught on video basically putting his faith in an obscure Bible verse. Enugu is, well, Enugu is in the hands of God.

In the North West, Kaduna was the most proactive, quickly placing a restriction on religious gatherings, and creating an Emergency Operational Centre. The governor personally led security agents to ensure adherence to movement restrictions and has ensured public disinfecting. Unfortunately for him, he has caught the virus. I wish him a quick recovery. On its part, aside from an announcement that it has started screening all people coming into the state from the airport and through the land borders (if that were possible), Kebbi seems to be the deer caught in the headlights. Maybe that is because, in real terms, Kebbi is one of the most disconnected states in the country. In the North East, Bauchi was relaxed until the governor announced that he had been infected, and since then a committee has been set up under the leadership of the Deputy Governor, and schools have been closed while gatherings of more than 50 people have been banned. Finally, in the North Central, Kwara completed a 20-bed isolation centre at Sobi Specialist Hospital and plans are underway to build an additional and well-equipped 12-bed intensive care unit at the General Hospital, Ilorin. In Nasarawa, the government announced that to fight the virus, it would evacuate non-indigenous Almajiri from the state, as if the coronavirus looks at the state of origin before infecting people.

From the above, one thing is stunningly clear: different states in Nigeria have different cultures and attitudes to critical national issues.

Permit me to digress a little and tell a story…

In 1999, Nigeria organised the FIFA Under-20 World Cup. The organisation was done entirely at the level of the Local Organising Committee, which was an organ of the federal government, and Nigeria ’99 is on record as probably the worst ever FIFA competition (Indeed it led to loads of changes in the way FIFA ‘helps’ host countries).

Ten years later, we were, for some reason, awarded the right to host the Under-17 World Cup. When it became evident that the LOC was shirking on its responsibilities, state governments in some centres stepped in, and that competition ended up being more successful in some areas than it was in others. In Lagos, Kano, Ijebu Ode and Calabar, the organisation of the competition were quite well done (except for a few minor details as it seems to be with all things Nigerian). In Enugu, Kaduna and Abuja, things were not quite what they should have been. When FIFA’s Vice President, Jack Warner led the body’s delegation to the U.J. Esuene Stadium in Calabar in the lead up to the tournament, Warner was said to have told some other state officials should “take a walk to Calabar to learn the basic distinction between aspiration and achievement.”

This disparity in organisational success shows us that for parts of Nigeria (and eventually the whole) to make real progress, there has to be competition among the constituent parts of the country. The entire point of being a federation is that big, diverse and multi-ethnic constituents are allowed a significant degree of freedom in directing their affairs in ways that account for the unique circumstances of their geographic, social and political situation. It is impracticable to demand that Akwa Ibom and Borno structure their affairs the same way. This is why restructuring is key.

As we are witnessing the unravelling of the COVID-19 epidemic in the United States, it has been instructive to watch how Governors Andrew Cuomo in New York and Gavin Newsom in California have taken charge of the crises in their states. This is why federal states, on the whole, have worked better than other forms of representative government. A return, if you may, to the arrangement that obtained in our post-independence democracy where the regions were in direct competition with one another, and each was allowed to develop at its own pace. Each state in Nigeria has its own uniqueness, and no one should be allowed to hold any other back.



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