Sanwo-Olu’s leadership skills come under Covid-19 test

The fight is far from over; the governor should not rest on his oars

The performance of Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos State, in leading the coronavirus response has cancelled out what began as spotty leadership of Nigeria’s economic capital and today, amid vacuous leadership at the centre, he is emerging a shining light.

To be fair, the performance of the governors of Ogun and Oyo States in managing the pandemic has also been commendable. However, Sanwo-Olu stands above all others in empathetic leadership, practical organisation and effective communication of the dangers posed by a virus that has sickened 976 people in his state as at Friday.

His emergence as candidate of the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Lagos State in the 2019 general elections was not without turmoil as it ruined the ambition of the then incumbent governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, evoking outcries of a state under the sway of APC chieftain and former governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

The moral burden of being beholden to a godfather who brooks no opposition, commonly perceived to have a chokehold on the pulse and purse of the state, didn’t do much to help the reputation of the governor.

The 54-year-old politician worsened matters when his delayed action at checking the deteriorating road infrastructure in the state and the mounting filth around street corners led to questions about his competence.

But sometimes, it takes a crisis to show the man. In the case of Sanwo-Olu, the pandemic has helped to rewrite his story. Sanwo-Olu, a banker, leads a state facing a public health crisis. But leadership is sometimes only appointing the right people and getting out of their way so they can do their jobs.

To his credit, he appointed a consummate professional in the role of the health commissioner and allowed him to be the face of the fight against the pandemic, yet that has not diminished the governor. In fact, it has brought him more acclaim.

Akin Abayomi is a pathologist and specialist in internal medicines, haematology, environmental health and biobanking. He was the chair of the H3Africa Consortium Data and Biospecimen Access Committee, and principal investigator of the Global Emerging Pathogens Consortium, which was established at the height of the West African Ebola Outbreak to address biosecurity concerns in Africa.

Read also: Lagos discharges 60 COVID-19 patients, as one dies 

This is a brief profile of the man leading the charge against Lagos’ pandemic fight. His counterpart at the federal level is Boss Mustapha, a lawyer and civil servant. Mustapha is assisted by Chikwe Ihekweazu, an epidemiologist, and there is no virologist on the Federal Government task force, unlike in Lagos.

The outcomes have also been markedly different. Shutting the airports, imposing a lockdown and easing it were all knee-jerk reactions by the FG without scientific and evidence-based approach in the process. The president addressed the nation only after excoriation from the public. Now Nigerians pine to hear from their president if only to confirm that he is still alive.

Clearly, if the Lagos State government had the power to shut the airports, it would have been done so sooner. Even then, it has managed to communicate effectively through various media and through community efforts.

Contrast this with the shambolic handling of the pandemic by the Kano State governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, whose poor governance and allegation of sleaze has engendered mistrust by the people. The citizens believe their mallams over the government and chants of “The Mallam says there’s no corona” rend the air on the streets, in a state that in one day saw 80 new cases.

Below is timeline of Sanwo-Olu’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic:

Strengthened protocols to avoid further spread of COVID-19 as he paid a visit to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport to carry out an assessment of some measures used to screen travellers coming into the country and state (March 17, 2020).

To further curb the virus spread, he put measures in place to strictly enforce travel restrictions. This was in conjunction with healthcare professionals and immigration agencies. According to Sanwo-Olu, it was the time to be smart and stand together.

On March 19, 2020, Sanwo-Olu limited gatherings and events to no more than 50 people and ensured appropriate social distancing must be observed.

Sequel to limiting gatherings, schools and religious gathering were ordered to be closed down. This was in a bid to protect residents from physical and other potential threats.

On March 20, the governor also commenced grassroots sensitisation with fliers, on the radio and other channels.

After daily evaluation of COVID-19 situation, Governor Sanwo-Olu on March 22 issued a 14-day work from-home-order for Lagos State civil servants from Level 1-12 while giving strict instructions on social distancing.

He also ordered public parks, including those in private and residents’ estates and other public places, to shut down until further notice in a bid to curb the virus spread. Also, on March 24, markets were ordered to close for seven days, except for sellers of food, medicines, medical equipment and other essential life-saving products.

Having understood the possibility of hoodlums taking advantage of the lockdown situation, Governor Sanwo-Olu on March 24 met with the State Security Council to improve security.

On March 26, the Lagos State government deployed disinfectant equipment to fumigate the entire state. The next day, the advocacy team of Lagos State was empowered with more vehicles to aid information dissemination to all parts of the state.

On March 27, the Lagos State government announced stimulus packages which contained rice, beans, garri, bread, dry pepper, drinking water and vitamins to residents that would last for 14 days during lockdown. The first stage targeted 200,000 households at an estimation of six people per household.

The state government on March 28 completed a 110-bed fully equipped isolation centre in partnership with GTBank.

The containment period was used to identify, trace, and isolate all individuals that had come in contact with confirmed cases in Lagos.

Given the tendency for security agencies and officers to carry out harshly the lockdown order of President Buhari on residents, Governor Sanwo-Olu charged the officers to be friendly and civil in enforcement of the stay-at-home order. He also declared that all emergencies including accidents, deliveries by pregnant women and admission in any of the 27 state-owned general hospitals and other public health facilities would be handled free of charge. According to him, the state government would, for the duration of the restriction on movement, take full responsibility for the medical bills of all patients who fall in those categories at all Lagos State-owned secondary healthcare facilities. Over 18,000 people accessed the medical services with over 600 childbirths.

Sanwo-Olu provided more measures to cushion the effect of the extended lockdown by distributing relief items to 250,000 vulnerable residents. In addition, 100,000 youths were provided one meal per day across LCDAs via its food kitchens.

On April 22, Sanwo-Olu unveiled an 80-bed isolation centre at Landmark, Oniru.
With the FG announcing the easing of lockdown in Lagos, FCT and Ogun State beginning May 4, Sanwo-Olu has mandated the wearing of facemasks and use of hand sanitisers in the state.

The governor’s pragmatic handling of the pandemic has earned him the people’s trust and the support of the private sector. While we commend the governor on his proactive response so far, we remind him that the battle is far from over and urge him not to rest on his oars.

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