By Jerome-Mario Utomi
In the London Sunday Times (22 August, 1965), Richard Hughes wrote, Singapore’s economy would collapse if the British bases-costing more than 100 million pounds sterling-were closed. I shared these fears but did not express them; my duty as a leader was to give the people hope, not demoralize them-Lee Kuen Yew-A Former Prime Minister of Singapore.
Each times I reflect on the Corona virus pandemic(COVID-19), presently ravaging the globe with special emphasis on Nigeria, the account of Vietnamese attack on Cambodia on the 25th December 1978, and subsequent occupation of same till 1991, comes flooding. The reasons fueling these feelings are evident.
Essentially, the Vietnamese attack and COVID-19 pandemic are inextricably linked-both in their causes and effects.
To explain this point, aside from bringing deaths and grief to humanity, both were argueably caused by man’s search for new fields to increase wealth and wellbeing. On the effects on humanity, while Vietnamese attack on Cambodia threatened Asean solidarity and its corporate existence, same way has Coronavirus pandemic presently frightens the public, put the credibility and decency of nations under serious scrutiny.
What is, however, different in the two similar but separate accounts is that while ending the Asean crisis was creatively viewed by intelligent men of goodwill as a task that must be achieved through innovative leadership, Nigeria’s experience is different. Instead of finding lasting solution that works, citizens are daily fed with real and imagined excuses why the nation is still having its head on the sand. Indeed, for the keen watchers, it has been a season of despires, gloomy future, heartbreaks for families and poor information management.
From these stories, it’s obvious that the Government and the Media laid the groundwork for the nation’s present predicaments.
First, it’s a common knowledge that failure rate of government policies in Nigeria is at all time high. An occurrence traceable to leader’s being reputed for coming up with course of action to address given problem or interrelated set of problems without definition of the problem, the goals to be achieved and the means chosen to address the problem.
What about the media? How has its action hinder nation development?
Notably, aside from giving big helping hands in information dissemination, media globally has a vital function to develop and install integrated information management culture that tends to reflect objectivity and professionalism. But here, media practice daily manifests a compromised arrangement and powerlessness particularly in the areas of holding the government accountable and performance evaluation.
Take the agenda setting role of the media in a constitutional democracy as an illustration. It is the function of the media to tell both the government and the masses about what to think, what the important issues are, the government personality or policies that are significant; as well as define what is political or otherwise.
But in case after cases, media in Nigeria fails to remind political players and state actors that ‘the viability of democracy depends upon the openness, reliability, appropriateness, responsiveness, and two way nature of the communication environment’.
By the same token, ‘fails to inform leaders that if the people receive responses that seem helpful but actually are not, they begin to feel manipulated. And if the messages they receive feed this growing cynicism, the decline of democracy can be accelerated’.
Whether you agree with the above position or not, responses coming from the government within this period, are, in my views, not only feeding cynicism but accelerates the decline of democracy in the country.
There are in fact multiple examples to this claim but tragically unique are; first, the Federal Government’s Controversial Invitation of Chinese Doctors despite public out cry Particularly, Medical doctors, under the umbrella of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), and the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), who opposed the plans describing it as not just unnecessary but insensitivity to, and a slap on the great sacrifice, the local stakeholders have been making to arrest the situation.
What’s more, there are many people in Nigeria who worry that there is something deeply troubling about the present administration relationship to reason, their disdain for fact and its lack of curiosity about any new information that might produce a deep understanding of the problems and policies that they are supposed to wrestle with on behalf of the country.
At this juncture, what comes to mind is government’s inability to equitably provide palliatives targeted at reducing the harsh economic impact of lock down as directed by President Buhari.
Crucial example of this assertion is the recent declaration during a press briefing by the Founder of Igbo Youth Movement, Elliot Ugochukwu-Uko, that the Federal Government’s handling and distribution of palliatives was skewed against the Southeast geo-political zone.Noting that; in the Southeast part of the country, there is no such thing as cash payments and free food from the Federal Government. The hardship is real. The suffering is real. We are yet to see any kind of help from the central government. the report concluded.
Comparatively also, unlike Lee Kuen Yew, who realized early in his administration that giving the people hope -forms part of his duty, each passing day in Nigeria, as a matter of fact, brings more evidence that the nation is facing serious information and administrative emergencies that demand immediate actions to sharply reduce such state of affairs.
In this class of challenge is the startling declaration without prudence, by Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, Director-General, the Nigeria centre for disease control (NCDC), while speaking on channels Television sunrise Daily programme recently, that every state in Nigeria would have its share of the coronavirus-as the pandemic, which is currently ravaging 21 states and the Federal capital Territory (FCT), would eventually spread to all the states of the federation.
Admittedly, truth is necessary. But, the sequence and timing were wrong. To speak in this form at a time when Nigerians and of course the world is stretched emotionally to breaking points and distracted by the growing threat of Corona Virus, and without concentration of emphasis on telling the people what the organisation is doing to arrest the situation, is in my opinion a sign of a nation blessed with public office holders that are not applying what they learned in crisis management. It tells of leaders that are not interested in giving hope to the people. And evidently signposts the nation’s need for new reform measures and policy decisions anchored on intelligence, creativity and what works.
Certainly, this task is complicated by the fact that there is little agreement about what specific activity denotes intelligent. However, when one places side by side the NCDC’s Boss comment with that of Lee Kuen Yew, a clear distinction comes to the fore.
Comparatively, while Ihekweazu’s declaration, gave no consideration to the time-honoured believe that the brain thrives on imperfect data-which can turn nonsense into sense, Lee on his part manifested attributes of a clear thinkers that cull everything down into the right points.
The lessons inherent, going by Lee’s argument, is that public order, personal and national security, economic and social programmes, and prosperity is not the natural order of things but depends on the ceaseless efforts and attentions from an honest and effective government that the people elect.
Utomi,(firstname.lastname@example.org) , Lagos, Nigeria.