Mr. Charles Anike is the National President of Eastern Union (EU), a political pressure group for the people of Old Eastern Region. In this interview with SIMPLE IKEM he spoke on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it is being handled by Nigerian leaders. Excerpt:
TNE: What is your take on the recent killing of a youth in Warri by soldiers over the COVID-19 sit-at-home order?
Well, my response will go in different directions. First, we seriously condemn the killing and recommend that the killer soldier be immediately prosecuted. Most times, our uniformed men are over zealous and lack adequate training to operate in a democratic environment. Our uniformed men need constant orientation and retraining, because most of them are often overzealous and insensitive.
Also, we blame some of our youths and even some adults who deliberately disobey law and order. No matter what, everyone is expected to obey laws and orders in time of crisis to avoid casualties, which can be avoided. More often, people find one excuse or the other to disobey government’s instructions. This is another reason we continue to wonder what the real duty of National Orientation Agency (NOA) is and if it really exists. Here again, we expected the Ministry of Information and Culture to be up and doing. Rather, the minister is always lying and engaging on unnecessary propaganda. Nigerian public lacks adequate information and enlightenment on government’s programmes and policies.
TNE: How do you see the responses of the federal and state governments to the COVID-19 pandemic?
The federal and statement governments’ responses have been very poor. This government ignored all the global warnings and opened our airports for their family members to import Coronavirus. When they were sure the virus was fully imported, they ordered closure of the airports. Their claim was that they could not shut the airport against Nigerian citizens returning home. The question is: Why did they later shut it? Why was it only when their wives, children and friends imported the virus that they closed the airports? The question again is: Are the Nigerians who were returning home ended their stay abroad?
The biggest challenge of the APC government is the penchant for lies and propaganda. The same lies and propaganda they used as an opposition party they have continued to employ as a ruling party. You can notice that Nigerians no longer believe anything the government says. That is the reason compliance to the government’s directions are very low, like the current sit-at-home order and many more.
TNE: Nigeria has recorded many deaths from COVID-19 so far, while the figures is getting close to 1000 and still rising. What more should government do about the situation?
The reality of the COVID-19 has dawned on us. We expect the government to be more proactive in its approach. This is not the time to play politics and sentiments. This virus that does not know the poor or rich, neither does it spare anyone on the basis of religion or tribe. Therefore, those in government at all levels should show commitment in the way they handle the pandemic, just like every other government across the world. This is time for the government to seriously invest in the health sector. The fight against COVID-19 should be an opportunity for Nigerian leaders to yield to the age long request to pay attention and invest on the health sector.
Thank God, the COVID-19 is a global pandemic. So, nobody is running to anywhere. It also started from the top. It is only the grace and mercies of God that have helped us to contain the spread and limit the death rate, so far. The government must do everything possible to prevent community spread of the virus.
TNE: Would you say Nigerians and corporate bodies understand the seriousness of the pandemic?
As regards the Nigerian populace, the awareness and consciousness of the pandemic is very low. First, the people don’t even believe there is anything like Coronavirus, especially when they don’t trust the government in power. That is exactly the danger of having a government that is not trustworthy. Nigerian people, especially the locals, still live in the ignorance that COVID-19 is a ‘big man’s’ sickness. So, they are not ready to comply with any advice and rules like social distancing, hand wash.
As regards the corporate institutions, many have not shown commitment in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic, otherwise, we would have seen their contributions and support to people in communities, as part of their corporate social responsibilities. They simply closed down, doing nothing.
TNE: What is your reaction to the reduction of petroleum pump price, following the slump on the global oil market?
The Federal Government’s reduction of the petroleum pump price is right. However, the reduction was not commensurate with the slump on the global oil market. The Federal Government’s reduction was very insignificant and that was after pressure from the opposition and civil societies. I think the APC government finds it difficult to do anything that can bring palliatives to the people, even at this time of emergency. Otherwise, we expected the price to be reduced to about N80 per litre, or at worse N90 per litre.
Slug: Would you like the federal and state governments to extend the sit-at-home order to another two weeks?
The extension of the sit-at-home order to two more weeks would have been the right thing if we have responsible governments at all levels. We pray that the spread should not get to the community level because that will be a national tragedy. The governments we have at the centre and the states, with few exceptions, are not up to their responsibilities. During elections, Christian and Muslim festivals, the government will be sharing bags of rice, different food items and monies, but now, they locked down the entire nation without any attempt to reach the people with money or foodstuff as done in other climes. Where they do, it was poorly done. What a hypocritical leaders we now have in power! All over the world, governments are reaching out to the people with monies and foods to help keep them at home. But here, all you hear is government enforcing sit-at-home order without any form of support to the people who they know live on their daily struggles. But, the government keeps lying to the people and the global community that a lot is being done.
Therefore, the sit-at-home order is no longer necessary and can never be successfully enforced after this first phase. The government is irresponsible and lacks commitment. Let God, as always, save the Nigerian masses.
TNE: How do you see the way the South-East governors are responding to the COVID-19 war?
This set of South-East governors lack capacity to lead. They not only lack capacity, they lack initiatives, they not only lack initiatives, they lack courage and co-operation. They also lack team spirit. So far, their responses are not anything different from their responses on regional security outfits, being organised by their counterparts from other zones. They lack co-operation and team spirit, they operate on individual basis. They cannot even emulate their counterparts from other zones. You can see that there have not been much attempts to reach out to our people who are kept at home without foods in several states. They have not seen the need to intervene in the rise in the prices of food items. The responses of most of the South-East governors are very unfortunate. For example, the Enugu State governor was busy celebrating his birthday, while every leader all over the world is busy sourcing for solutions to curb the spread of the pandemic. You remember how the elderly woman that returned from UK died at an Enugu hospital due to carelessness. Yet, that was not enough for the Enugu governor to postpone the celebration of his birthday. So, most of these governors are careless and self-centred.
More unfortunately, some Igbo billionaires also embarked on white elephant projects by donating billions of naira to the Federal Government in the fight against COVID-19, the same Federal Government that does not care about the survival of Ndigbo in Nigeria. How many Hausa billionaires that own oil wells in the Niger Delta have contributed to the fight against COVID-19? It is time our people should learn lessons and start knowing that charity begins at home. If they had made those contributions to the states governments, it would have gone a long way to alleviate the suffering of our people, rather than wasting them on the greedy and unaccountable Federal Government. Note that any money contributed to this Federal Government is to further wet the insatiable appetite of the APC super rich.