In December 2019, a new class of coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 (later renamed COVID-19) Pandemic came like a thunderbolt to the whole world, as nobody saw it coming, not with spying satellites in the sky, not by any security and intelligence agency around the world, and not with the most sophisticated horizon-scanning machine or analytical methodologies. It caught the field of risk analysis and management by utmost surprise.
From the moment it was reported breaking out from the downtown Wuhan City, Hubei Province, in China, on December 31, 2019, it quickly spread round the world through human-to-human contact. It was both end-of-the-year and New Year gift from China to the rest of the world. Countries were engulfed and overwhelmed by the insidiousness of the virus within a short period of time. It shook and exposed the Achilles heel of the public health sector worldwide, graphically showing its hitherto hidden vulnerabilities. Thousands consequently lost their lives worldwide. Economies nosedived and crashed into the gulfs of crisis and recession. Significantly, COVID-19 pandemic rattled the defense, security and intelligence establishments worldwide. Virtually everything was turned upside down, literally speaking.
This brief analysis looks at the human security implications of COVID-19 Pandemic as an extension of the hitherto existing national security threat spectrum. But it is not just the pandemic but also the government response worldwide that cause crisis in the human security sector.
According to McKinsey and Company: “COVID-19 is, first and foremost, a global humanitarian challenge. Thousands of health professionals are heroically battling the virus, putting their own lives at risk. Governments and industry are working together to understand and address the challenge, support victims and their families and communities, and search for treatments and a vaccine.”
This is arguable as other observers and analysts may wish to disagree and contend, laying more emphasis on the primacy of the global and national security dimensions of the coronavirus. Joseph Micallef says that COVID-19 underscores the national security implications of such a pandemic. “COVID-19 is simply one battle in a longer and larger war that humankind has waged with coronaviruses for generations. This pandemic, however, has underscored the national security implications of such outbreaks.” It is therefore not surprising that, according to Talha Ibrahim: “Covid-19 has ushered in the latest wave of transformation in the policy and scholarly agendas of national security.”
Indeed, lot of writers, too numerous to mention here, have shown convincingly the fundamental threat posed by COVID-19 Pandemic to both global and national security interests while not necessarily overlooking the human security dimension. Governments, while fighting to bring the virus under control in their individual countries, have also looked over their shoulders to the source of the virus: China, and in the process raising very crucial and relevant questions as regard the nature of the virus, whether it was man-made or a natural occurrence, both of which has its own specific implications for global, regional, national and human security and concomitantly the multilateral and bilateral relationships with China, present and future.
Governments and individuals have called upon China to come out with the truth about the coronavirus; that it has the burden of history on its shoulder to discharge; and to explain and exonerate itself from or admit guilt for what actually happened in Wuhan city. This line of argument and pressure on China is that it is not enough to gloss this over; telling others to mind their businesses or first solve the pandemic; that it is important in the spirit of public accountability and transparency – something which China itself preaches on international institutional platforms – to come out clear and clean since, at any rate, nobody is going to “kill” China for telling the truth.
Modern biotechnology has opened a veritable Pandora’s box of biological weapons, including man-made biological weapons that combined different characteristics of several pathogens to create super pathogens. The organisms are called chimeras, a reference to Greek mythological creatures that incorporated features of several animals. The emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus underscores the challenge that even naturally occurring pathogens pose to the national security of the U.S.
Some believe that, while the virus was being studied at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the virus escaped by infecting someone at the institute. Through that person, the original patient, it was transmitted to the general population of Wuhan, and from there elsewhere throughout China and the world. It does not appear that the research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus was intended for weaponization. The research was part of a broader effort, in part funded by the U.S. and Canadian governments, to study coronavirus pathogens, which involved several research institutes, including the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
The enormous human and economic damage that has been caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, however, has underscored just how potent a biological weapon this coronavirus and other pathogens like it can be. The COVID-19 epidemic showcased a deep vulnerability in the U.S., indeed the whole world, to such viral pandemics.
But as Audrey Kurth Cronin and Patrick M. Conin noted: “Every crisis yields an opportunity. The tragic toll of this pandemic in the United States will underscore a very personal threat to Americans, losing friends, neighbors, and family members to this deadly virus. Widespread pain will unlock both political capital and federal resources to start treating public health as a national security priority. The most poignant and powerful phrase in U.S. rhetoric has always been “never again.” American history demonstrates that, although the country is often slow to respond, U.S. strategy-making succeeds best when the American people are at the heart of it.”
This paper, however, proceeds from national security standpoint to look at the human security implications of the coronavirus with special reference faced by the public health sector in coping with the treatment of the virus in view of the absence of known cure.
Nexus Between National and Human Security Dimension of COVID-19 Pandemic
In broad historical perspective, Gerald Rockenschaub, Jukka Pukkila and Maria Cristina Profil said “Health security is a key priority for WHO’s Member States.
The crises in south-eastern Europe in 1991-2002 were a traumatic experience that reshaped the perception of security both in Europe and globally. Violent conflicts in the heart of Europe demolished security arrangements and the sense of safety in European societies. The lessons learned from the response to the health challenges posed by the conflicts in south-eastern Europe have significantly influenced the international approach to health assistance in later conflicts and post-conflict situations around the world.
In the European Region, more than 300 000 people have perished in violent conflicts and almost 100 000 from natural and human-made (technological) disasters during the past 15 years, and the number of natural disasters seems to be increasing. Much of this increase has now been credibly attributed to global climate change, and the increase is predicted to continue. The task of estimating and predicting the health effects of global climate change is very complicated and is only just beginning. At the same time, the health effects of some earlier disasters, most notably those of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 21 years ago, are still being studied.
Humanitarian emergencies, including natural and human-made disasters, conflicts and complex emergencies, constitute what has traditionally been considered the main threat to health security worldwide. Within the traditional categories of health threats, such as epidemic-prone diseases and natural and technological health hazards, there are scenarios of new or re-emerging threats, such as an influenza pandemic or the accidental release or deliberate use of biological and chemical agents or radionuclear material, creating a sense of insecurity and a climate of fear and exposing new challenges to national health systems and governments.
Some communicable diseases, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and influenza, have the potential to cause sudden, large-scale harm to the health and welfare of entire populations, including those in high-income countries such as western Europe.
Olubukola Adesina drew attention to HIV/AIDS as a national security threat.
In January 2000 the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) held its first ever session to examine HIV/AIDS as a security concern, the first occasion in which the UNSC had specifically discussed a disease. Before then, HIV/AIDS had primarily been considered a public health issue at the international level. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan told the Security Council: “The impact of AIDS in Africa was no less destructive than that of warfare itself. By overwhelming the continent’s health and social services, by creating millions of orphans, and by decimating health workers and teachers, AIDS is causing social and economic crises which in turn threaten political stability… In already unstable societies, this cocktail of disasters is a sure recipe for more conflict. And conflict, in turn, provides fertile ground for further infections’ (UN press release, 2000).
At the same Security Council meeting, the president of the World Bank, James Wolfensohn pointed out that AIDS was not just a health or development issue, but one affecting the peace and security of people in Africa. While life expectancy in Africa had increased by 24 years in the last four decades of the twentieth century, the continent’s development gains were threatened by the AIDS epidemic and life expectancy gains were being wiped out.
Ahyousha Khan says that “time and developments at international level proved that security is not static; it evolves with the changing nature of threats, and in the face of latent or imminent risks. Environmental insecurity, human insecurity, terrorism, and cyber insecurity are a few prominent non-traditional security threats faced by modern states in 21st century. Although, these threats garner significant attention but focus of the world major powers remained towards enhancing military and political strength of their states. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), military expenditure of states was $1917 billion in year 2019, which is 7.2% higher than it was in 2010. Khan is of the view that the term ‘security’ “is a comprehensive concept that encompasses the internal and external security threats faced by nation-states within the prevalent international system. Thus, each state has a peculiar national security policy, dynamic enough in the face of evolving threats and inherent vulnerabilities. Therefore, a national security policy cannot be unidirectional aiming to address either traditional or non-traditional threats.”
So, when pandemic such as COVID-19 struck the world, no state was prepared enough to handle this essentially non-traditional threat. States which possess most destructive technologies such as nuclear weapons, where there is always a chance of nuclear catastrophe, which could lead to millions of deaths, were short of ventilators and intensive care units. Even though scientists warned for years that climate change will increase the chances of pandemics by amplifying disease vectors, the focus of state’s national security never entailed such issues of human security; due to the belief that worst pandemics have already passed. Consequently, the price of this ignorance in terms of human security is now paid with 20% decrease in global economy, worldwide lockdowns, quarantines, and more than 220,000 deaths across the globe (number is still on the rise, with no vaccine having been developed yet). These statistics reveal that though non-traditional security threats may not directly damage the national security, they can be catalytic in affecting the other essential elements of the national security. The globalized world that we live in today is more vulnerable to infectious diseases such as COVID-19 due to increasing trade, population density, migration, human displacement, climate change and deforestation. Therefore, it is essential for states to counter non-traditional security threats because they can potentially reduce national resilience of states to prosper. The consequences of these threats would be more damaging for developing world, where there is population density, lack of medical facilities and most importantly economic vulnerability of state to handle such threats for prolonged period of time.
Indeed, coronavirus cannot be meaningfully discussed within the context of global or national security dimension without reference to its human security implications, vice versa. There is a nexus between the national and human security aspects of the coronavirus pandemic. Akiko Fukushima of Tokyo Foundation for Policy Research was emphatic: “The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis, it is a human security crisis — depriving our freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom to live with dignity. The pandemic demands a human security approach of comprehensive, across-the-board human protection and empowerment.
When the concept of human security was introduced in policy discussions in the 1990s, the approach was criticised for broadening security threats beyond war. In 2020, we are learning that an epidemic, which has killed close to 120,000 around the world as of 14 April, undermines our security and safety.
Professor Dennis Altman of La Trobe University, Australia, argued that the outbreak of the coronavirus necessitated rethinking the relevance of human security. “The recent bushfires and the coronavirus pandemic reveal imminent threats from climate change and global diseases that threaten the very survival of what we take for granted. Yet governments have been far less willing to commit to responding to these issues than to increasing military budgets.
When the concept of human security emerged it was designed to address seven themes: “economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security”. While these terms may seem too broad to be useful, all of them are directly related to the crises now facing the world.
He says the concept of human security was “broad enough to advance both freedom from fear and freedom from want” and that “the cataclysmic events of this year should remind us national security is no longer to be thought of in terms of conventional warfare and military expenditure”. “Put simply, human security encompasses all those threats to survival that are not military or state-sponsored, and therefore tend to fall beneath the radar of those who imagine security in conventionally “hard” terms.”
After unparalleled bushfires and coronavirus, the concept of human security gives us the language to reassess the most immediate threats to our survival and the need for global cooperation to respond to them.
In Africa and Nigeria in particular, the spread of the pandemic took a different dimension from those in advanced western countries in Europe and North America. In the latter countries the spread of the pandemic was widespread across all cities including their countrysides. But in the former, it is only few major cities that experienced the pandemic, sparing the countrysides. In Nigeria, for instance, Lagos, Ogun State, Abuja FCT and Kano had the highest rate of the pandemic in comparison with other states in the country.
But most intriguing and interesting at the same time is the evident low rate of the pandemic in the most conflict-ridden region of the country: Northeastern region of the country which include Borno, Yobe, Gombe, Bauchi, Adamawa, and Taraba.
Michael Morell is a CBS News senior national security contributor and former acting director of the [US] Central Intelligence Agency. Morell brought out seven potential national security consequences of COVID in which crisis in conflict zones was ranked third in the taxonomy of the consequences. “Many people in these countries are living in refugee camps, living in very close proximity to each other, living in unsanitary conditions, where water, food, and medical care are in short supply. The governments or pseudo governments in these areas are simply not able to deal with a health crisis that is at their doorstep. The result will be taking an already existing humanitarian crisis and making it much worse. Many will die, and some will go on the move and will try to cross borders to get to where they believe to be a better place. In a worst-case scenario, one can imagine people being shot as they try to cross borders or getting through borders and increasing the health risk to their new homes.
Morell says “Conflict zones are areas where war is raging or areas just in the aftermath of war. These areas, from a COVID-19 perspective, are at significant risk.”
Daniel Egel, Charles Ries, and Howard Shatz of RAND Corporation look at the outbreak of COVID-19 from global economic perspective noting its impacts on the health stability of world economy, in addition to U.S. national security interests within the context of falling oil prices.
The authors particularly noted the risk of the virus to internally displaced people and refugees. “The coming recession is likely to have a major destabilizing impact on IDP and refugee communities throughout the Middle East, which are already economically very precarious. Added to this economic challenge is the reality that these communities are likely to be particularly badly affected by COVID-19 given their density and the lack of means to control the spread of the outbreak or treat the people. This new source of instability in these communities could create opportunities for radicalization, and there are indications that some groups are already trying to “weaponize” COVID-19 to this purpose. But it could also set off—or aggravate—a new geopolitical conflict as refugees increasingly try to flee across the Turkish border.”
The scenario painted above were quite different from the conflict zone of North east region of Nigeria where Boko Haram insurgency and terrorism have been raging for almost eleven years now; and where significantly more than 2 million people have been displaced from their homelands, and currently sheltered in Internally Displaced Persons Camps (IDP Camps) As at June 11, 2020, only 382 deaths have been recorded in Nigeria, with 4,351 discharged but with total confirmed cases standing at 13, 873.31
But for Borno State that is the epicentre of the insurgency, only 381 cases were confirmed, Bauchi 374 cases, Yobe 52 cases, Adamawa 42 cases, and Gombe 246 cases.
These statistics go to reinforce the argument that there may be, after all, two levels of coronavirus spread: the high-level and low-level intensity. High level intensity embraces countries that have suffered the most from the virus, Europe, North America, Russia and other countries in the temperate zone; while the low-level intensity embraces countries mostly in the tropical region such as African countries, etc.
However, this does not explain the totality of what has happened or is happening in the north eastern region of the country. It is not necessarily as a result of proactive measures put in place by the concerned State Governments here, however crucial this may have been.
The additional fact to be noted here is that the flow of human carriers from the southern part of the country, especially from the Lagos-Ogun axis and even from Abuja to the north eastern states is extremely thin. The contrary is the case. There has been mass movement of people, not authorized by government, from the north to the south, people who are reported in the media to be almajerai, among others. But the next epicentre, apart from Lagos-Ogun axis, in the country is Kano State. It is most probably that the carriers who spread the virus in the north east states are from Kano State and possibly Abuja.
Thus the fears of writers like Morell, Egel, Ries and Shatz are not justified when applied to the scenario in Nigeria.
National versus Human Security in Nigeria
What exactly is the security status of COVID-19 Pandemic in Nigeria: is it national or human security or both? What is or should be the national or human security perspective or understanding of COVID-19 Pandemic? Should it be seen exclusively from the point of view of national security threat or challenge or should it also include human security dimension?
The above questions are very germane to the understanding of COVID-19 Pandemic both as a national and human security threat. However, the starting point for answering these questions would be to examine the outbreak of the pandemic within the context of Nigeria’s national security paradigm: the concept and strategy as captured in the second edition of the National Security Strategy which was made public in December 2019, the very month that COVID-19 broke out in Wuhan city, China.
The National Security Strategy 2019 (NSS2019) which was launched in December 2019 by the Federal Government of Nigeria acknowledges challenges to public health. It states that “The global impact of climate change has altered the dynamics of disease patterns and incidences across the world with the resurgence of viral hemorrhagic fevers such as Ebola, Lassa fever and Monkeypox, among others. Nigeria’s prompt and robust response to the Ebola outbreak of 2014 in West Africa remains a watershed in the management of public health emergencies in the world. Nigeria, being an attractive destination for commerce, is therefore not isolated from global pandemics which occur with some degree of unpredictability.
It further states that “The global trends of anti-microbial resistance and substance abuse exacerbated by influx of counterfeit drugs remain a potent threat to Nigeria. This phenomenon is further reinforced by the activities of fake drug cartels and globalized criminal networks. We will continue to promote the ideals of International Health Regulations (IHR) while working with relevant agencies to stem the tide.”
The NSS2019 declares that the nation’s health security overarching goal “is to promote and establish a health system based on primary healthcare that is preventive, restorative, rehabilitative and protective at the macro level for every Nigerian. The objective is to deliver health services that are affordable, universally available, accessible and acceptable within our socio-cultural context so that individuals and communities are assured of productivity, social well-being and optimal standard of living. We will continue to expand and consolidate on the gains of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) to provide effective, efficient, quality, accessible and affordable health services including mental healthcare that will improve the wellbeing of all Nigerians. We will continue to view public health security as a core pillar of human development as emplaced in our National Action Plan for Health Security (2018-2022) and Second National Strategic Health Development Plan (2018-2022).”
Even though the NSS2019 made mention of food, labour, health, education, environmental, political and social security, there was no mention of human security either as a concept or even phrase – except if it is agreed that the securities mentioned embraces human security conceptually, but a human security concept that quite a lot of scholars and analysts would most probable disagree with.
Curiously and interestingly too, the NSS2019 contains a section devoted to chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive security which did not, however, consider how a pandemic such as coronavirus can be weaponized and turned to a weapon of mass destruction within the overall epistemology and practice of weaponization of everything and anything. It is curious because, for instance, Nigeria has never had an experiential encounter with radiological or nuclear attacks of whatever description. So why import these types of threat scenarios into the national security threat spectrum at all? It is interesting on the other hand because Nigeria does not seem to have learnt any useful lesson from the various hybrid explosions via suicide bombings by Boko Haram insurgents over the years. The interesting point is that most of the explosive materials used in these suicide bombings were locally sourced and not necessarily imported for which it would have been easy to trace their foreign sources and then take necessary sanctions against the foreign suppliers.
However, more tragic is the fact that the response to the outbreak of COVID-19 by the federal government and the health sector in particular left much to be desired, a fact that has not escaped the critical attention of analysts. Applying SWOT analytical methodology, it was evident that the outbreak of the pandemic caught the Nigerian health sector with its pants down, exposing the weaknesses (and rots), threats, without the strengths and opportunities, in the sector.
What has been the response of the Nigerian Federal Government? Michael Mulikita and Lionel Vairon state that “COVID-19 has demonstrated its capacity to kill human beings on an unprecedented scale with ruthless and remorseless efficiency. Consequently, virtually all countries have been compelled to impose draconian measures to try to halt the spread of the pandemic at enormous social and economic cost.
First, Nigeria did not feel the need to review its foreign policy objectives and thrusts in view of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic especially in light of the fact that it emanated from China that has become a major ally of Nigeria in recent years. Social media in Nigeria in the last couple of years are littered with videos of all manners of substandard products being exported from China coupled with what is considered some disgusting Chinese eating habits and lifestyles. Nigeria, in short, did not in fact make any move in the direction of reviewing Nigeria’s foreign policy within the context or purview of our national security interests or in view of emerging external threats to Nigeria’s national security interests.
This is confounding to say the least if considered against what the Nigerian State says about such external threats to Nigeria’s corporate existence both at the level of national security in the NSS2019. “Nigeria’s external threats have been shaped by the interplay of global alliance systems which demand that we marshal collective responses in conjunction with our allies. The interests of major powers have continued to evolve, thereby presenting threats and opportunities for our country. With our expanding ties to many countries and the opportunity for national development therein, our major concern
remains their effects on Nigeria’s economy, sustainability of our developmental efforts and debt service obligations.”
The Nigerian situation is indeed very dynamic, and the dynamic is very nuanced and subtle. It is equally vulnerable or volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous especially at the governance plane which does not make it easy for far-reaching strategic thinking and actionable planning. While the Government claimed and is seen trying to combat the spread of the virus via the administrative bodies and corpus of preventive measures and/or mechanisms, set of actions that are quite legitimately expected of it in accordance with the constitutional requirement of protection of the welfare and security of the people, the masses, on the other hand, felt harassed: pursued on the one hand by the globally acknowledged deadly coronavirus, and on the other hand have their backs pinned to the wall by the security forces with their guns pointed at their heads, with their pockets being ransacked for the hard-earned roughed Naira notes. The illegal and immoral actions of the security forces take place at various road checkpoints across the nation.
Thus the first battleline is the confrontation between the overzealous security forces drafted to help enforce the government rules and regulations on the one hand, and the angry masses on the other hand. The masses are angry because of the failure of government to provide palliatives while under lock-down and stay-at-home order. Thus, for instance, hungry and angry masses trooped out in Lagos in thousands in defiance of the lock-down and stay-at-home order to look for “bread and butter” for their families because it has become a matter of “stomach infrastructure!” The masses are cornered between starvation and government failure to provide any form of palliative. It is analogous to being caught between the Devil in hot pursuit and the Deep Blue Sea!
The masses cried out: Give us freedom; You never cared about us before now; Why should you care about what happened to us now? Let us be!
Second, the situation in Nigeria presents its own peculiarity. The failure of government to provide palliatives threatens social and human security of the citizens, a failure that inevitably created conditions of social anomie. The Federal and State Governments literally bungled all administrative efforts at dispensing palliatives to the most vulnerable groups in the society – agreeing that Government was sincere about such initiatives in the first place which was very doubtful. Coronavirus pandemic was largely seen as a business franchise by government officials from which they profited by embezzling funds meant for the health sector and vulnerable groups of people in society. Federal Government has since asked the anti-corruption agencies to investigate how the funds released to various Ministries, Departments and Agencies were spent. There is no fire without smoke!
While citizens were being “hauled” into “detention” in isolation centres and hospitals by government bodies especially Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control (NCDC), citizens are eager to go out often in defiance of social distancing regulations. This was the situation that mostly led the confrontation between the citizens and the security forces. Most significant here is the egregious violations of the fundamental human rights of the citizens in the guise of enforcing the lock-downs and other measures by the security forces on behalf of the Federal Government. And this is precisely the very area (i.e. human rights domain) that Nigerians always become very edgy and get angry. It is a hallowed ground that Nigerians do not like to be violated with impunity. “Officer, I know my rights” is a statement often heard from harassed citizens in confrontation with law enforcement agents in all cities of Nigeria.
Government officials including the security agents claim that citizens were flouting the lock-down and stay-at-home order with impunity and in the process endanger the larger populace by spreading the coronavirus either consciously or unconsciously. This argument has no scientific basis or proof. Government must provide evidences of the class status of all those who have succumbed to this deadly virus and those who have recovered and discharged to convince the public of this line of argument by the security agencies. There was no doubt that citizens went out in virtually all major cities of the country, mostly searching for survival means where government has failed to deliver on the palliatives it promised. But it is not the people that went out looking for survival means that spread the coronavirus. There is no shred of social or medical evidence that those who fell victims to this deadly virus did not observe all the rules pertaining to prevention and protection from the virus such as social distancing, wearing of face masks, regular washing of hands and application of hand sanitizers, etc. It is precisely the people who hobnob frequently with one another without observing the rule of social or physical distancing that spread the virus and not the poor masses foraging for what they will eat and feed their families. What this logically also shows is that observing and/or respecting this corpus of rules and regulations does not prevent one from contracting the virus. This, however, calls to question the rationales for imposing these draconian rules.
According to Anietie Ewang: Authorities have banned large gatherings and shut down schools in Abuja, the capital, and other states across the country. In Lagos, the country’s commercial hub, officials have ordered night clubs and bars to shut down. Other states including Ekiti, Ogun, Osun and Rivers have adopted similar measures. The Nigerian security forces have consistently been implicated in gross human rights abuses including arbitrary arrests, extortion, illegal detention, and use of excessive force, including in large gatherings such as processions and protests for which there has been little or no accountability. Therefore, the authorities need to ensure that security forces do not commit abuses when enforcing the new measures, and no member of the security forces that does is held accountable.
On March 23, 2020, security forces fired live ammunition and teargas to disperse members of the Shia Islamic Movement of Nigeria (IMN), who took to the streets in Abuja to protest the detention of their leader Sheik El Zakzaky, who has been detained since 2015. One of the protesters told Human Rights Watch that police officers began shooting live ammunition without any warning as soon as they arrived at the scene and later shot at least three teargas cannisters at the crowd. Two people sustained gun injuries, one on the leg and another on the arm, the protester said. A leader of the IMN in Abuja said at least 10 protesters were arrested and are currently in police custody.
Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri wrote that “Growing evidence from across jurisdictions is exposing how State actors are exploiting the pandemic to stifle dissent, clamp down on civic freedoms, and push through restrictive measures, using COVID-19 as a pretext.
In Nigeria, as seen elsewhere, the COVID-19 pandemic is magnifying existing threats to civic space. While it is generally agreed that COVID-19 is a public health emergency threatening the life of the nation – necessitating the application of certain derogation measures – mounting evidence is pointing toward a deliberate exploitation of the pandemic to accelerate other non-health agendas. The database of closing civic spaces in Nigeria is replete with records of disease containment measures radically overstretched beyond context and enforced in ways that hurt civic freedoms. …On March 31, a COVID-19 focus was added to the database, following the spikes in human rights abuses. These have included deaths caused by security operatives enforcing the state-mandated lockdown, which was introduced to combat the spread of coronavirus.
The first trend observed is the excessive use of force by State agents to enforce the lockdown. The overzealous conduct of security operative and other task force officials enforcing lockdowns causing numerous deaths. Not only that, eyewitness reports and video evidence have continued to emerge, showing security forces brazenly using horsewhips and weapons to enforce discipline and compliance with lockdown directives.
The second trend takes the form of State executives overreaching their constitutional powers to advance other objectives unrelated to disease control. Mimicking a federal directive that ordered a total cessation of all social, economic, and political activities in only three most affected states of Lagos, Ogun, and the nation’s capital Abuja, several Nigerian State governors started closing waterways, air and land borders, prohibiting domestic travels even though border and airspace closures fall within the realm of federal jurisdiction.
The third trend to watch is the use of legal and regulatory tools to legitimize official restriction on human rights. Weeks after the first index case of coronavirus infection was recorded in the country, more than 16 different state and federal regulations have been hurriedly enacted to justify the ensuing derogation from constitutionally protected rights. In early May, the Nigerian parliament also attempted to pass an incredibly draconian legislative proposal, Control of Infectious Diseases Bill 2020, designed to enlarge the governmental powers to prevent and manage outbreak of infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
In mid-April, 2020, Aljazeera, quoting Nigerian Human Rights Commission, reported that “At least 18 people in Nigeria have been killed by security forces during the enforcement of measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, a figure higher than the documented toll inflicted by the disease, the country’s human rights body said.
Amnesty International advises that the Nigerian authorities must adopt a rights respecting approach and give clear instructions to security agencies not to abuse their powers as the nation tightens its efforts to tame the COVID-19 pandemic, which compelled the authorities to impose lockdown and inter-state movement restrictions. The national response to COVID-19 must be inclusive, to ensure that prisoners, internally displaced persons and other marginalized and vulnerable communities are not left out at of any stages of the fight against the virus.
Human Rights Watch advocates that Nigeria’s federal and state governments should ensure the rights to food, shelter, and other basic necessities for people losing jobs or income during the COVID-19 pandemic. The economic assistance that the government has announced in response to the virus has exposed inadequacies in Nigeria’s social protection systems and risks excluding the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people. “Millions of Nigerians observing the COVID-19 lockdown lack the food and income that their families need to survive,” said Anietie Ewang, Nigeria researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The government needs to combine public health measures with efforts to prevent the pandemic from destroying the lives and livelihoods of society’s poorest and most vulnerable people”.
Calin Trenkov-Wermuth of the United States Institute of People notes that “The coronavirus pandemic will have long-lasting repercussions for governance, justice, and security – among many other things. Many governments are working to contain the outbreak by adopting emergency measures and powers. Security sector actors – police, armed forces, border control authorities, penitentiaries, community security groups, and militias – are now playing a key role in limiting the virus’ spread. They have quarantined communities, managed crowds, controlled the flow of people across borders, and enforced social distancing rules. If security sector actors place human security – meaning, the protection of people and communities as opposed to states – at the core of their efforts, they can play a positive role in mitigating the worst consequences the pandemic could have.”
It is obvious from the above that the security forces simply have no iota of idea of how the coronavirus spread. They are very ignorant as regard the nature and working of the coronavirus similar to the masses of the people who have never heard of any such infectious and pandemic disease before. In local parlance, most of the security agents are regarded as “mumu”, a derogatory word for an ignoramus!
One of the significant fallouts of the pandemic in Nigeria which affects both national and human security is the unregulated movement of almajerai from northern part to the southern part of the country. This ordinarily should have been a non-issue strictly in accordance with the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of movement within the geographical space of the country but for the loud protests that greeted the arrival of the almajerai from the citizens and state governments in the southern part of the country. The unregulated nature of this mass movement happened at two levels. The first is that the security forces that are supposed to enforce the lockdown announced by the Federal Government especially in respect of ban on inter-state transportation were compromised by allowing movement to take place after accepting bribes from motorists and public transporters.
The second level is the carefree attitude of northern State Governments from where this mass movement originated in which case they see the movement of the almajerai as good riddance to bad rubbish. Virtually all the northern state governments have deported these same almajerai from their states back to their states of origin in the same northern part of the country. But this internal migration took place against the backdrop of increasingly inhospitable environment of the northern part of the country viz: economic backwardness, extreme poverty, social dislocations, closure of schools (primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational schools), non-provision of palliatives as a result of the pandemic and the increasing insecurity (Boko Haram insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, cattle rustling and herdsmen attacks).
Alexander Ekemenah draws attention to the security implication of this internal migration when he noted that “In this type of situation, it is very easy for bandits, killer herdsmen, cattle rustlers, and even insurgents to mingle with these hordes of almajiris to go to new destinations of their choice to start causing mayhem.”
According to Halogen Group
· Health security …COVID-19 is here to stay
· THE COVID-19 outbreak has revealed the need for ‘health security’.
· Health security is the ability of a nation to secure sufficient, affordable and consistent healthcare supplies for its requirements. For the individual, it means having the assurance of personal safety during health emergencies.
· According to the International Health Regulations (IHR), public health measures to prevent, detect, and respond to events are essential to control public health risks, including infectious disease outbreaks.
· The WHO has said that the COVID-19 “may never go away” and warned against any attempt to predict how long it would keep circulating.
· With these in mind, the imperative for health security is strengthened.
Searching for Solutions
The coronavirus pandemic caught the world unawares. It impacted negatively on all aspects of the global socio-economic and political order in a way never contemplated before and even during the outbreak. It wreaked havoc on all fronts.
On the economic front, stock markets have plummeted as the global outbreak intensifies. The pandemic has caused an economic contraction more serious than the global financial crisis in 2008. The global value chain has been hard hit. The economic effect is not elsewhere but everywhere. The closures and lockdowns have affected both goods and services industries. The entire world population is suffering from fear and want.
The pandemic also impacts politics, both domestic and international. Some seek to gain from the pandemic, leading to further competition and confrontation among nation states. For example, former US diplomat Kurt M Campbell and Brookings program lead Rush Doshi have remarked that China — after failing to take immediate steps during the initial outbreak — is now claiming success in battling the virus and is spearheading the provision of medical assistance to other nations, including Italy, Serbia and Iran. The COVID-19 pandemic also risks affecting traditional security by sending the wrong signal to those keen to develop biological weapons.
The virus does not respect national borders in its transmission. No nation can get out of the pandemic alone. If nation states tilt for competition and confrontation, we will certainly lose this war. The only option is to cooperate to shape a globally and regionally coordinated response. In responding, a medical solution alone is not enough. Measures should also address knock-on effects in health, economics, politics, society and culture.
Accurate information sharing is key to successful containment and to prevent misinformation. In the immediate future, the Asia Pacific region needs to mobilise medical professionals to assist countries in need. If so required, the military should be mobilised to build emergency hospitals and to utilise military medical teams trained in handling emergencies. Military ships could also be converted into hospitals.
The most important immediate priority is to develop a vaccine, diagnostic tools and treatments for COVID-19. In order to avoid duplicated efforts, we will need to share best practices and clinical test results to develop an effective medical intervention to halt the pandemic.
The exclusive efforts by various governments across the world brought about several similar measures such as lock-downs, (i.e. restrictions of movement by people and social gathering), quarantines (or forced lock-ups) ban on inter-state transportation (restraint on freedom of movement), curfews (such as in Nigeria) ban on international and domestic flights (except authorised by governments for specific purposes), economic shutdowns (closures of industries), closure of schools, hotels, club houses, places of worship, regular washing of hands, use of hand sanitizers, wearing of face masks, social or physical distancing, etc. These measures are clearly unparalleled in recent history against the backdrop of non-military threats to the States and the citizens. In other words, these measures were taken and strictly enforced, from one degree to the other and from one country to another when there was no threat of military invasion of any country. The measures are akin to declaration of state of emergency, martial laws or force majeure without civil conflict or disorder to warrant it.
In virtually all countries, the military personnel (including para-military forces), security and law enforcement agents were brought to the streets of all major cities across the world to help enforce the rules and regulations of lock-downs and other measures. The involvement of military and other law enforcement agents also brought their own collateral implications in its wake.In searching for solutions to the virus, Cronin and Cronin say that the search must begin in East Asia, “where several governments have found effective ways to battle the novel coronavirus. Mining the experience of South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and China for best (and worst) practices and lessons learned can inform America’s strategy for limiting the damage of COVID-19 now, and for preparing for the next pandemic, too.”
Asian models of success share several attributes that may or may not be transferable to the United States. First, each had already invested heavily in public health systems. Second, also before the outbreak of this virus, each government had constructed the medical, technological, and legal structures essential to mobilizing quickly against an epidemic. Third, each created or imposed a societal sense of vigilance and citizen responsibility. The transparency and trust earned in Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore offer far better teaching points for America than does the belatedly successful Chinese model that relies on an ever-growing surveillance state and the suppression of information.
In late January, Taiwan appeared destined to suffer from COVID-19 in numbers commensurate with Mainland China. With some 150 cross-strait flights a day and about 44 percent of Taiwan’s population of 23.8 million people living in three cities, Taiwan should, by early April, have suffered far more than the 385 confirmed cases and six deaths. The number of infections in Taiwan is considerably lower than even the undercounted official Chinese number of confirmed cases in 11 PRC provinces as well as Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Hong Kong.
The key to Taiwan’s success was foresight. Having been deprived of international space by Beijing, and burned by the 2003 SARS epidemic, the Taipei government realized it would need to take matters into its own hands in pandemics. Public health became a core competence and a universal right, and it paid off. On December 31st, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control warned of possible human-to-human transmission from atypical pneumonia spotted in China and began screening passengers on all flights from Wuhan. Starting on January 21st, with the first confirmed case of the coronavirus in Taiwan, an emergency response center was opened, many flights halted, and strict border procedures enacted. A comprehensive tracking and monitoring regime located the contagion. The collection of travel and contact histories supported active tracing and helped with multiple levels of self-isolation and quarantine. Scofflaws were shamed and fined. A health minister commanded a whole-of-government operation and provided daily expert, transparent public briefings.
For Singapore, sometimes dubbed the Switzerland of Asia, the commitment to public health, education, high-technology, and civic duty was even more ingrained in the city-state’s DNA than in Taiwan. Here, Singapore reflected the legendary post-independence leadership of founder Lee Kwan Yew, as well as the need for survival as an East-West hinge point and vital trading port. In early April, when confirmed cases surpassed 2,100 with seven deaths and Singapore announced its version of a stay-at-home order, all students transitioned immediately to online learning for what officials called a ‘circuit breaker’ on transmission.
But there were tradeoffs. Singapore’s 5.6 million people enjoy marvelous access to information, but that also comes at a price to personal privacy, in the information age more than ever. Singapore leveraged Big Data for containing COVID-19 to an unprecedented degree: one could scan free web-based infographics to identify the number of infected people, date when contagion was confirmed, and precise building location of each case within Singapore. Illiberal democracy works well there, but Singapore’s prescription for fighting the virus would never work in the United States, a much larger country where power is diffuse, privacy is cherished, and fear of Big Data rivals fear of disease.
South Korea, a middle power country with more than 51 million people and the world’s 11th largest economy, offers a successful example on a larger scale than either Taiwan or Singapore. After the 2015 MERS outbreak, in which South Korea suffered from the worst epidemic outside of the Middle East, Seoul ratcheted up its health industry and medical institutions to a national gold standard for testing infectious disease. The government approved its first COVID test kit on February 4th, when South Korea had only 16 confirmed cases. It also cast aside concerns about civil liberties to tap into smartphone and other data for aggressive contact tracing.
This system permitted the swift containment of the primary outbreak from a church in the country’s third-largest city, Daegu, without completely closing down greater Seoul, home to roughly half of the country’s population. The Big Data-led Korean model, which includes mandatory tracking wristbands to enforce quarantine, is known by the acronym TRUST: Transparency, Robust screening and quarantine, Unique but universally applicable testing, Strict control, and Treatment.
All three East Asian democracies flattened the curve, albeit with some measures incongruent with American values. Meanwhile, China also did so, albeit after a costly delay and a high and probably undercounted rate of infection and death (officially, about 83,000 and 3,343, as of early April, with the vast majority of deaths in the greater Wuhan area of Hubei Province). China’s early-warning model faltered in part due to local government fear of reporting bad news to Beijing. But once China’s national system took charge, the draconian enforcement of social distancing, quarantining, and mass treatment exceeded anything seen in democracies. After almost 11 weeks on lockdown, residents in the epicenter started a wary resumption of their previous daily lives, albeit on high alert for a second wave of infections.
Fukushima was of the view that “One reason behind this is that the Asia Pacific region has learned lessons from the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak. As a result, countries in the Asia Pacific introduced travel controls, border closures and lockdowns sooner, although some have done better than others. This was backed by enhanced health and medical coverage in the region. ASEAN included infectious diseases as a shared security challenge in creating its ASEAN Community and has swiftly mobilised the ASEAN Health Sector.
From the various sets of proactive actions taken by the Asia Pacific countries, it was obvious they arguably elevated human security above national security, at least within the early period of the raging coronavirus pandemic. Human security threats can easily cleave through the national security firewalls which was what the novel coronavirus has demonstrated beyond all doubts. If not tackled early enough, human security threats can render national security system useless and impotent as demonstrated by the infection of nearly all the naval personnel of USS Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) in late March/early April 2020 in Guam Naval Base. But Theodore Roosevelt has returned to sea for active duty since June 4, 2020 after being quarantined at the naval port in Guam.
This article is by no mean exhaustive. It is indeed exploratory to further stimulate research and critical study along this broad spectrum of security.
While the Nigerian Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is appreciable and commendable within the limited capacity of the health sector, there is strategic imperative to distill the nation’s experiential encounter with the pandemic in order to learn the appropriate lessons from it especially in relation to public health issues and overall national security interests which inexorably include human security in its broadest definition.
The first step in this direction is to be very clear in the very policy initiative and actionable programmes to ensure public health safety in a manner that the entire citizenry can benefit from it within the goals of human security.
Unfortunately, it is one thing for government-as-a-whole to come out with a set of policy initiatives and actionable programmes to help combat this type of insurgent pandemic. It is another thing for all government officials, proxies and agents to align themselves to such policies and programmes.
The public conduct of the security forces – which has been well documented by several human rights and civil society organizations including the media – tasked with the enforcement of all government instituted regulations is reprehensible and condemnable. The security forces have not acquitted themselves very well at all. The security forces, who are ostensibly not properly briefed, actually smeared the efforts of government with faeces by egregiously violating the fundamental human rights of the same citizens who are meant to be the beneficiaries of the government efforts, specifically to be protected from this insurgent pandemic. It is clearly illogical for government effort to be directed towards a set of particular goals and to be sabotaged by ignorant and selfish security agents who know no other past-times than to be victimizing the citizens with impunity.
Given the fatalities and recovery rate so far, there is strategic imperative to be exact in the figures being dished out. In the first place, were the dead truly due exclusively to coronavirus or to any of the underlining ailments? Nigeria must bell the cat by coming out to ascertain the actual causes of death of those announced to have died from the coronavirus pandemic. Apart from being very unscientific and therefore unacceptable to claim that somebody died of a particular disease without having carried out an autopsy, it will help the government to strategically review the situation with the aim of reformulating appropriate policy response to the raging pandemic. The clinical evidences based on autopsy of those that have died are needed for such policy review. It is highly suspected that inflexibilities or stovepipes of the nature of selfish interests have already set into the manner in which the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, the Nigeria Centre for Diseases Control and medical personnel across the country are managing the pandemic.
The discharge rate is another area of critical concern. While it is gratifying and interesting to know that Nigeria made a high rate of recovery contrary to all expectations in view of the nation’s dilapidated health sector, there is also the imperative to know the reason(s) for this high recovery rate. What actually happened to people that recovered? What drug prescriptions did they use to make them recover since coronavirus has no known cure yet? This body of information is needed to plan in the management of other patients who are daily being hauled into isolation centres. This is also to remove all iota of doubts that this category of people did not actually suffer from coronavirus but falsely labelled as coronavirus patients.
Finally, it is also important to review the nation’s foreign policy in view of what the NSS2019 has acknowledged as possible external threats to the nation’s national security interests within a very dynamic global political and security environment. There is no more doubt that the global environment is very fluid and dynamic within the context of geopolitical rivalry between the world’s major powers and the superjacent coalitions and alliances. What are the basic principles and guidelines for Nigeria in this constantly shifting global environment? From what has happened so far, Nigeria did not seem to have a clear view of what should be its ultimate interests in this global constellation of forces which are pushing and pulling weak countries like Nigeria in all directions like a reed in the wind. There are no permanent friends but permanent interests in statecraft. Nigeria has unfortunately not displayed a strong independent-minded character in this storming water of insurgent pandemic. Its abject dependency on foreign countries (such as China and even Madagascar) and bodies (such World Health Organization, International Monetary Fund, etc) became a weapon turned against itself without any counter-weapon to defend itself. Thus this type of interdependency became weaponized with which irreparable reputational damage is done to the image of the country in its gross inability to, for instance, initiate medical research into developing any form of indigenous cure or vaccine. Nigeria remains squamish, sitting on fence, because it has no national elements of power to negotiate an independent position but prefer to dance like an idiot in a market place, first to the Chinese, then to the World Health Organization and other multilateral financial institutions, and finally to the arrogant and snobbish Western countries. Nigeria has not even been able to pay for the COVID-Organics herbal syrup it received from Madagascar in late April!
In short, the coronavirus pandemic calls for a review and rethink of the nation’s national security interests which include human security and safety issues. The nation cannot afford to choose facts to suit its preferred narratives. It must develop its own critical epistemology.