The Battle Against COVID-19 in Nigeria: Something is going wrong – By Adegbenro Adebanjo

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There is a growing disconnect between the general public and those leading the fight against the Corona Virus pandemic in Nigeria. By the day the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, PTF and various State Governments seem not to be living up to the expectations of some Nigerians. Poor information management or put simply inability to carry the people along is largely responsible for this lacuna. And there will certainly be dire consequences if the situation persists or even degenerates.

There is a fundamental flaw in the handling of the information and media management of COVID-19 by officials of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC. The feedback from the public on its media platforms is largely being ignored further fueling angst, disbelief and some distrust about the extent of the Corona Virus pandemic in Nigeria and activities of government and NCDC.

More worrisome is the growing apathy of a section of the populace about the strategy being adopted by the Presidential Task Force, NCDC and different states of the federation. It is also very disturbing that the current strategy is mainly to push out information and orders and new policies without bothering much about feedback, workability and impact on the people. The information is certainly not getting to the grassroots the way it should and therefore at that level social Distancing and wearing of face masks are being routinely ignored. Some will argue that the same situation holds in more sophisticated sections of the society.

The rising figure of rate of infection which should lead to trepidation and concern is achieving the direct opposite. It is being greeted with skepticism even among the well informed. The claim is that there are not enough facts behind the figures. On the Facebook page of NCDC for instance questions being asked by members of the public are ignored and angered by this they resort to abuses and denigration of the efforts of NCDC. There is so much damaging information on the feedback channel that nothing has been done about. Some unscrupulous persons are also taking advantage of the tardiness of those managing the platforms by using its comment section to perpetrate fraudulent activities including soliciting for funds and promising bogus palliatives. Yet this has not been taken down.

To put things in perspective and show that there is some flaws in the information flow,
There is this NCDC Update that looks like the real NCDC that pops up when you are searching for information on COVID-19 in Nigeria. It’s on Facebook, Instagram etc. The way it is designed has a veneer of officialdom. But apart from posting official updates from NCDC, there are lots of inanities and ribald jokes and all that. The impression that it’s linked with the NCDC is always there. The attention of the NCDC should be drawn to this aberration. If it is linked with NCDC, it should be pulled down immediately. Such comical postings should not be associated with the NCDC at a period of National Health Emergency. And if it’s not a public disavowal and repudiation should be done immediately by the NCDC.

The states Governments have compounded the situation with tentative approach to the lockdown order. They are not all on the same page and the desire to score some cheap political points has seen some State Chief executive playing to the gallery with some of them openly disavowing the seriousness of the pandemic. There are self-inflicted errors and injures too by the managers of the process. Ordinarily the controversy over the “Chinese Doctors” was needless. However the fact that the fact was not put in the public domain as at when due led to wild speculations and did a lot of damage to the PTF and the NCDC. The Gombe protest by “COVID-19 patients” , the hostage taking in Kano where some doctors were “arrested” for hours by “COVID -19 patients” over shoddy treatment by the authorities ,and the different figures being bandied about as the cost of a test to determine infection have further fueled controversy surrounding the nature and management of COVID-19 in Nigeria.

And the comical is also part of the loop. How come patients said to be undergoing treatment for COVID-19 after testing Positive were engaged in energetic and pulsating activities and dancing as seen in some covert videos recorded in some of the isolation centers? These issues have not been satisfactorily addressed by concerned authorities. There should be transparency and accountability in managing all aspects of the battle.

The truth is that those responsible for the battle against COVID-19 need a new approach, new strategy and new policy framework that should centre on the people they claim they are working for. They should strive for better information management that resonates with all strata of the society particularly those at the grassroots. There should be prompt response to feedback across platforms. And information and fake news deliberately planted to cause mischief should be taken down immediately while the law should be deployed against those using NCDC media platforms for fraudulent activities.

The managers of the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria should set New Agenda for the battle ahead. The focus of PTF, NCDC and Governments at all levels should be how to devise a safe way to open the school system at all levels, ease the lockdown and make Social Distancing and wearing of facemasks mandatory. Of course this cannot be decreed by fiat. It will take mass education and Public Enlightenment on Prevention and Social Distancing. The local government, religious organizations and traditional Institutions should become partners in progress on this new agenda to battle COVID-19 to a standstill in Nigeria.

The pattern displayed by its Director General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, when a member of Nigeria’s high society introduced some confusion about COVID-19 and Malaria should be adopted in NCDC’s new engagement with various publics and response to their feedback. Rather than hate laden abuse and puerile attacks on the chief, Ihekweazu well researched and fact based apologia put the matter to rest and provided priceless enlightenment to all and sundry.

The NCDC and its affiliates should now focus on improvement of monitoring and TESTING and quarantine mechanisms and structures while the Federal and State Governments and the PTF focus on treatment of COVID-19 patients, with inputs from NCDC, and Enhancement of Health Care facilities.

The gains and verve achieved at the onset should be rekindled and improved upon. This is not the time to lose the battle. The current drift must be halted. There should be synergy amongst all those involved in this onerous task and they should be on the same page in the fight against Corona Virus. That’s how to make things right and win the battle against COVID-19 Nigeria.

Adebanjo, a media and Public Relations Specialist, sent this piece via [email protected]

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