The Chickens Are Coming Home to Roost: A Reflection on COVID-19 Leadership Crisis

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By Mallam Y.Z. Ya’u

GIVEN the slow but steady spread of COVID-19 to most states of the federation, it is easy to see some classification among the state governments as to those that have dealt with the pandemic for longer period in their states, who and who have started, those just starting and those waiting to join the league.

What this means is that there is a stock of knowledge, experience and lessons to share among the governors in the hope of learning from each other to enhance their own individual responses in their states. They could be moving towards a community of practice in which it is possible to assess what has been working well, what is not working well and what could be done differently. States, especially those joining the league or about to join should be able to learn from the mistakes made by others before them and devise strategies on how to avoid these mistakes or leverage on the best practices that are emerging.

State governors would also have to compare notes on their different palliative programmes: what are the contents, the targeting mechanisms, the distribution methods, success rate, etc. How would they address specific problems that are unique and specific to their states? They could share experience about the efficacy of the lockdown and what challenges they face. For instance, while in Lagos, the beginning of the lockdown was converted by some criminals into an opportunity to terrorize communities, in Kano State, it was undermined by a highly skeptical population that does not trust what government says.

All these considerations would make the governors to have a shared understanding of what is working, and what is not. It would help them to have a more coordinated approach, including on how to treat border cases (such as the one that almost created misunderstanding between Kano and Jigawa State governments or the current efforts by Kano State government at repatriating almajirai to their states of origin. While Lagos did not consider seeking to repatriate people to their states of origin, a number of the index cases of some of the states were import from Lagos State.

In this context, therefore, it is perfectly important that governors meet to compare notes and promote a unity of purpose and better coordination among themselves. But the suggestion for them to meet faces a number of challenges.

For one, our airports are closed and we could not want the federal government to allow them an exemption that could easily be abused. Secondly, the governors would not want to travel by road because they have no confidence in what they did to address insecurity in their states.  But that is a small matter.

To physically meet will also violate their own lockdown orders. First, they would have to break the directive about the border closure they have erected. Secondly, traveling outside the states means breaking the stay at home order of not only their own states but also that of the state to host the meeting. Of course, you can say they can be considered exempted from the directives. But are there no alternative ways for them to meet?  There are of course many ways.

eMeeting technologies and platforms such as Zoom, Jist, Google Meet, etc., are freely available. For instance, since we decided to close our offices on 23rd March and work remotely from home, I have on a daily basis been participating in at least two online meetings, many of them of international in nature, with partners and colleagues from different parts of the world.

Only yesterday, eLearning Africa held a major one-day seminar on Education Delivery in the Context of COVID-19 and I watched (listened to, actually) the Lagos State Commissioner of Education made one of the presentations from Nigeria.

Of course, governors could say these are open platforms and they would not trust them for confidentiality but nothing stops them for deploying custom-made e-conferencing platforms. The technology is not a rocket science and does not require long period to conceptualize, design and deploy. Given that the virus took some time before it landed in the country, they could have anticipated this need and plan as to have it in their mitigation strategies.

So, this the question: why is it that they have not deployed these options to enable them to meet? The simple answer is that our governors are not ready to do any planning and simply waited till the virus hit their ports. They acted like the village farmer whose calendar consists of just one item which is the first rain. So, they all sat down and waited for them to get their index cases and only then did it occur to them that they should begin to devise strategies to address the problems at hand.

In this case their responses tend to be reactive and ad hoc, lacking in depth and innovation, that are often not well sought out. This is why in some states, like Kano for instance, a week into the lockdown, no one knows what the palliative plans are.

Our governors, it seems do not really appreciate the enormous responsibilities of their offices. What they understand is the enormous powers they have, many of which they tend to abuse. We can help them to do their work by constantly showing their shortcomings, not become we want to deride them but because we want them to excel by offering them suggestions on what they should do to improve.

In this, we must demand that as our leaders, governors must be transparent, open and be willing to engage the electorate who voted them into office. We cannot make progress if the only framework of engagement between the electorate and the elected is one of mutual blockage, arising from the bitter experience of the electorate of the unfaithfulness of the people who got their votes.

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