BEYOND THE COVID 19 PANDEMIC : THE IMPERATIVE OF RETHINKING OUR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT GOALS AND INITIATIVES – Hon. Yusuf Buba Yakub, MHR

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Amidst the challenge of a most ravaging COVID 19 pandemic, the entire globe yesterday,April 7,2020, celebrated the World Health Day. The Day,which was , usually,set aside in the past to review challenges and draw attention to emerging health issues and development challenges in the health sector through numerous gatherings in meetings, sessions, media parleys ,roadshows and the like worldwide,this year could not afford the luxury of such meets and displays at a time when social separation and distancing are said to be the wise norm.That,I must say,is the mood of the times,which is understandable against the backdrop of what the world has continued to witness since the year began in the continuous spread of the new coronavirus,aka COVID 19.

Challenging though this time may appear,but there are lessons inherent in what the world is experiencing at the moment. For once in a very long while the entire world is united against a common enemy; against a common scourge that is seeking to decimate mankind and his ideals for self- perpetuation. This common enemy knows no boundaries and has no respect for either skin colour, religion or political ideology. This enemy mauls down,as it were, everything on its path as it rides roughshod on its path of destruction and imminent perdition!

Suddenly,it is no longer fashionable to discuss trends, politics,war,diplomacy or even global trade. Issues of race and supremacy emanating from same have suddenly been displaced and relegated to the background by the bitter reality that man everywhere is unarguably equal to his kind anywhere. The world is now preoccupied by the quest for a simple solution to a pandemic that has for many weeks now held it by the juglars. Interestingly, through this pandemic,the world is learning again to unite,to be at peace with itself and,more importantly,to rediscover the lost ideals of shared humanity and empathy for others on whatever fate that befalls them!!

In response to these challenges , several decisions and a rash of palliatives have been hurled at the problem at hand to help the world address and heal the wound being inflicted on humanity by the new disease. All of these efforts can be classified broadly on the basis of country- to- country, individuals- to- nations, multilateral institutions-to- nations and,of course,countries to their citizens. Continuously,we hear of rent waivers in Canada,over a thousand- dollar grant to each family in the US,another cash palliative in the UK,Spain,Sweden and other nations of the world,some of which are even African. For some reasons, and sadly so,all of this may not be able to work in Nigeria, given our peculiar nature,no doubts,but there are myriads of means through which the man in the street can be made to access strong benefits from this all. I shall return to that later.

For the avoidance of doubt,places like Cuba,China and other countries of the world, including multilateral institutions like the World Health Organisation, have also had cause at this time to export expertise and technical know- how,send in materials and equipment, including funds, to countries that are had- hit by the new coronavirus pandemic. Ordinarily,one would not have thought the United States would welcome any help from China or that any part of the Western world would be poised to welcome anything from Cuba,as alienated as the country seems to be from global Affairs,but today ,( no) thanks to the pandemic,Cuban doctors are now everywhere in Europe rendering services, albeit,to humanity. These are,indeed, peculiar times!

For some of us who are old enough to really remember Cuba and its challenges of yesteryears,we must also remember that ,the country,in spite of the many years of ostracism by the world, as championed by the United States after the Bay of Pigs, was able to develop its health sector to become today one of the best in the world. Hedged in- between the reality of a pariah State and the constant altercations with its then leftist leader,Fidel Castro of blessed memory,Cuba knew it had to standardise its institutions of learning in order to train and equip its population for every challenge of life.

It was this challenge posed by the US and its allies that brought out the best in the citizens of Cuba to now boast of one of the most skilled country- wide manpowers across the globe. From their Faculties of Medicine to other Sciences,Cuban Universities can compete with any other across Europe and the Americas. In any case,this is not the kind of information or facts you get everyday from any of those global higher institutions- ranking and rating authorities and bodies. But ,suffice it to say here that Cuba was quick to turn a seeming disadvantage at a time of its national development to a permanent advantage.

It is the above mindset and ideal that have informed the basis of writing this piece. Unarguably, our nation has been identified everywhere in the world as a country that possesses some of the greatest talents and brightest minds on earth in all areas of endeavour. It is trite information to begin to list the various feats that have been achieved by the Emeagwalis,the Soyinkas,the Achebes,the Dalhatus, the Chike Obis,the Osagies and the rest of them,who have left various copious imprimaturs and indelible footprints on all fields of learning . The list,apart from those that are yet to come to limelight or the notice of the discerning public,is endless and,by no means, exhaustive.

As I write this,I am reminded of the possibility which Aba and Nnewi once presented as the technical hubs of Nigeria,nay Africa;and I wonder what suddenly happened to that possibility. I am also reminded of my visit to Innoson Motors and other factories scattered between Emene,Enugu and Nnewi in Anambra State ,all of which I visited as a member of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Industry in the 8th Assembly.Everyday I wake up, I continue to ask myself the same question: What can we not produce as a people if we set our minds to it? The answer,of course, lies in knowing just who we are and the indomitability of our spirit of enterprise and adventure!

Already, for the benefit of doubt, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing Company and his Nnewi production clan have shown that whatever anyone can do with metal is possible here. I remember the many stories that we were told about what Nnewi people have achieved and contributed even to the campaign against terrorism in Nigeria in quite a significant way. What of the garment factory of Aba and the emerging 3000-strong Cross River Garment Factory built by the Ayade Administration,which I read the other day is situated in the cluster of other industries and has the capacity to export tailored garments to other parts of Africa and the world.

The same factory,I am told,has produced thousands of facemasks for Cross Riverians in the bid to combat the spread of COVID 19. Somewhere the other day,a group of boys had also produced ventilators for sufferers of the new coronavirus infection. I wonder how it will play out if those boys are made to collaborate with Innoson Motors to mass-produce their patent ventilators,which are today in short supply across the world. The result of such collaborative efforts can only be left to the imagination!

Apart from saving scarce FOREX for other uses,our nation possesses the capacity to manufacture quality products that can stand the test of time. In those heydays of Kaduna,the textile industry,led by the UNTL, was thriving,the Peugeot Automobile of Nigeria ( PAN) was waxing strong,the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria( DICON) was also at its peak and so was the Kaduna Refining and Petrochemical Company( KRPC), which was also running strong, and the Nigeria Railways Corporation ( NRC),a chain that employed thousands of workers,was also in shape. Life in Kaduna,as we knew it then,cannot only be discussed or remembered today without serious nostalgia. Things were so good in those days that peaceful co- existence in the city of languages and multiplicity of faiths was just a normal way of life.

Let me return to the issue under review,the issue of using our present challenge- the COVID 19 pandemic- to rethink and restrategise our development goals and initiatives. In seeking to do this, I have for the umpteenth time pondered on the fastest way to achieve the great goals ahead of us. My conclusion, however, is that we must learn to confront issues one-at-a-time. For instance,the Federal Government ,as we saw in the news last week, has approved the sum of N500 Billion to combat the new coronavirus pandemic. Also in the news in the last one week or so is the humongous amounts of money being donated by individuals and institutions to help our nation combat the ravaging new disease.

Much as the fancy may be to ” share the money”, as is being proposed by many who are quick to point out what other nations of the world have done for their citizens under the circumstances in which we also find ourselves, my take is that Government should,in the present circumstance,partner the private sector in such a way and manner as to set- up a pool of resources or a Trust Fund from all private donations and contributions of Government,which shall be used by Fund Managers,set up and supervisedd by Government ,to build and equip magnificent tertiary health facilities in all the six(6) Geopolitical Zones of our nation and Abuja,the Federal Capital Territory. The gains of the above can not be overemphasized. Citizens,as I earlier pointed out,will feel more the impact of this kind of gesture and performance by Government than receiving just a few thousand Naira as support for the time that they have been made to spend at home owing to the idea of curbing the spread of the new strain of the Coronavirus.

It is time to leverage on the COVID 19 pandemic to standardise our healthcare system. We must learn from the experience of other lands and people. Today,even with the highest number of infected persons in the COVID 19 spread across the globe the United States has suffered but few fatalities in relation to its infection rate because of its well developed healthcare system.At the onset of the pandemic,China setup and equipped in record time 14 hospitals and special facilities to cater for people suffering from COVID 19. Spain and other parts of the world where the health system infrastructure may not be all too fantastic are all leveraging on the pandemic to upgrade their health infrastructure, including equipment and personnel.

For instance, we are told that more molecular biologists are required to master machines and equipment that have been brought into our country by the Chinese. We must avail ourselves of the benefit of these times to shorten the time for the testing/ diagnosis of illnesses in Nigeria. We must acquire every machine we can at this time. It defeats the grand ideals of modern medicine if blood samples for testing,say for Lassa Fever, would have to be flown to Abuja before doctors on call can ascertain the level of Personal Protective Equipment ( PPEs) to use before treating a victim of a disease.In Nigeria,we seem to be losing so much in terms of manpower and man- hours in the sheer and avoidable risks we take in practising medicine here . No wonder there is so much braindrain among doctors and other health-sector professionals in our midst!

As I round off,let me also use the opportunity presented by this piece to, again,re- iterate my call elsewhere for free and compulsory education in this country. With little arithmetic,what our nation spends periodically without receiving commensurate value from it,may as well be used to service comprehensive free education in Nigeria. If in the fight against the new coronavirus infection in our country our Ministers, Lawmakers and the Governors, including many other people in Government,have suddenly agreed to sacrifice part of their salaries or allowances to fight the disease,then every child in Nigeria deserves a University education at the expense of Government.

To make the above realizable,I urge our regional interventionist Agencies,like the Niger Delta Development Commission ( NDDC),,the North East Development Commission and others like them ,to up their ante with a view to including comprehensive free education in their mandates. If we consider the sums said to have gone into the running of the programmes and activities of the NDDC,as was revealed recently during a public hearing at the National Assembly,I am afraid that if these funds had been well-utilized,no Niger Delta child would have any business stopping at school certificate or secondary school education.

As leaders,we must renegotiate the terms of our service to the people. Every leader must commit to solving issues and demands of development before assuming a public office. These are issues of unemployment,hunger,disease,shelter and the like.These must be negotiated before power is given or else the equity that is required to achieve a just society will continue to be an elusive dream and a sad mirage.

In the United States,George Bush (43) introduced what he called: “The- No -Child- Left -Behind Programme”. The objective of the programme was to ensure that children of poor parents from the backstreets of Brooklyn and Manhattan, including such neighbourhoods across the US,were also able to have the opportunity of attending prominent Colleges and Ivy League American Universities through Government’ s largese and sponsorship.Today,thanks to President Bush(43), the programme has thrown up many beneficiaries and has bridged the gap between the children of the rich and those of the poor. Yet,in spite of this obvious social mobility, some of us,leaders, who benefitted immensely from from comprehensive free and compulsory education care no hoot about providing any to the youth of Nigeria today. Our country today is in dire need of that kind of President Bush’s programme to change the sad narrative in our struggle for comprehensive educational development.

May God bless Nigeria.

Hon. Yusuf Buba Yakub, Member House of Representatives,is Chairman,House Committee on Foreign Affairs.He represents Gombi/ Hong Federal Constituency of Adamawa State.
April 8,2020

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