I have watched with great concern the apparent and escalating unease in these early days of the two-week lockdown imposed on residents by the Anambra State government to help check the spread of the Corona Virus pandemic.
Nowhere is this anxiety more evident than with the widely reported shooting of two young men in Nkpor, Idemili North Local Government Area by the police for violating the lockdown. Along with this very tragic incident are reports of human rights violations by security agencies across the state, including a trending video online in which law enforcement personnel blew up the front tyres of a man who was driving to a bank ATM to withdraw money for his family’s upkeep. Not surprisingly, the reported killings in Nkpor along with other violations by security agencies and the economic hardship occasioned by the lockdown have led to demonstrations and growing restiveness among residents of the state.
In the light of these unfortunate developments, I respectfully urge the police and other law enforcement agencies to exercise utmost restraint in enforcing the lockdown by adopting de-escalating skills to ensure things don’t get out of control in their engagement with residents who are already stressed out by the physical, emotional and economic impact of the stay at home order and the pandemic that engendered it. This period, more than any other, calls for humane law enforcement; done with love, empathy, thoughtfulness and restraint. Law enforcement agencies should realize that they are there primarily for the citizens and must strive always to earn their trust and those who violate their oath must be identified and brought to justice in accordance with the law.
On their part, residents should respect security agencies and recognise they are doing a difficult job often under very difficult conditions. It is a win-win for all if the threat to our collective existence brought about by the pandemic can help foster a better, more collaborative relationship between security agencies and the good people of Anambra State. This really should be our collective aspiration and requires all of us doing our bit for that to happen.
Ndi oma Anambra, despite the immense hardship the stay at home order is causing, it is arguably a necessary public health measure to help check the spread of Covid-19 which our struggling health system is grossly ill-equipped to handle given the experience of more advanced countries. In recognition of that, preventive measures like social distancing and lockdowns (when necessary), with all their inconveniences and hardships may well be our best pre-emptive way to prevent the pandemic.
But this is where effective, people-centred governance becomes imperative. The Anambra State government ought to have been more proactive in articulating and implementing substantive palliative measures for the most indigent among us to help cushion the harsh impact of the lockdown. It is well known that many hardworking folks live day to day and can barely survive once their daily means of income is disrupted as is presently the case. A responsive and truly people-centred government cognizant of the needs of this indigent and highly vulnerable segment of its population ought to have prioritized them in its lockdown measures. Sadly, this is not the case as the groundswell of protests and complaints across the state over lack of effective government countervailing measures to cushion the harsh impact of the lockdown indicate.
It is noteworthy and a thing of immense pride to see community organizations (town and village unions), faith groups, individual philanthropists, among others stepping in to fill this gap in the spirit of the time honoured communitarian Igbo philosophy of Onye aghana nwanne ya (being our brother’s keeper). Yet, even for our people with a legendary self-help republican philosophy, one thing that remains incontrovertible, especially in crises moments like this, is that government matters, and a government that has its priorities right would stop at nothing to support its most vulnerable populations when their means of livelihood is disrupted as is presently the case. Death can either come through a pandemic like Covid-19 or through starvation and our people must not be forced to choose either of these terrible options. This is an existential threat, whichever way you look at it and the State government can, and must do more.
It is therefore in the light of this that I urge the state government to immediately develop a substantive and sustainable palliative program for the most indigent in the state. Such program should help take care of the most economically vulnerable among us during the Covid-19 pandemic and immediately after. The government has both a political and moral responsibility to do so working closely with faith groups, community organizations and other proven traditional networks to ensure equitable distribution of the palliatives primarily on the basis of indigency. This will replace the current largely hotchpotch approach of government promised handouts that can barely sustain a family for a day. The need for a more sustained and substantive palliative approach becomes even more imperative should there be a compelling public health need (we pray it doesn’t happen) to extend the lockdown beyond the initial two-week period.
Beyond the pandemic, the state should initiate a dedicated fund for future support to the needy should a similar situation such as the current one that disrupts their basic means of livelihood arise. We can all learn from the present crises and be better prepared for similar contingencies. An essential part of good governance is being able to plan for future emergencies. The state government certainly can do better for the most indigent in our society. They may be poor but they are also children of God who our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ explicitly enjoined us to take care of (whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers--- - Matthew 25:40).
That is an injunction both to us as individuals and collectively as a community and government. As a government, it is about recognizing the existence of the poor and the marginalized and prioritizing them along with other competing needs in the allocation of state resources. The very idea of social welfare system with basic safety net for citizens who have fallen on hard times stems from this and it is a policy embraced in varying degrees by both conservative and liberal governments around the world. Anambra State government must introduce a social welfare system for its people. It is simply a matter of political will.
Finally, Ndi oma Anambra, surviving this pandemic should be our collective responsibility. Stay safe, observe public health guidelines such as social distancing, regular washing of hands with soap, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers, especially when hand washing is not possible, and looking out for each other. Cooperate with law enforcement agencies at all times as your life is precious, and rather than argue, keep calm and try to deescalate the situation by ensuring things don’t get out of hand. You can always report any infractions by security personnel through their chain of command and through such other agencies like the National Human Rights Commission- (NHRC Helplines- 080 37875424, 081 79371339, 080 34354537, 070 33398657).
Recently, we celebrated Easter, one of the most sacred observances in the Christian calendar marking the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember that after the pervading gloom of Good Friday came the glorious joy of Easter. The current hardships brought by the Corona Virus shall also pass, if we do the needful and keep the faith. As the joyful Hallelujah people of Easter, we shall overcome the pandemic and prosper in its aftermath.
High Chief Obiora Okonkwo, PhD