The Leadership Debate: Should Buhari Address Nigerians on Coronavirus?

The Leadership Debate: Should Buhari Address Nigerians on Coronavirus?

On Wednesday, the Nigerian Senate, while deliberating on the issue of coronavirus in Nigeria, suggested that many measures should be taken by governments and health bodies in the country to reflect international best practices, in accordance with directives from the World Health Organization (WHO). Among the many suggestions given by the 9th Senate is that President Muhammadu Buhari needs to address the nation.

“Countries worldwide and big country like the United States of America is taking drastic measures to either contain or prevent coronavirus from entering their country. Even countries without incident are taking measures. Even African countries like Senegal, Rwanda, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya are taking serious measures to protect their countries.

“Even religious bodies are also taking steps. Countries like Saudi Arabia that has no single case of infection and even Kaaba which we all know as Muslims. Vatican has announced that we would celebrate Easter without a full congregation and I believe as a country, we should do something very drastic.

“This thing starts gradually. Like in the United States, it starts from one to two and as at this morning, it has extended to fifty states. Even though we think we don’t have the problem here, we have contacts in Lagos, it will not end there, it will go to Oyo, Sokoto, Borno, and other places.

“In view of this, Mr. President, I want this Chamber to urge President Muhammadu Buhari to address the nation on coronavirus. Other presidents have been doing that, even bigger countries like the United States of America,” remarked Senator Danjuma Goje.

Senate’s encouragement to the president to address the nation over coronavirus was received by Nigerians as slap in the face, not because the upper chamber of the National Assembly erred, but because it’s widely viewed as appalling that the president has to be urged to address the nation in time of global health crisis like this.

Worldwide, leaders have been on the podium week in week out, telling their citizens the plans and measures that the government has in store to remedy the situation, urging them to remain calm that the storm will surely pass.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled the country’s austerity measures with a touching address.

“No matter whom you are or what you do, right now you should be focused on your health – and not about whether you will lose your job or run out of money for things like groceries or medicine. So today, we announced our plan that will help you and your family.

“As COVID-19 continues to spread, we are taking every precaution to minimize the health, economic, and social impacts of the virus in Canada. And today, we announced a billion-dollar COVID-19 Response Fund to address the impacts of the virus in our country and to keep you safe.

“This fund will provide money to the provinces and territories to support our health care system. That’s more money for surgical masks, face shields, testing, and equipment they need to address the outbreak. It will also help fund vaccine development and support clinical trials,” said Trudeau.

The clamor for Buhari to address the nation has been on high volume even before the Senate added their voice. His inability to do so has been described as utter disregard for people he swore to serve, especially in trying time of pestilence.

“I strongly believe we need a state of the nation address. We need detailed information from relevant authorities as to the level of preparedness for the days ahead,” said Actress kate Henshaw. “I just left a major supermarket in Lekki and the buying of stuff is astronomical. Nigerians are worried.”

With the news of school closure and limited religious gathering in many states, Nigerians have been thrown into panic and restlessness, amidst the worrisome silence from the authorities. The increasing number of confirmed cases has also added to the worry that needs assurance from the Nigerian authorities, especially the president to be calmed.

But in a surprising response on Thursday, the 36 state governors who made up the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), said on Thursday that Buhari does not need to address the nation on coronavirus outbreak. The governors said that the Presidential Taskforce and the updates from the Ministries of Health is enough.

“On the addressing of the nation on COVID-19, every day, I notice that we receive an address. There is a COVID-19 taskforce that has been put together by President Muhammadu Buhari, and the taskforce addresses the country on almost a daily basis.

“We see the honorable minister of health; we see the Secretary to the State Government of the Federation that briefs the nation. What the nation needs is information that is regularly delivered in order to keep the citizens well informed about steps to take,” the governors said.

The presidency also rebuked the Senate for calling on Buhari to address the nation. In a statement issued by presidential spokesman,  Garba Shehu, on Thursday, he described it as cheap politics.

“In this regard, populist advocacies such as the one accusing the President of ‘complacency’ simply because he has not made a television address by ranking members of our respected parliament are cheap and sensational. These are not the times for populism and cheap politics.”

These statements attracted unprecedented backlash from Nigerians, who say that other countries like Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe that their presidents have addressed put even more measures in place than Nigeria, and they also have kept their countries informed about every necessary step the governments are taking.

On Monday, Buhari set up a 12-man taskforce and saddle them with the responsibility to oversee and forestall modalities that will ensure that the outbreak is contained. Upon the inauguration of the taskforce, it is believed that Buhari has exempted himself from the task of oversight and decision making on matters of COVID-19, and that has become unacceptable to Nigerians.

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