A former Minister of Aviation, Chief Osita Chidoka, has called on politicians (irrespective of party affiliation) to use their campaign structures to spread awareness about the dreaded novel coronavirus as part of efforts to prevent the pandemic from spreading to our villages and local communities.
Chidoka made the call in a statement issued by Mr Ikechukwu Okafor, his aide on Media and Publicity.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain said all politicians should deploy the same ingenuity, intensity, energy and methods used during political campaigns to reach out and educate the masses on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
He charged all public office holders to use resources at their disposal, including allowances and security votes, to provide financial support to the vulnerable in the society. While it is advisable that offices and markets should be closed to prevent the spread of the disease, it may be difficult to enforce. This is because about 50 percent of Nigerians are already living in abject poverty and an inability to go out every day is already a death sentence. Many other Nigerians are daily pay workers who also need to go to work every day while the rest are a few paychecks away from destitution. As such, all Nigerians of means should look around them and provide for those who are most vulnerable during this trying period.
“We should not wait for election campaigns to share rice and other foodstuffs. Now is the time to help those who are not able to go to work”, he said.
“One of the most critical needs at this time is to ensure that our people in the villages, many of whom are not on social media, understand that the world is going through a pandemic and that they must quickly change their cultural practices such as handshakes and hugs as forms of greeting.
“We must explain to them the concept of social distancing as the most effective way of stopping the spread of the virus. Instructions on hand washing and use of hand sanitizers are good but may not be effective in our local communities that have had perennial problems of water supply. Hand sanitisers may not be available in those communities and will definitely not be affordable. We need ingenious ways of communicating with the people”, he continued.
Chidoka reiterated that politicians know how to speak to the people during elections. Such methods must be employed now. “Politicians should bring out their campaign buses and use them to traverse the local communities blasting jingles and messages to educate the people on how best to socially-distance”.
Similarly, all radio stations across Nigeria, both privately-owned and owned by the government, should commit, in the spirit of national service, to broadcast educational messages at the top and the bottom of every hour. He urged the government to work with private owners to commit to this strategy as a way to get the message to the grassroots.
Furthermore, Chief Chidoka urged traditional and religious leaders to use structures within their control to push out similar messages. In some villages, the town crier should be used to push out these educational messages every night for the foreseeable future. Loudspeakers used for calls to prayer in Muslim communities should be used to broadcast the same educational message. Religious leaders should use their usual channels to pass messages to the faithful. We must be ingenious to win this war”, Chidoka said.
“Absence of a comprehensive national identity system makes it impossible to transfer cash to non-civil servants, hence there is a need for all of us to draw from our common humanity and help the vulnerable. Asking citizens to stay at home without any economic palliatives is impractical and would be ignored by daily pay workers and the unemployed.”
“It is obvious to all Nigerians that the Federal Government’s best efforts will be far from being enough. Therefore, all civic-minded individuals, businessmen, philanthropists, politicians, should rise to fill the leadership vacuum. This is the time to support the poor and vulnerable brothers and sisters who will not be able to work or fend for themselves during this period”.
“I propose that State Governments should discontinue all rates and tax collections from all residents. The usual non-pension deductions from the payrolls of civil servants should be used, in this emergency situation, to fund cash transfers to all those in need who have duly registered through their town unions, traditional rulers or religious institutions. There are innovative ways of using mobile phone numbers to uniquely identify such deserving beneficiaries.
Every state Governor should use a substantial part of their security vote to offer palliatives to the most vulnerable to ensure that our society does not degenerate to anarchy. The time to act is now.” Chidoka said.