Dr Chike Mgbeadichie
Leaders all around the world have declared this period wartime and have collectively categorized coronavirus (COVID-19) the invisible enemy at war with the world.
If truly this is wartime, the world should not see this period as a strange era because every nation of the world has experienced war in different forms and degrees. From world wars to the ethnic crisis around the world, nations deploy strategies to combat and contain wars, and these strategies are legal as they are lethal.
In the Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967-1970, for instance, the Nigerian government deployed starvation and financial crunch amongst others to execute the war against the Igbo Biafrans who were fighting for secession. The Igbo Biafrans, on the other hand, employed lies and propaganda tactics to sustain and prolong the war.
These strategies from both sides were legal because, in situations of war, all tactics are fair and permissible; there is the supposed suspension of human rights and laws. These laws only resume at the end of the war to try those who excessively jettisoned human laws to achieve victory.
However, that only a few around the world have been found guilty of such offences makes weaponizing anything to execute a war, thrive. In Nigeria, the people whose duty is to fight the coronavirus war have weaponized corruption through cash transfers and palliatives to the supposed poorest of the poor in the country.
How best can one explain Nigeria’s Federal Government’s claim to have disbursed over 600 billion naira to the poor in the country with no data to prove the methods of disbursement?
When questioned by Journalist on Channels TV’s Sunrise Daily 10 April, to release the list of beneficiaries of the cash transfer, the special adviser to the president on Social Investment, Maryam Uwais, claimed that “those who benefit from the conditional cash transfer of the Federal Government as a palliative to cushion the effects of the lockdown caused by the deadly coronavirus don’t want to be addressed as poor people that is why we can’t publish their names.
Also, the beneficiaries of the Federal Government’s gesture are invisible and dwell where the conventional society cannot see them…” If this isn’t corruption, lies and deceit, what then is it? I very much agree with Mrs Uwais: How can we see the beneficiaries of the cash transfers when we cannot see the face of the enemy we are fighting in this unique war? Until the virus becomes physical, it makes no sense to expose the identities of the beneficiaries in this war.
Exposing their identities will make them soft targets and easy prey for the virus. This is the clear strategy of the government in winning this war.
In fact, after the supposed cash disbursement, the Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, was on record saying that there are no more poor persons in Nigeria, the world’s poorest country, according to the World Poverty Clock. But on different platforms on the media, there are reports and videos of poor Nigerians complaining of poverty and hunger, with many claiming not to have got any palliative or cash from the government.
The question then is- where did the billions of naira plus the huge donations of wealthy Nigerians to the government go? I can attempt a guess. In this war period, the answer will be simple, clear and scripted: the funds were used to fight the coronavirus war. Unfortunately, such reply in a time like this closes the case completely, at least for now.
For it not to seem like an act that could distract the government from the laudable fight to win this war, no institution, not even the National Assembly will institute and sustain a probe into the disappearance of such huge funds at this time. Rather, they will be quick to approve the release of more funds as the government will demand.
Corruption is legal and a virtue; there is absolutely nothing wrong with the actions of the government. After all, accountability is a vice in war times. Being frugal, open and clean could expose one to the enemy, hence the need to be deceptive and corrupt even to one’s own camp because saboteurs exist from within, not without.
Sometime in March, The Newzandar News reported in an article that the Federal Government will embark on a food distribution mission to vulnerable households in Lagos, the FCT and Ogun states, the epicentre of the war.
After waiting patiently for the foodstuff in their various lockdown holes which never came, many vulnerable Nigerians, particularly in Lagos, took to the street to protest hunger. They were reported to be moving from one highbrow residential estate to another to demand food.
The result of this created the supposed 1 million-boys robbery gang that terrorized the entire Lagos for weeks, a robbery gang which the Nigerian police denies its existence, despite continuous complaints by Lagos residents, who have since begun policing their different communities themselves.
The question in the minds of many Nigerians is, who won this juicy food distribution contract? The person(s) must have “blown”, because, for sure, so much would have been released and signed for, but little or nothing gets to the people for whom the palliative is meant. But who cares in a time like this? We are in war times, a period when everything is fair; even corruption, no matter its form or guise, is a virtue.
The Nigerian government in its constant deceptive strategies in combating this war has corroborated Sun Tzu’s universal argument that all warfare is based on deception.
One strategy which has become an almost universal practice in a war situation is the use of strategic confusion to confound one’s enemy and astound one’s friends; the enemy being coronavirus and the friends, Nigerians. There are many instances of confusion as a strategy in the fight against coronavirus in Nigeria.
From the presidency running on an auto-cruise, to the legislature operating on its own and other agencies of government functioning without coordinated approach and direction, confusion abounds in the methods adopted for the corona warfare. Whether such confusion will cause sudden surprise to coronavirus is one thing, but what is certain is that Nigerians are not impressed with the strategy.
Early April, a report had it that the president, Muhammadu Buhari, ordered distribution of 150 trucks of rice seized by the Nigerian Customs Service to the 36 states of the federation to ease the hardship caused by the coronavirus war. In a swift response, the Nigerian Customs service handed over the said rice to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster management for onward distribution.
But in October last year, the Customs’ boss claimed in reports in the media that the seized rice were poisonous, contaminated and have long expired. Has the seized poisonous rice of October 2019 been purified by a coronavirus in April 2020? It is obvious from this that the presidency and its agencies lack synergy and are acting confused.
The confusion has now taken a new turn with state governors rejecting the distributed rice on the grounds that they are poisonous and unhealthy for consumption. Oyo and Ondo states are the two states who openly rejected these bags of rice.
According to BusinessDay report 24 April, Debo Akande, the Executive Assistant to the Oyo state governor on Agric-business, said, after inspecting the bags of rice, “we think this is not definitely in the position for consumption for human beings at this point in time and at such the materials cannot be distributed as parts of palliatives within the state. We don’t want to start providing a solution to a problem and then start creating another problem.”
To further deepen the confusion, Sadiya Farouq, the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, said in Premium Times report 29 April that the bags of rice distributed to states were “tested” and approved by the National Agency for Food Drugs and Administration Control (NAFDAC), the government agency responsible for quality and standards of food and drugs in the nation. However, NAFDAC quickly dismissed the minister’s claims, saying it was never invited to inspect the rice sent to Oyo state, especially those that were reportedly contaminated. This is confusion at its peak and a strategic form of corruption.
Just recently, the president, in his nationwide broadcast of 28 April, declared a gradual reopening of the economy in the three front line states, with a nationwide curfew between the hours of 8 pm to 6 am. We must give kudos to the president for this strategy because he has succeeded in confusing coronavirus.
Our collective enemy, coronavirus, would by now be wondering when it signed an agreement with the government of Nigeria to operate between the curfew hours. Reactions on social media suggest that Nigerians are not impressed with the “strategy of confusion.”
Within minutes of the president’s broadcast, social media was awash with skits, memes and opinions suggesting dissatisfaction with such declaration.
However, I think it is too early in the day to say whether the “confused strategy” will fail. I will encourage Nigerians to give the tactics some time and see if it keeps coronavirus perpetually confused so that the Nigerian government gets well prepared to hit it with a lethal force once for all.
Despite the deplorable situation, I have thin hope that when the war is over, there will be a trial on all the weapons used to execute the coronavirus war in Nigeria, as it is the case at the end of every war around the world. And when this is done, may it be declared that corruption in all forms is illegal in war times and at all times.
But my hope continually depletes whenever I rethink the many ethnic clashes across the country, past and present, and the Nigeria-Biafra war of about three years where thousands of lives were lost with no manner of a probe conducted to interrogate the weapons used during these dark periods in Nigeria’s history.
Dr. Chike Mgbeadichie writes from the School of Media and Communication, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos