By Victoria Ngozi Ikeano
What is it in the rampaging coronavirus that has brought out the latent predisposition of our governors/leaders to light, activating in them an apparently dormant characteristic we scarcely were aware of before now, bringing it to life and giving life to it so to speak? Just as this coronavirus disease, COVID-19 is changing our lifestyle somehow, so is it changing the governance style of our leaders in a way.
For example most of them no longer sit in the cozy comfort of their offices from sunrise to sunset or ensconced in their luxurious official residences all night. Rather, they go out unto the roads, to monitor compliance with coronavirus -induced rules of dos and don’ts for stepping outside our houses. They have temporarily jettisoned their heavily starched agbada/native wears with designer shoes and fanciful traditional caps for canvass footwear, face-caps, rugged jean trousers and reflective jackets for night patrols that they now embark on from time to time, not minding the elements; just, to save us errant, undisciplined Nigerians from ourselves, from the dangers of coronavirus?
Coronavirus pandemic has made them declare emergencies in their respective states. And with it they added emergency power to their executive power as executive governors. It is called, Proclamation. The proclamations are regarded as emergency laws that do not have to go through the long process of being debated, ratified by the State Houses of Assemby and assented to by the governor before they become binding laws. Proclamations are drafted solely by the executive governor in a jiffy, signed by him in a jiffy and they become ‘law’ instantly. Those who breach any provisions of the executive proclamation are given instant punishment more or less, like frog jumping, having their cars, motorcycles impounded, etc; at best they are tried instantaneously at a mobile court. But there is no room for legalistic bombardments like prosecuting and defense lawyers for offenders or long adjournments; or the universal legal advice that offenders are presumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction. So far most state governors have issued between two and six Proclamations (Orders) since the coronavirus pandemic landed in Nigeria.
This emergency proclamations in this emergency time of COVID-19 have made our governors/leaders see themselves as lord of the mayor, as having sovereign authority over their states’ land, sea and air spaces that cannot be queried by anybody. Thus, they have been issuing threats to people brazenly. They range from mild to baffling threats. Among the minor ones are threats from the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19 and the Lagos state governor to clamp another total lockdown on the populace should they continue with their indiscipline of not obeying coronavirus rules of social distancing, wearing of masks, sanitizing hands when outdoors.
It followed observed crowding of public places during the first week of easing the lockdown. Said the Lagos state governor Babajide Sanwo – Olu , “Despite massive advocacy, it is disappointing to see the crowd at banks and markets across the state flouting public health guidelines. We will be forced to take the painful decision of bringing the state under lockdown if it remains clear that Lagosians are determined to flout the rules”. The PTF chaired by secretary to the federal government, Boss Mustapha, made similar threat, warning that it will not hesitate to recommend to President Mohammadu Buhari a reversal to the status quo ante should the trend continue.
Kogi state governor, Yahaya Bello who says his state has no single case of COVID-19, was about to make good his threat to quarantine any official of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that lands in his state as the officials who arrived the state for surveillance were forced to return to Abuja. Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, NCDC director-general remarked after the failed mission, “You can only offer help where help is wanted”. Governor David Umahi has meantime threatened to sack both his Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and the permanent secretary for alleged negligence of duty and compromise in breaching of travel ban at its borders at Afikpo North and Ivo Local government areas. He said that he personally ‘arrested’ some ten buses loaded with passengers that defied the order on inter-state travels when he undertook a monitoring exercise to those two local government areas. He suspended the two officials from office for one month without pay with immediate effect.
Meanwhile, the governor ordered, “The local government commissioner is hereby directed by me to account to me before Wednesday, May 13, the expenditure of N15 million released to each local government chairman for this pandemic”. He also stated, “All development centre coordinators of Afikpo North and Ivo local government areas are hereby suspended from office and should handover to ‘Member One’ in their various development centres including their official vehicles. All political appointees from these councils are to remain on half salary until normalcy returns including all traditional rulers from both councils. The chairmen and leadership of town unions in Ebonyi state are hereby suspended and I will dissolve all town unions this May if situation do not improve.”. Governor Umahi further reportedly threatened that all health workers in the state absent from their duty posts from Sunday will be sacked.
We are all aware of Rivers’ governor Nyesom Wike’s own flurry of threats part of which I had written about in last week’s piece titled, “Wike’s sub-conscious fears”. He has just demolished two hotels which he threatened to raze down for flaunting his Proclamation, personally supervising the destruction. He has further threatened to auction the impounded cars, trucks and trailers whose owners/drivers similarly disobeyed his coronavirus restrictions. Auction them at give-away prices? Why not give them to the Ministry of Works and Transport for official use?
Victoria Ngozi Ikeano a journalist, writes from Lafia via vikeano@ yahoo.co.uk