By Ignatius Okorocha
Apparently not satisfied with the handling of the ravaging coronavirus on the lives of Nigerians, the Senate has urged the executive arm to rejig the implementation strategy and structures for the response of the pandemic to ensure better coordination between the federal, state, local and private sector, particularly in detection, isolation, treatment of cases, distribution of palliatives and other interventions.
The upper legislative chamber also charged the executive to set up a national technical committee on COVID-19 made of relevant scientists and health professionals, both at home and abroad.
It said “the committee should be charged with the responsibility of developing national strategic response to the pandemic including the detailed epidemiology of the disease in Nigeria, the development or production of rapid testing kits, effective therapy and prevention mechanism, etc.”
These resolutions were sequel to a motion, “COVID-19 pandemic: Reviewing the national responses to the challenges and the way forward” jointly sponsored by the Majority Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi (APC Kebbi North) and the Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South) and co-sponsored by give other lawmakers during the Tuesday’s plenary.
The Senate further urged the executive to articulate a coherent and coordinated exit strategy from the lockdown through a phased opening of the economic and social spheres of the nation without compromising the safety of the citizens and ensuring that there is no increase in the rate of the infection.
It also called on the Presidential Task Force, PTF and state governors to embark on massive mobilisation, education and enlightenment of Nigerians on the reality of the pandemic and means of protecting themselves, their families and communities from contacting and spreading the virus.
The upper legislative chamber further urged the executive to fast track the submission of the revised medium term expenditure framework, MTEF, fiscal strategy paper, FSP and the 2020 budget to the National Assembly for consideration and passage.
It specifically advised the Presidency to use “this grim period to change the trajectory and structure of the Nigerian economy by appropriating at least 10 percent of the growth domestic product, GDP as stimulus package for investment” into the key sectors of the economy.
The sectors as stated are those of the health and education infrastructure, agriculture, solid minerals, renewable energy, petroleum industry, infrastructure and public works like roads, railways, harbours, waterways, etc and investment on science and technology.
Leading debate on the motion, Abdullahi was disturbed that “despite all actions by the PTF and the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, the cases of COVID-19 has continued to rise in Nigeria with community transmission now happening and becoming a major threat to people’s lives.”
The Senate Leader was also worried that “from one state and one case on Thursday, 27th February, as at Sunday, 26th April, 2020, (eight weeks later), 32 states plus FCT now have cases of COVID-19 with total cases of 1,273; 239 discharged and 40 deaths representing three percent case fatality rate.”
He listed challenges with the management of the situation in Nigeria to include shortage of extraction and testing kits, non-uniform treatment, limited resources to support the states at point of care, limited information to guide distribution of medical products, low stocks of essential supplies, poor coordination of response between the federal and state governments and poor utilisation of available human and manufacturing capacities.
Abdullahi also lamented that “the massive disruption of the world economy caused by the pandemic has its direct effect on Nigeria in the form of the collapse of crude oil price and subsequent drop in the revenue sources like value added tax, VAT, taxes, custom duties due to local and international lockdowns.”
He noted the inconvenience that the lockdown order by the federal and many state governments have put on Nigerians and commended them for their cooperation and patience in view of the limitations of the various palliatives provided by the government, private sector and individuals during the restrictions.
Contributing, Abaribe said the federal government needs to look into the solution to the problem because “Nigerians have been so patient with us even though the pandemic case came from outside the country.”
In his own, the deputy senate president, Ovie Omo-Agege raised concerns over the agitation by Nigerians for the cancellation of the lockdown despite its effects on the economy, saying staying alive safely should be the major priority.
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Primary Health and Communicable Diseases, Chukwuka Utazi, stressed the need to strengthen the NCDC, noting that it has “shown capacity that it can do better.”