Coronavirus: Nigeria needs testing kits, not President Trump’s ventilators

By Onyiorah Paschal Chiduluemije

On Tuesday April 28, 2020, the United States President, Mr Donald Trump, reportedly had a telephone conversation with President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, on the subject Matter of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was a conversation purported to have been initiated at the instance of the US president, and in the course of which he did reportedly promise to provide Nigeria with Ventilators. Of course, this promise would have been made by the latter in an apparent demonstration of the United States’ support for Nigeria in its fight against the coronavirus.

It is a well Known African (Igbo) proverbial maxim that he whose house is on fire, does not go all out in chase of a rat. But by way of analogy, this is no less descriptive of the import of President Trump’s promise to Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria. This is so for obvious reasons. For one, accessible news reports within and outside the United States of America show that about more than a million Americans have been so far infected with the deadly coronavirus and no less than additional sixty eight thousand Americans have died as a result of the ravages of the pandemic. In the light of this ugly trend, therefore, it boggles one’s mind how a country – the US – that has currently broken the unviable record of leading the world as the highest purveyor of death toll arising from the covid-19 could in the right state of mind be pledging to provide another country, with far less casualty figures, with means for combating the same virus for which she (the US) has apparently failed to deploy sufficient means to contain and thus save the precious lives of her citizenry – even in total negation of President Donald Trump’s pet project of putting American interest first(?). Interestingly, for whatever reason(s) President Donald Trump might have decided to make this pledge of support in the form of providing Nigeria with ventilators, the point must not be missed by the latter that this booby trap of a promise or, rather, this masterly game of diplomacy is nothing worth celebrating because, at the moment, Nigeria is neither in dire need of ventilators nor is she really in dearth of this medical device in the truest sense of it.

As a matter of course, what Nigeria appears to be lacking in her efforts to win the war against covid-19 pandemic lies mainly in her inability to overcome her perennial inferiority complex or, rather, her reluctance to maximize the providential opportunity that has been offered by the emergence of the coronavirus. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. But, unfortunately, this axiom seems to mean nothing yet to the current leadership of the country. Almost as soon as the pandemic first made its presence felt in Nigeria, it was widely reported that Nigeria auto manufacturer Innoson Motors had offered to commence the production of critical medical equipment, including ventilators, but only if the Nigerian government and its relevant health institutions could place orders to that effect.

Cornol Osigwe, the company’s spokesperson, told a Nigerian based online media, the Premium Times, on March 24, 2020, that “lnnoson Motors is ready to assist the Nigerian government in any way we can, including the likability (sic) of converting our lines to produce ventilators and other equipment”.

Besides, the media in Nigeria were also recently awash with the news that the Nigerian Military has been mass producing ventilators through the effective use of local content by dint of the activities of Defense Industry Corporation of Nigeria (DICON).

The same ventilators were equally reported to have been manufactured by the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), a feat widely publicised and celebrated by especially the Nigerian Minister of State for Science and Technology – Abdullahi Mohammed.

Further complementing the foregoing milestones have been the daily reports of one breakthrough or the other being accomplished by the various research groups across different institutions of higher education in Nigeria on the production of ventilators meant for the fight against Covid-19. In addition to these success stories of the University-based research groups, private individuals have also done their part by repairing and fixing on free of charge basis abandoned ventilators as a demonstration of their willingness to ensuring that there is a relatively improved availability of this medical device in the Nigerian hospitals and isolation centers as well.

Meanwhile, in spite of the knowledge of all the foregoing by the presidency, Mr Muhammadu Buhari woefully failed to demonstrate sensibility and sensitivity to the real problems militating against the fight against the pandemic in Nigeria during his much publicised conversation with President Donald Trump. As it stands now, one of the greatest and noticeable setbacks to the fight against covid-19 in Nigeria is not the shortage or unavailability of ventilators, but the insufficiency of testing kits. Significantly unfortunate as this situation is, it has in fact continued to be bemoaned by the Director General of Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu. And given the enormity of this problem of insufficiency of testing kits, there has continued to occur mostly in the Northern Nigerian States of Kano, Borno, Kaduna and others, what is stupidly perceived and referred to as “mysterious deaths of prominent people”. Of course, real stupidity of perception because common sense based on careful observation dictates that there is nothing mysterious about the deaths that have so far occurred in this part of Nigeria other than the fact that many there are already infected with coronavirus, and that the dearth of testing kits made it pretty difficult for the cause of these deaths to be unraveled earlier than now. Yet President Muhammadu Buhari, the receiver of all daily intelligence reports on all issues, cowardly skipped a simple mention of this challenge posed by the insufficiency of testing Kits to the US President, Donald Trump, during their widely reported telephone conversation. And in a rather shameful but disguised manner, Alhaji Lai Muhhammed, Nigeria’s Minister of information, gleefully went public in the aftermath of the telephone conversation almost celebrating what is now aptly perceived in certain quarters as President Trump’s clever play of ventilator diplomacy on the psyche of Muhamnadu Buhari-led government.

However, with an unreserved apology to President Donald Trump and the entire American populace over the amnesia and/or gross display of insensitivity by President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria during his recent telephone conversation with the US President, let it therefore be known to the good people of the United States of America that what is basically needed most in Nigeria at present in the fight against the dreaded covid-19 pandemic is more of testing Kits than ventilators.

Onyiorah, a Journalist – writes from Nsukka, Enugu State, Nigeria.

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