In Defense of Gov Yahaya Bello on Coronavirus Recrimination

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Every indegene of Kogi state should want Governor Yahaya Bello and his administration to handle the coronavirus epidemic effectively and successfully. Those who seem eager to see the governor fail and to call every administration misstep a fiasco risk letting their partisanship blind them to the demands, not only of civic responsibility but of basic decency.

It is true that in a serious public-health crisis, the public has the right to expect the government’s chief executive to lead in a number of crucial ways: by prioritizing the problem properly, by deferring to subject-matter experts when appropriate while making key decisions in informed and sensible ways, by providing honest and careful information to the state, by calming fears and setting expectations, and by addressing mistakes and setbacks.

Now, most people are saying that Governor Yahaya Bello has so far hasn’t passed on any of these metrics. That he resisted making the response to the epidemic a priority for as long as he could — refusing briefings, downplaying the problem, and wasting precious time. That he has failed to properly empower his subordinates and refused to trust the information they provided him — often offering up unsubstantiated claims from the television instead. That he has spoken about the crisis in a crude political and personal terms. That he has stood in the way of public understanding of the plausible course of the epidemic, trafficking instead in dismissive clichés. And that he has denied his administration’s missteps, making it more difficult to address them.

But who made those mistakes is a matter of dispute. It should now be enough with the coronavirus recriminations. The public need to stop the blame game and join hand with the government to solve the crisis. Eventually, those who failed to respond forcefully to the campaign on the virus will be called to account. But now is absolutely the wrong moment for finger-pointing and blame-shifting.

We’re deep in the throes of an unprecedented emergency and we have plenty to do to pull ourselves out of it. This is the time for us to encourage the government on how to send clear, focused, forward-looking messages explaining exactly what is being asked of us and why changing our behavior is so important. We need more testing, more protective gear, more medical equipment, and we need our leaders to pull together regardless of their party. An obsessive focus on blame is an unwelcome and unhealthy distraction.

Governor Bello is the worst offended. There may be some truth to the accusations. Early mistakes may have led to a slower and weaker response around the state but we thank God no one is yet infected. Ultimately we will want to know whether the governor did everything he could have or whether he made mistakes through ignorance, political correctness or the fog of misinformation. But we will need to examine those missteps in order to prevent similar ones going forward. 

The media took the streets that: “The Governor ignored those warnings, took insufficient action and caused unnecessary laxity by allowing free movements in the state.”
It’s not that the media may be wrong. Repeated news stories have documented that Governor Bello’s government was slow off the mark and in fact did many of the same things they are now accusing the public of negligence and not adhering to the rules of NCDC. But again, it is hard to see how this line of attack to the government will help us out of the mess of being exposed to future attack by the epidemic.

It would be a misunderstanding of how the rhetoric of conservative facebook media in the state operates to think the Governor will meet much resistance.

In the world created by Kogi Facebook gamers, policy issues and ways of understanding controversies are fluid and subject to change. What is unchanging are the meta-themes that run through all their coverage that: “The government always lie and so can never be trusted”. Beside all those meta-themes, which have been in operation for a few decades now, is one of more recent vintage: “Bello is careless.” 

Watching all that, you may ask yourself how anyone believes a thing they say. But this is what their propaganda machine are built for.

Other than a handful of government doctors and scientists, did any of our leaders in the state or in the diaspora acquits Kogites brilliantly in the early days warning? Many have to be educated about the nature of the threat and certainly needed substantial persuasion before they agreed to order dramatic changes in people’s behavior that would infringe on personal liberty and cause enormous economic damage.

There will be years of studies and reports and analyses, and more than enough second-guessing and Monday morning quarterbacking. Undoubtedly the battle will be won in our dear state on the basis of how Governor Yahaya Bello responded to the crisis — or failed to. And that will be entirely appropriate.

But the cynical finger-pointing, the deflection of responsibility, the politicization of a dreadfully serious pandemic is not right, and it’s certainly not right at this moment. The public need to cooperate with the government to keep their focus on getting us through the pandemic breeze and beyond. Later we can go back to the recriminations.

– Alfred Dogwo, an independent free speech activist, wrote from Lokoja, Kogi State.

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