Henry Ajomale, a former Lagos State chairman of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), in this interview with journalists assesses the state of the nation. He gives advice on what should be done to curtail the entry of Almajirai into the Southwest, among other issues. INIOBONG IWOK brings the excerpts:
Leader of Yoruba World Congress (YWC) has said that with membership of Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO), Yoruba nation has got a stronger voice through international support, to protect its territory. What is your view about that?
Nigeria is a member of the United Nations. Which nation is being talked about? How do they intend to enforce it? Are they going to invite the United Nations? Nigeria is an independent nation. We should not deceive the people to believe that it is possible. We are a part of a nation and no United Nation member can interfere in the internal affairs of an independent state. You have to fight your battle within the state. They established Amotekun and the government has given them approval for that. I saw Governor Nasir El-Rufai of Kaduna State inspecting a trailer to ensure the trailers carrying food were not carrying smuggled passengers under the food they were supposed to deliver. He inspected the vehicles personally in the North, because he was afraid of Almajiris coming into his state, since a lot of the Almajiris are already inflicted by the virus. So, if they are coming into the South and they can get in from Kogi, Ilorin, Ogbomoso, Ondo area and then to Lagos, and they were not stopped, then something is wrong somewhere. There must be an organised gang that is smuggling these Almajiris to the South; this group is what should be dismantled. Those arrested in Ibadan few days ago said that they were coming from Zamfara State, and they got caught in Ibadan. If we are all on the alert, they would not get to the South before we catch them. The implementation of Amotekun by all the South West states is creating problem. Once members of House of Assembly have passed the law, implementation should be swift. Only Ekiti State has established the board, the rest probably have concentrated more on the Covid-19 than the security of their states. I think both of them should be going ‘pari passu’, containing the pandemic and taking care of security at the same time. The curve in Lagos may become difficult to control. I don’t pray it would get to epidemic, like in America where thousands of people are dying; I bet it would be worse in Nigeria. This is what government should let the people know. It is not only on radio, television and newspapers, we should carry the message to people at the grassroots, and that is where local government officials are important. We should carry the fight to them; it is not only food they should have, because even when you provide food, they would still complain.
Are you saying the Southwest governors are not doing enough to check the alleged influx of Amajirai into their states?
The most important thing is that everybody should try to guide his borders. If you go to the main point of entry to Lagos, people come in and go out of Lagos at will. There is supposed to be security there. The governor should not leave all that he is doing, and man the borders. People that should do it are not there. If someone can leave Kano, pass all the borders and got opportunity of entering Lagos, then something is wrong somewhere. I pray that someday all of us would not die of Covid-19.
Amidst rising cases of Covid-19, what do you think should be done to flatten the curve, especially in the midst of allegation that some security officers who should enforce lockdown have continued to compromise?
The law enforcement agencies are part of the people causing problems for government, though not all of them. People who are not supposed to be on the road by virtue of the law and guideline by government, are allowed by security officials, after collecting money from them, thereby sabotaging the efforts of government. There is nothing wrong in the guideline issued by government, even outside Africa, the restriction is tougher. In South Africa, the enforcement is not done by police but by military, over 80,000 Army are sent out to enforce it. They involved the military when they discovered the people were not obeying the police. Influential people that should understand Nigeria’s problem seem to be promoting lawlessness. When you talk about Human Rights, there are certain places the human rights start from and end. You cannot say because you have a right, then you go against a law, you don’t respect the law because you feel you have a right as a free citizen. I think that government should tighten enforcement of the guideline. Only few people respect the guideline, of face mask in public, social and physical distancing. Some people reason like illiterates and yet they are educated. While some others believe COVID-19 does not exist.
What do you expect government to do specifically?
The local government chairmen should be involved in the fight against the pandemic. They should get vehicles with loud speakers and sensitise the people in local languages. They should go to the grassroots and sensitise the people in Yoruba, Hausa, Igbo and all other local languages. They should continue to announce the guideline every day, emphasising government’s expectation from the people. They should let them understand that the pandemic is real. America has lost over 80,000 citizens; Britain lost more than 30.000 and over 28,000 in France and in Spain over 24,000 of its citizens died. We just hope there would be no epidemic.
We hope that government would rise up to the challenges. I love my governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the way he is going about it, but he must be a little tougher. Majority of Lagosians are not respecting the guidelines. Sanwo-Olu goes out every day to hold a conference, updating Lagosians about what is going on. What else can he do? I believe it is time for him to leave the enforcement to those who are supposed to do it.
Don’t you think it would be good if government begins to arrest defaulters, especially those people who don’t wear the face masks, or fail to wear them properly?
If you arrest them and fine them, they would still do the same. The most important thing is to influence them. If they see those who should know, obey the guidelines, they too would join. It is for this reason that I said earlier that government should involve local government; they should go out to sensitise the people in their localities. After they have done that they should use the military, and also do a total lockdown for one week, across the states of the federation. I am sure that within the one week, they would be able to identify people with symptoms. The problem with the partial lockdown is that some people who were tested and result returned positive would relocate from their original addresses, switch of their telephone numbers. When they go to their new places, they would infect people there. Many people are accusing Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State of being a bully, but he is achieving result. If everybody would be like Wike, I don’t think we would be experiencing the high rate of new infections.
I pray it does not explode to where we would not be able to cope with it. America that is supposed to have the best medical system failed; Britain, Spain and Italy lost, these are countries that are supposed to have the best medical system in the world, not to talk about Nigeria which perhaps, allocation to health sector is less than eight percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in our annual budget.
Don’t you think mass testing will solve the problem?
There is no resources to do mass testing. The machines and other equipment are not there, so before it gets to that level, we must ensure this pandemic does not explode because if it does, no state government can control it. Look at what is going on in the North. When it was happening in Lagos, they did not behave as if it would get to them. If it can get to America, Japan, Spain, then it would get anywhere. We did not prepare for it and I don’t know if we have the resources to confront this pandemic. Our attitude in this country when people die is unbecoming, when we are not involved, we don’t care. Government should consider drafting out the military, not just the Army, but the Navy, the Air Force, should be moved out to enforce total lockdown of the country for one week, then the influx of people moving from one state to another. The military is not like the police which live among civilians, so they would be able to enforce it. Give Nigerians two days to stock food and then lock down totally for one week. You must use real force to get result.