We operate a Federation, at least in name, by the intent of the constitution, and very much by the attitude and practice of governors who are chief executives at the sub-national (State) levels.
These governors are known to behave like emperors in their respective fiefdoms, subjugating law and order, acting with impunity, converting citizens into subjects and subverting the very Constitution that they swore an oath to uphold.
For instance the Constitution is clear – in both its letter and spirit – in section 7 that the system of democratically elected local governments is guaranteed by the constitution. However in how many states do we have elected Local Government Councils? Every governor dissolves local governments at will and acting with impunity constitutes Caretaker Committees.
And let’s be clear, although Section 8 of the Constitution then imposes a mandate on states to enact laws with respect to the structure, management and related matters of their local governments; it did add the caveat that this must be in accordance with the provisions of the constitution including section 7.
The implication of this is that even if a state were to enact a local government law accommodating Caretaker Committees, this would be null and void to the extent to which it is at variance with Section 7.
Furthermore, even in cases where local government elections are held, it is always a charade. A ruling party in a state where there are opposition party members in the state legislature, and there are opposition party members winning national elections to represent some federal constituencies in the House of Representatives and sometimes even in the Senate; conduct local government elections through their State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) and go on to win every chairmanship and counsellorship seat available for the state! How can this be possible? And yet these people who so blatantly subvert the Constitution turn round to point accusing fingers at the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for being compromised and incompetent! Who does that? To be sure INEC has many challenges and acts questionably sometimes, however it does conduct elections where opposition parties win significant number of seats contested!
Furthermore, these emperors also award to themselves security votes, appropriated by the legislature, but for which neither the State Auditor-General, nor the same legislature that appropriated the security votes can hold them to account! If this is not the very hallmark of impunity, then what is?
So back to our discourse on COVID 19 and the irresponsible behaviour, attitude and practice of many of these emperors who go by the appellation of Executive Governors of their respective states. We went into the earlier conversation about impunity to underlie the scale and scope of the authority of these governors.
If they have the same authority vested in the president with respect to the federation, at their respective state levels, then it is time they act up, and live up to their responsibilities.
The states are autonomous from the Federal Government, to be sure this is a fact; nevertheless, this was not intended to be a recipe for disaster.
With respect to COVID 19 Response, the state governors, acting through their forum – the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) need to as a matter of urgency develop, approve and cause to be implemented across all states, some minimum protocols for opening up and for managing and responding to the pandemic, along with some minimum guidelines as guidance for implementation. And they must be ready to also pledge to enforce implementation.
So for instance in the transport sector, both intra and interstate – state governors need to work with the unions and associations in the sector to develop, implement and enforce sector specific protocols. Let the unions and associations be part of developing the protocols so that they can also play the primary role in its implementation and enforcement. If every passenger and driver must wear face masks, if every cab and bus must provide hand sanitisers, if every motor park must provide points for hand washing and hand sanitisers, and they must not carry more than a certain number of passengers in order to observe social distancing; then the unions and associations will be central to making these happen.
The same is also true for every other sector. Take hospitality, events, relaxation, catering, sector for instance.
Take similar steps like Lagos state, ask all businesses that want to reopen to register with the economy reopening departments established to register these businesses, work with them to develop pandemic containing protocols along with implementation plans; visit the businesses to inspect their reopening preparations, and consequently certify them for reopening. Part of the protocols will include the personal hygiene measures, compliance with social distancing, wearing of face masks, and for the personnel of the businesses who will interact with the public the necessity for personal protective equipment (PPEs).
Take education and eventual reopening of schools for instance; again work with owners, management and workers associations within education to develop specific protocols and implementation plans. How for instance would we ensure social distances in classrooms, in staff rooms, and in the schools premises in general? Depending on the size of school, how many hand washing points will be required? Certainly every classroom, staffroom, laboratory, office must have hand washing access as well as hand sanitisers.
How do you ensure that pupils and staff who are infected do not bring this into the schools? Temperature checks at the gates will be mandatory before entering the schools, and probably at intervals during school period. How regularly should the schools be generally disinfected? Every week? Fortnightly? Monthly? What is the implication of all these on class size, and number of shifts that schools will have to run? What’s the cost implications of these? How will these be met? How will visitation to the schools be regulated and visitors tracked? Certainly none of these can be implemented and monitored without participation of all stakeholders, – owners, management, staff, pupils, and their parents. This seems to me to be a reason for reviving and empowering School Management Committees that include representation of all these stakeholders including those of the communities where the schools are located.
If we take a look at all of the foregoing, we see that the crisis actually represents an opportunity to reset the button of accountable, responsive, responsible and transparent governance that is participatory.
Furthermore, it will actually allow state governments to establish a viable mechanism for creating digital records of their residents and businesses and processes; and for managing these records and data. It will help to create the quintessential biometric state.
It is time for state governors, state legislatures, and the leaderships of different associations and entities in the polity and the economy to rise up to the occasion, and take responsibility.
The alternative will be a self induced disaster of catastrophic proportions.
A word should be enough for the wise.