Interrogating Buhari’s second broadcast on COVID-19

For the second time in about a fortnight, President Muhammadu Buhari on Monday evening addressed the nation in a broadcast on what his administration was doing to combat the coronavirus pandemic which crept into Nigeria in February 2020. Since he delivered his 60-paragraph speech, a lot of analyses have been done on it and I was privileged to have been interviewed on three media channels on the issue. On Tuesday, I was on the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Independent Television and Kapital 92.9 FM, to discuss the speech.

I think the President did better in this second speech than the one he made on Sunday, March 29, 2020. He was more forthcoming with statistics and marshalled out what had been done, what is being done and shall be done to effectively exterminate this enemy of humanity called COVID-19 from our midst.

He expressed profound gratitude to all and sundry, from the health workers to donors, philanthropists, religious and community leaders, the media, security agencies, the National Assembly and members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for the roles they have played in containing the virus in the country. He was also full of praises to the state governors for their support and cooperation. According to him, “The response of our state governors has been particularly impressive, especially in aligning their policies and actions to those of the Federal Government.” He then promised that “In the coming weeks, I want to assure you that the Federal Government, through the Presidential Task Force, will do whatever it takes to support you in this very difficult period”.

In given account of what his government had used the last 14 days of the lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, Abuja to do, the President revealed that he had implemented comprehensive public health measures that intensified case identification, testing, isolation and contact tracing capabilities. According to him, “To date, we have identified 92% of all identified contacts while doubling the number of testing laboratories in the country and raising our testing capacity to 1,500 tests per day. We also trained over 7,000 Healthcare workers on infection prevention and control while deploying the NCDC teams to 19 states of the federation. Lagos and Abuja today have the capacity to admit some 1,000 patients each across several treatment centres”.

The President said many state governments had also made provisions for isolation wards and treatment centres and that his administration would also build similar centres near the nation’s airports and land borders.  He said, “Using our resources and those provided through donations, we will adequately equip and man these centres in the coming weeks. Already, health care workers across all the treatment centres have been provided with the personal protective equipment that they need to safely carry out the care they provide”. He also promised that more measures to motivate our health care workers were being introduced which would be announced in the coming weeks.

Instructively, there are some salient points the President made in the broadcast. This includes the extension of the lockdown in FCT, Lagos and Ogun states for an additional 14 days. In justifying this painful but desirable decision, he gave statistics to support his action. According to him, we had 131 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 12 states as of March 30, 2020 with two fatalities. However, as of Monday morning, the number of infections had risen exponentially to 323 in 20 states with 10 fatalities. He observed that Lagos State remained the epicentre of COVID-19 infections in Nigeria and accounted for 54% of the confirmed cases. When combined with the FCT, the two locations represented over 71% of the confirmed cases in Nigeria.


The President submitted that “The repercussions of any premature end to the lockdown action are unimaginable. We must not lose the gains achieved thus far. We must not allow a rapid increase in community transmission. We must endure a little longer”.

Another highlight of the speech is the alarm of community infections suspected to be ongoing. According to the President, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control had informed him that a large proportion of new infections were occurring in our communities, through person-to-person contacts. This is scary!

Now that a lockdown of additional 14 days has been announced, what will happen to the vulnerable groups? The President announced that he had directed that the current social register be expanded from 2.6 million households to 3.6 million households in the next two weeks.

In order not to allow governance and the economy to grind to a halt as a result of this pandemic, the President claimed to have taken two critical steps. One is the directive to the Ministers of Industry, Trade and Investment, Communication and Digital Economy, Science and Technology, Transportation, Aviation, Interior, Health, Works and Housing, Labour and Employment and Education to jointly develop a comprehensive policy for a “Nigerian economy functioning with COVID-19”. He said the ministers would be supported by the Presidential Economic Advisory Council and Economic Sustainability Committee in executing this mandate.

Two, he equally directed the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the National Security Adviser, the Vice Chairman, National Food Security Council and the Chairman, Presidential Fertiliser Initiative to work with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to ensure the impact of this pandemic on our 2020 farming season is minimised. This is very commendable.

As earlier observed, the President is largely spot on in his speech. However, there are a few gaps. For instance, while he said the country had the ability to test 1,500 daily, he did not update us as to how many had been tested thus far. Also, there is no specific target of the millions of Nigeria’s persons with disabilities who rank very high among the vulnerable groups. There was also no mention about whether the directive to make the Presidential Task Force as the central collection point of all donations had been adhered to.

Some Nigerians believe that the Federal Government committee on distribution of palliatives is not doing well. Many asked for more accountability in terms of the beneficiary households, how they were selected, what was given to them and how much had been spent so far in terms of food purchase and distribution as well as the Conditional Cash Transfer. And talking about food bank and distribution, many are asking why the President is allowing the Nigerian Customs Service to be sharing to the public “poisonous” imported rice. Recall that the Comptroller General of Customs, Hamid Ali, had said that imported rice was not fit for human consumption as most of them were preserved with harmful chemicals while some had expired and could cause colon cancer.

While the Presidential Task Force is placing priority on food distribution and cash transfers, not much is being done about water supply. Yet, combating coronavirus is about sanitation and hygiene. We have been asked to wash our hands regularly for upward of 20 seconds in running water, how can this be achieved in many communities without pipeborne water and other sources of clean water during this dry season?

There is also the security challenge this lockdown in many states has caused as criminal elements are now robbing many communities even in broad daylight. There is therefore the need to order for tightening of security across the country. Many have also rightly asked why the “Amotekun” corps recently launched in the South-West are not making visible attempt at assisting the police and other security agencies in curbing the increased incidents of armed robbery, burglary and attacks on the people of Lagos and Ogun states in particular.