By High Chief Major (Ret.) Iwuozo Livinus Obilo, M.D., FAAP
To All My Fellow Nigerians
Good day and I hope this message finds you safe during this unprecedented Coronavirus pandemic. Nigerians have faced many harrowing challenges since our country’s inception, not the least of which have included the Nigerian Civil War, Boko Haram, and the high mortality rate of its citizens. Coronavirus is the latest challenge to impact us and it may very well represent one of the greatest tests our civil society has ever faced.
Let one point be made at the outset of this address: this Coronavirus has come and eventually will pass, by the help of God. That said, one thing this current crisis has exposed is the fragility of life and the lesson that all are created equal as human beings. For many years, the leaders of Nigeria have depended on imported resources and outside pleasures rather than focusing on creating and sustaining our own capabilities.
Our politicians and their families have neglected our country’s foundational infrastructure and instead enriched other countries who have taken time to develop their own hospitals, universities, and manufacturing capacities. Today our hospitals are like butcher houses, our universities are woefully equipped, and students are not getting the type of education needed to compete with emerging talent from other parts of the globe.
Fellow Nigerians, I have a very pressing question that I need someone to help me answer truthfully! The question bothering me is this: who exactly is inflating the value of the dollar in Nigeria? Within the past month, the exchange rate of dollar to Naira has ballooned to $1: ₦400. As we know, there is a widespread economic meltdown due to this health scare. Businesses around the globe are in standstill mode.
Most international airports are closed, most banks are not working at full capacity, and imports and exports are essentially halted. Despite all of these factors negatively impacting the economies of America and Western Europe, still, the value of the dollar has grown to new heights in Nigeria. Our politicians are buying the dollars to bury in their basements, perhaps in the hopes of running away from the countries’ problems once the immediate tension of pandemic is over.
This pandemic has put our shared humanity into sharper focus, and in Nigeria, this reality is ever the more glaring. Rich and poor will have to use the same hospital facilities if the former cannot access airports to carry them (and their hoarded cash) abroad, where most if not all maintain homes.
This was not the reminder the people of Nigeria desired or deserved that our politicians and our politics have been failing us. Our leaders have shown they are not truly invested in saving our country because they are comfortable abroad.
Despite the potentially devastating impact of Coronavirus, the potential silver lining is that both the fear of the pandemic and the public health crisis will expose for all just how harmful the decades of greed, selfishness, and malfeasance have been to the entire nation – and not just for the poor who have been so easily forgotten.
On the other side of this pandemic response lays the opportunity and the responsibility of everyone in leadership to start with serious the work of rebuilding and enhancing our healthcare system, universities, and roads, in addition to creating constant supplies of electricity.
Just as individuals are being asked to change the way they move about the world to the benefit of humanity, the Nigerian government must be ready to fundamentally shift the way it operates to restore its standing on the world stage and instill a level of accountability that will not only prepare Nigeria for a brighter future but that will also be instrumental in saving lives.
I am worried about what is ahead of us, especially if we do not act with urgency. This is not the time for gamesmanship and shifting blame.
Our leaders must lead and we must all hold them to the task. In the meantime, my prayer for all of you remains for God’s protection; be safe and follow the recommendations provided by health professionals – handwashing, maintaining physical distancing to keep everyone safe. I know how much our communities help one another during difficult times. We must continue to work together (even virtually) to ensure the viability of our communities and the health of our loved ones.
May God bless everyone and may God change the mindset of our current and future leaders to see good in our own land and unlock the dormant promise of Nigeria!!!