COVID-19 lockdown: Virtual meeting to the rescue

Pandemonium as 12 test positive for COVID-19 in Mabushi, AbujaGlobally, the COVID-19 lockdown, with the attendant emphasis on social/physical distancing, has derailed the normal web of human activities and interactions.

Convergences, meetings, worships, transportation, industries, trading and businesses, sports among others have been cancelled, shut down, suspended or scaled down.

As the innovative and tech-driven world is striving to shake off the COVID-19 induced inertia and making frantic efforts to find a vaccine or cure for the pandemic, many activities have tilted towards virtual–meetings, teaching, worships, healthcare, sports among others.

In Nigeria, the virtual leeway is evident as online meetings are being held to discuss critical national issues, vis a vis COVID 19 pandemic and its economic aftermath.

In a teleconference with the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, President Muhammadu Buhari tasked the committee to step up efforts in contact tracing of those infected with the virus in order to curb community transmission.

Buhari urged the task force to flatten the curve of the virus as quickly as possible in order to break the chain of the expected community transmission.

PTF’s Chairman, Mr Boss Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to Government of the Federation, said that the president also challenged the PTF to reduce the spread of the virus as soon as possible.

“In the last two weeks, we have reached where we are now, and the president is conscious of the fact that we need to flatten the curve as quickly as possible.

“Be able to trace, find the people, conduct as numerous tests as we can and try as much as possible to break the chain of any community transmission.

“I can’t assure you that there won’t be transmission, there will definitely be transmission, but if we are able to get ahead of it, then, we can deal with it decisively.

“Some of the new measures that the president has introduced, he has asked a committee to look at how the economy will operate within the context of COVID-19,’’ he said.

More recently, the president via video-conferencing, participated in extraordinary summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS).

The summit was convened by the regional leaders to deliberate on the COVID-19 pandemic which has continued to ravage humanity worldwide.

The highlight of the video-conference was the appointment of Buhari as Champion of the COVID-19 Response, that will lead the region’s campaign for debt forgiveness among others.

On his part, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has been having series of virtual engagements.

Osinbajo recently presided over the meeting of the National Economic Council’s (NEC) Special Committee on COVID-19 anchored from the Presidential Villa via video-conferencing.

READ ALSO: COVID-19: Nigeria hits 4 digits, as NCDC confirms 114 new cases

The vice president, at the virtual meeting, said that there was need for more public enlightenment and sensitisation on the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Osinbajo urged governments at all levels to intensify efforts so that more Nigerians would become aware of the compelling and critical dimensions of the situation.

He harped on the importance of the assignment and the urgency required.

“The Federal Government is already packaging further resources for a comprehensive economic response to alleviate the challenges of the pandemic, support the states and provide succor to Nigerians in a timely and effective manner.

“The newly created Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) constituted by the president will also be meeting this week to start its work and respond to the situation appropriately.

“The Special Committee of the National Economic Council on COVID-19 is working hard to develop additional measures to alleviate the challenges being faced by Nigerians because of the implications of the global pandemic in the country,’’ he said.

Those who joined the vice president in  video-conference are governors Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti,  Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna,  Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa, Mohammed Abubakar of Jigawa and  Godwin Obaseki of Edo.

Other are governors David Umahi of  Ebonyi,  Dapo Abiodun of  Ogun, and Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi.

The meeting also featured the Finance Minister, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed and the Director-General of the Budget Office, Mr Ben Akabueze among several other top officials.

Again, Osinbajo joined online an event organised by the HACK COVID-19 Call Centre, where young Nigerian technology innovators talked about the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and wellbeing of Nigerians.

The vice president, at the video-conferencing, said that part of the tasks given to ESC, which he chaired, was to develop further palliatives.

According to the vice president, containing the spread of pandemic and tackling its fallout, is an all Nigeria effort that requires the cooperation of all.

Osinbajo responded to questions on how the Buhari administration intended to handle the consequences of the restriction of movements in parts of the country and support vulnerable Nigerians.

He said that part of the work of the ESC was to look at some of the concerns that affected the poor; especially, in the context of what had already been done and the data already collated.

According to the vice president, the committee will also look at how to implement some strategy that will be able to alleviate the sufferings of the poor and the informal workforce

“So, we have data of the poorest of the poor, with the assistance of the World Bank, we have developed what is called the National Social Register, where we mapped out, in practically all local government areas in Nigeria, those who are considered the most vulnerable.

“Already, some of them got conditional cash transfers but, again, compared to the numbers, it is not large enough.’’

The vice president, however, assured that though the challenges were daunting and expectations high, government was ready and willing to address all of them.

He said efforts were also being made towards incorporating local manufacturers in the production of items needed to manage the pandemic.

Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, the Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), joined the vice president at the online event, alongside a number of technology innovators from across the country.

In addition, Osinbajo had a video-conference with representatives of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank on how the agencies could collaborate with Nigeria in the planned additional economic stimulus packages to address the fallout of COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s more, the vice president held a virtual conference with eight governors from the geopolitical zones with a view to harmonising federal and state governments’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deserving no less attention, the Northern Governors Forum (NGF) had a tele-conference on how to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the region.

Gov. Simon Lalong of Plateau, who is also the Chairman of the forum, briefed his colleagues on the request for special funding, palliatives, testing centres among other types of assistance to the region in tackling the pandemic.

Lalong told them that the president assured him that the region would get needed support through the programmes that the Federal Government had rolled out.

Also via virtual conferencing, the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) shared N780.926 billion as March Federation Account Revenue to the federal, states, local governments and relevant agencies in the country.

The deployment of virtual tools in the midst of COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria has gone a long way to ensure that governance is not locked down.

The palpable advantages of virtual communication in the COVID-19 lockdown, could be harnessed appropriately in the post pandemic era.(NANFeatures)

By Chijioke Okoronkwo, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

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