COVID-19: The crisis of leadership and followership

The first case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was reported on the 31st of December, 2019. Ever since over a hundred countries in six continents of the world have been affected by what can be described as one of the greatest pandemics in world history. 

This global pandemic has affected vital sectors of global life such as sports, health, economy, religion and so on. 

Beyond the effects on critical sectors of the world economy, the virus continues to unravel and demystify leaderships around the globe.

One of the hallmarks of leadership is the ability to respond effectively to and manage crises, proactively or in a reactional manner. Sadly, this virus has exposed the irresponsibility of leaderships around the globe.

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Donald Trump’s initial response to the virus was that it was a ‘hoax’. Tanzania’s John Magufuli’s response to COVID-19 was the encouragement of gatherings in churches, ignoring the social distancing precautionary measure, in a futile attempt to wish it away by prayers.

Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari’s insouciance to the outbreak was punctuated by the unrelenting cries of the citizens to take a pause from its snoozing mode and rise to the challenge of the pandemic. The calls from the masses culminated in a bland address to the nation devoid of any concrete actionable plan.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the failings and gross inadequacies in the intellectual, technical and spiritual competence of Nigeria’s political and religious leadership. 

First, it took the outcry of Nigerians for its borders to be shut, to mitigate the unrestrained diffusion of the virus. By the time the snoozing and hibernating political leadership awoke to its responsibilities, the purveyors of the virus had peregrinated the nooks and crannies of the country. 

One of the maladies that have perpetually afflicted members of the Nigerian political class is the collapse of the distinction between power and knowledge, leading to the assumption of a false persona of a tin god exuding omniscience.

This is clearly shown in Abba Kyari’s refusal to self-isolate; an action that led to a gratuitous dispersal of coronavirus infection among his aides. In a country where problems are spiritualized due to an illusory and reductionist notion of prayer as a never-ending battle with real or imaginary traducers, some member of the Nigerian theocratic class did not ‘disappoint’ in times like this.

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In an unsurprising show of spiritual poverty, some religious leaders defied the government order and opened their houses of worship, despite the daily rise in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country.

In the land of our colonial masters, a citizen of one of its former colonies, pastor Irungu Wiseman dispossessed gullible church members of 91 pounds each by selling vials of oil that ‘confers protection against coronavirus’.

For some ‘men of God’ who commercialize and instrumentalize religion, the reality of not having church members congregate in their large auditorium was unfathomable, bringing out their ingenious instincts by devising means of an online collection of offerings. 

Some adherents of the Islamic faith were not left out in the flagrant disregard for the precautionary measures put in the place by the government to curb the spread of the virus. The Agege mosque scenario is a vivid and distasteful example. 

Except for the Lagos state government, many state governments’ unpreparedness for leadership was brought to the fore by this pandemic. 

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Most of the action plans reeled out by state governments in the fight against COVID-19 were simply a rehashing of what some other states had put in place with little consideration for the peculiarities of their localities. 

Very appalling is the sad observation that there is no concrete plan to ensure the continuation of learning during the lockdown period. There is no provision for The transition of learning to online mode.

Even in states like Ogun and Oyo, where learning via dedicated television channels have been adopted to prepare students writing terminal exams, the idea was poorly conceived and executed. 

First, the learning programs were not put on popular channels. 

Also, the provision of adequate power supply was not considered in the execution of the idea. 

It will be an unavailing exercise if students don’t have light in their homes to watch the programs when they are aired. The implication is that learning has been confined due to the confinement of people in their homes in a country that lays claim to 21st-century civilization.

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The provision of palliatives to cushion the effect of the restriction of movement is at best laughable and incredulous. In Lagos state, the speaker of the house of assembly, Hon. Mudashiru Obasa distributed loaves of bread that can barely satisfy a teenager for a meal, let alone a household. In other states, it has also been a litany of disappointments in their elected representatives. 

The federal government claimed to have shared three billion nairas in twenty-four hours to vulnerable Nigerians. One can’t but wonder how the definition of ‘vulnerable’ was arrived at, by the federal government, and the data used in carrying out such a distribution exercise. Moreover, is there anyone who isn’t vulnerable during this period?

The greatest dent on the image of the Nigerian political class, exposed by coronavirus is the dilapidated state of Nigeria’s health sector. 

This is further exacerbated by the ignoble remarks of the Health Minister, Osagie Ehanire, and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha. 

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Dr. Ehanire’s display of patent ignorance on the issue of hazard allowance for health workers, and Mr Mustapha’s ignorance of the state of the health sector, are crystal clear pieces of evidence of elite disconnect from the masses. 

In a country where medical safari and vacuous globe-trotting is encoded in the DNA of most Nigerian politicians, such comments of feigned or inadvertent ignorance shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The economic depredations and soaring rate of unemployment have led to many Nigerians to depend on the daily income for subsistence and survival. 

Little wonder they feel the pinch of the stay at home order. The key to minimizing the spread of the virus is to reduce human contact, but many Nigerians seem to have made a trade-off between infection with the virus and staying at home, in favour of the former. Many people ignore social distancing and defy curfews and lockdown in search of their daily bread. This can easily be viewed as an act of recklessness and lawlessness from some of the citizenry. 

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But the questions that beg for answers are: Is lawlessness an exclusive characteristic of the led? 

Who are those who cultivated the seed and propagated lawlessness- the leaders or the led? Who are those at the vanguard of lawlessness in this country? Lawlessness pervades the land from the leaders to the led, peregrinating all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, and has damaged our individual and collective psyche as a people.

The myriad of inadequacies and incompetence in or polity and society brought to the fore by the COVID-19 pandemic should make us have a rethink of what leadership ought to be. 

Do we need a leadership personalized in the president or a personification of leadership? Should politics just be about scheming for power or creating a just and egalitarian society? 

Should leadership just be about creating an aura of benefaction, reducing the masses to passive beneficiaries of a benefactive government, or should it be aimed at creating a developed polity where individual and collective aspirations can be actualized?

The failure of leadership exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic is a reflection of the warped system of leadership processing in the country. Do the led scrutinize the intentions and promises of public office aspirants, or the electoral season is reduced to an occasion to extort aspirants to public office?

Do they demand effective representation from public office aspirants and assess their democratic temperament or do they just demand bags of rice and vegetable oil? These are some of the questions that we need to philosophically contemplate on, in our various confines during this lockdown.  

Mr. Franklyn Ofoegbu holds a Master of Science degree in Cell Biology and Genetics from the University of Ibadan. He teaches Chemistry to advanced level students, and is a public affairs commentator.



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