The COVID-19 League: Ranking Government & Corporate Interventions

Confirmed cases of CoV SARS 2 a.k.a COVID-19 in Nigeria are more than 300 with 10 deaths recorded as of April 12th. Deaths from COVID-19 has now risen to over 100,000 globally.

Nigeria seems to have learned from the mistakes of countries, like Italy, the United States, and the United Kingdom, and imposed stay-at-home orders and social distancing earlier. Yet, COVID-19 is here with us. After having lost over half of the projected revenue from oil export (with analysts still predicting oil at below $20 per barrel), Nigeria cannot afford the lockdown that has frozen the economy. The lockdown has to demonstrably reduce infections to near zero and health authorities demonstrate we have built a system to quickly test cases and effectively trace and quarantine before the economy could be reopened. All these require formidable administrative capacity and material resources-enforcing the stay-at-home orders, aiding the poor to encourage them to comply, distributing face masks to those who have to work, or go out of their homes, delivering personal protective equipment to medical personnel, etc. Everything has to work like clockwork. No weak links allowed.

So how has the Nigerian response measured up against the great healthcare and economic challenge COVID-19 represents? We are ranking the interventions of government/s, politicians, state agencies, and the private sector, using English football league classification – The Premier LeagueFirst DivisionSecond Division, and Third Division. We also have a Relegation category, reserved for particularly appalling conduct. We will be reviewing the ranking regularly, so all the players have a chance to improve their ranking. We are including the private sector, not only because Nigerian companies have announced very big monetary contributions but also because we believe they have superior organisational planning capacity compared to the government. Also, some players will get ranked in more than one division because we are measuring different interventions.

The Premier League

GTBank: They quickly moved to build a 100-bed Isolation Centre at the Onikan Stadium, delivered over 4 days.  The facility, let’s hope we won’t get to need all the beds, brings a message home to Nigerians that COVID-19 is real, and it is here.

Fisayo Soyombo: The most distinguished out of a new generation of Nigerian journalists that emerged around 2010, Fisayo Soyombo has put his fame and diligence to COVID-19 activism. He has constituted himself into a one-man monitoring team, reporting breaches of prevention protocols on social media. The cases he has exposed include a clinic in Lagos and professors at the University of Ilorin treating patients with symptoms similar to COVID-19’s without notifying the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Fisayo has also flagged cases of high handedness of security agencies and lapses in the NCDC’s response. He has been, as usual, in a class of his own.

Sterling Bank: The bank is a mid-sized bank you often would find doing things very intelligently. It launched and contributed N25 million into a Health Worker Appeal Fund on and sponsored a drive-through testing centre with the capacity to carry out 200 tests every day, which is up and running at the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (you register for a test here).

This is in addition to donating N250 million to the Federal Government and also donating N50 million towards equipping an isolation centre at Igbobi Hospital. The drive-through testing centre is innovative and has an immediate impact, while the appeal fund provides a model to enlist better-off Nigerians in the anti-COVID-19 effort besides boosting the morale of medical personnel at the frontline. Both have earned Sterling Bank Premier League ranking. We would like to see Sterling Bank pioneer an effective system to get donations from Nigerians and deliver the cash to Nigerians who need to buy food.

The First Division

The Billion Naira Club – Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID)

These players are corporates who have grouped themselves into the Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID), each promising to donate a minimum of N1 billion to the anti- COVID-19 effort. The companies include Bua Sugar Refinery, Zenith Bank, Dangote Group, GTB, First Bank, African Steel Mill, African Finance Corporation, Famfa Oil, Globalcom, KeyStone Bank, Multichoice and Takagro and Chemicals. The Managing Director of GTBank, Mr. Segun Agbaje, personally donated N1 billion, in addition to the bank’s intervention.

CACOVID has failed to make the Premier League because Nigerians are already asking what the funds its members presumably have donated are being used for. A member of the group, the tycoon Femi Otedola (who has donated N1 billion) is better off asking other members the questions over how donations could be quickly deployed rather than publicly putting pressure on others to redeem their donations (except he has been appointed a collecting agent). Spending quickly and smartly is as important as getting the money.

Lafarge PLC: The Nigerian operation of the global building materials leader, LafargeHolcim, is contributing ambulances, testing kits, and personal protective equipment, in addition to refurbishing and donating facilities in three states as Isolation Centres. This is smart as it is real-time intervention in curtailing the spread of the virus. The question is if the company is working with the state governments (Lagos, Ogun, and Cross Rivers) to see that the materials are quickly deployed to the areas and the people who need them urgently.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu:

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu with health workers at the GTB 110-bed isolation centre

The Lagos State Governor makes First Division for appearing in charge and avoiding doing confusing things. Why we may want to ask questions over Nigeria’s richest state’s reliance on the private sector in the fight against COVID-19, it’s easy to feel that Governor Sanwo-Olu has been a partner that the private sector can work with.

The Second Division:

MTN: The telecommunications giant has supported the anti-COVID-19 effort by giving free text messages to its customers and sending messages on behalf of the NCDC.

MTN could move up the league table by creating, equipping, and staffing a facility for the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control to take calls from Nigerians reporting cases. This facility should have a giant screen that displays real-time requests for NCDC intervention and the time it takes to resolve each request.

Nigerian Centre for Disease Control: The NCDC has a splendid leader in Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, a premier league sort of guy but the NCDC is playing in the Second Division because it seems so under resourced. Ghana with a population of 31 million has carried out over 37,000 tests while Nigeria has tested only about 5,000 people despite having more than six times more people. Nigerians can’t wait to see CA-Covid’s billions boosting NCDC’s capacity.


The Third Division

Food Distribution in Lagos State: Days to the lockdown, Lagosians were tantalized with pictures of foodstuffs that were going to be distributed to them. The reality was a fiasco- streets getting a few tubers of yam, two bags of rice and a keg of oil and people fighting over food and splashing saliva freely. Doing PR with food was never going to work when thousands of low-income people who can’t afford to stock food in the house will face real hunger. As we have argued in How to Distribute Food and Money to the Poorest Nigerians, the best solution to avoiding hunger and encourage compliance with the lockdown is plan for safe distribution of food and find ways of getting money to the neediest. 

 Wema Bank: So we are surprised to see WEMA Bank chose to become a rice distributor rather than contribute to finding ways to deliver cash digitally to the most vulnerable Nigerians under the lockdown! The problem with distributing bags of rice or beans is deciding who deserves them and getting it to them. Targeting cash helps the vulnerable while also putting cash in the hands of food sellers who are also often very close to the poor.

Crown Flour Mills/Olam: One trailer-load of pasta was presented to the Kwara State Government. First, why donate food in Kwara, a state not under lockdown, while people are going hungry and getting attacked for food in parts of Lagos and Ogun States? Second, why place the burden of distribution on the state government, assuming the pasta is not meant to be consumed in the state house? This is another area that CA-Covid intervention may be useful-organizing donations from food manufacturers to have maximum impact.

 The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Ms. Sadiya Farouq:

Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Umar Farouk distributing cash to citizens in the FCT

The Ministry drops double points, distributing cash and also giving people money in states, not under the lockdown. Seeing the Minister behind mountains of naira was a sorry sight.

The Central Bank of Nigeria: The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had stretched itself thin before COVID-19. Unfortunately, the pandemic has been an opportunity to further overextend its reach.  It didn’t need to get involve in CACOVID; the private sector could manage their funds and design their interventions. It took the responsibility of deciding what industries or companies the government should support, tasks that should be in the Ministry of Finance’s territory.

The CBN should be talking about the economy right now, explaining how its recent currency reforms will boost investment and growth post-COVID-19.

The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire: The Minister demonstrated he’s not on top of things when he told a National Assembly hearing that medical personnel at the forefront of the war on COVID-19 are doing their regular jobs and are not getting hazard allowance. He failed his squad terribly.

Relegation Zone

Strategic Communication: Lagos State versus the Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19:

It’s a draw. As pointed out by the Dubai-based transportation expert and social media influencer, Seyi Osiyemi, the main anti-COVID-19 communications of the Lagos State Government consists of daily updates on infection, death, and recovery numbers. Apart from being grossly inadequate, this is also dangerous as the recovery rate gives a false sense of security that COVID-19 is like malaria – you spend a few days in the hospital and you are okay.

Strategic communication is mostly about delivering customised messages to audiences based on the analysis of their attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours vis-à-vis dynamic objectives.

For instance, deploying a 1-minute video explaining the concept of being asymptomatic to an audience that believes the COVID-19 strain in Nigeria is “mild” after seeing a video clip of “patients” at an isolation centre looking very healthy and protesting they have “no Coro”. You can also direct messages to the low incomes who are likely to go hungry, protest against the lockdown or resort to crime to where to get food (based on a strategy to deliver the food).

This can be done in local languages and use relatable concepts. The private sector coalition against COVID (CA-COVID) video fails as useful strategic communication. It’s basically Dangote, corporate guys, and few Nollywood friends telling the story of how COVID-19 is dangerous. How does this relate to Nigerians in low-income communities in Ogun and Lagos States whose residents are chafing at the lockdown, who are most likely to believe conspiracy theories and engage in risky behaviour and who constitute the masses?

COVID-19 communication should seek to manage risks, encourage or discourage specific behaviours, and achieve specific, often changing objectives, based on careful analysis of intended audiences. It should identify and break down barriers to the desired behaviour e.g. stay at home, rather than merely tell the audience what to do. Players urgently have to move their communication game to the Premier League.

 Governor Seyi Makinde:

Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State (L) during the PDP rally on 18th of March, 2020

We had in January 2020 included the Oyo State Governor in our list of Nigerians who will shape the current decade.  While COVID-19 has allowed Governor Sanwo-Olu of Lagos to improve his stock with the public, it has done considerable damage to Mr. Makinde’s reputation. He held a political rally on 18th March 2020 when case/s of COVID-19 had already been reported in Lagos Nigeria and declared that the pandemic was not a PDP disease. He tested positive on the 30th of March. People around him have not helped; some of the top government officials in the state designed and released a congratulatory flyer when the Governor later tested negative. It will take more than smart media management for Governor Makinde to recover.

Governor Ben Ayade: In a controversial video, the governor, a professor, scored low by advising residents that they don’t need social distancing if they properly wear masks. The statement was criticised far and wide on the internet. Over the weekend, he also directed civil servants from grade level 10 to resume work on Tuesday, April 14.

Governor Nyesom Wike: The governor started well by announcing the total lockdown of borders and vehicular movements in the state.

This was after the NCDC announced an index case in the state. Last week, he also ordered the arrest of the pilots that flew a Caverton aircraft. The arrest order caused a rift between the Wike-led government and the federal government. Despite all the ‘gra-gra’ moves, he later granted a concession for religious activities to hold full Easter service, a move, even the churches rejected.

The temporary relaxation order might have caused doom for the state as residents trooped into popular markets to shop for Easter celebration without observing social distancing. He has retraced his step but scoring low here.

Governor Bala Mohammed: Coronavirus index case started with the governor himself on the 24th of March. It happened a few days after he defiled health advice on COVID-19 by performing several governmental functions, hosting more than 100 people during a ceremony for the construction of low-cost housing. He also met with the head of religious and security groups the same week.

The state currently has 6 confirmed cases of Coronavirus and also battling with Lassa fever, which has killed two medical doctors and 14 people.

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