By: Israel Umoh
In the beaming moonlight under udara tree, the children numbering 10 gathered in the village square. A puny-sized storyteller stood up and cleared his parched throat. During this time, social distancing was not practised. Everybody clustered in a circle. And the children listened attentively.
The storyteller began “Once upon a time, there was a village head who used to send emissaries for a crucial meeting, a gesture his subjects repulsed. During an outbreak of cholera in the area, the village head mandated a town crier to go round and invite people for a meeting on a said day in the village square. The town crier went about beating the talking drum and telling the people to come for the meeting.” He paused. And the children were anxious to hear more. The atmosphere was set.
As he looked at their faces, the moon was gleaming with soothing rays. And the tree provided a shade that gave vivacity to the gathering. “On the meeting day, the village head mandated one of his village council’s members to address the meeting. The villagers protested that the village head summoned the meeting not his representative and that they wanted to hear from him on the measures to contain the cholera pandemic. The meeting ended in a fiasco.
“Another day, he sent one of his children to address the villagers but there was no truce as the protest continued. On the third day, the village head splendoured in a high-flowing agbada showed up accompanied by members of the village council, wife and two children attended the reconvened meeting. He announced palliatives put in place to check the outbreak of killer cholera. The villagers gave him three gbosas. And he declared merriments. And the villagers sumptuously feasted themselves. Thereafter, the meeting ended on a peaceful note.”
And the storyteller asked the audience “What did you learn from the story?” As the children nudged their heads for an answer, a deafening explosion occurred at a distance of 10 metres away from the venue. Everybody took to his heels. In the end, no communique was issued.
Like the fabled village head, Governor Udom Emmanuel using the mass media told the public the measures he had put in place to contain the raging coronavirus. NMA and other health-care professionals in the state were unhappy. They raised an alarm of being sidelined. The governor sent the commissioner for Information and Strategy to calm the frayed nerves, yet the situation worsened. He had to send the Commissioner for Health to mediate on the seething crisis between the healthcare professionals and the government over alleged marginalisation in the COVID-19 fight. On one occasion, the health professionals were said to have staged a walk-out on the commissioner. The war of words between the government and the professionals heightened. Unlike the village head whose messengers were rejected, the governor invited the aggrieved for the fence-mending meeting. The meeting between the governor and the healthcare professionals on Sunday, March 29 at Government House, Uyo, was not deadlocked but yielded a positive result.
Earlier, the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives (NANNM), Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN) and Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria (AMLSN) had issued a communique last Wednesday. Among grievances were that the state government did not carry them along, apparent lack of communication and synergy between the state government and the healthcare professionals and payment of miserly hazard allowances to healthcare professionals. Of grave concern was the complaint of lack of ventilator at the Infectious Disease Hospital, Ikot Ekpene by the state NMA public relations officer, Dr. Emmanuel John.
It is gratifying that the governor and the health-care professionals met and perhaps reached a truce on gray areas in the COVID-19 fight. It is reported that the meeting birthed the essence to establish an Incident Committee to involve them for use in monitoring of the virus. Of course, this collaboration by the stakeholders in the health-care delivery system and the government is the elixir needed in this trying time to contain the ferocious pandemic.
It was also reported that at the end of the peace meeting, Dr. Nsikak Nyoyoko, the state Chairman of NMA who spoke on behalf of the healthcare professionals apologised to the governor over the crossfire that took place. This was the most worrying aspect of what looked like a farce. Did the governor take the healthcare professionals to IDH, Ikot Ekpene to see dearth ventilators complained about? It is understood that a ventilator is usually attached to a coronavirus patient at a time. So, if there are 50 coronavirus cases, how do 19 ventilators (as reported by the state government’s media aides as the number installed by the government at the isolation centre) go round the patients at a time?
How about other grievances raised by the healthcare professionals- did the governor proffer solutions to them during the meeting? Why didn’t the professionals address the issues and inform the public that the governor has responded to their grievances instead of offering a blanket apology? Were they wrong in protesting that the government did not carry them along and did not attend to some contending issues? Have they withdrawn their threat- calling on the State Health Commissioner to resign? Why did they not comment on a resolution to the contentious issues? Compromise is a tool in conflict resolution. But when it comes under questionable circumstances, then something amiss is happening.
At the national level, NMA and the Federal Government are at loggerheads. Dr. Francis Faduyile, NMA President, blamed Dr. Osagie Ehanire, the Health Minister of sidelining the association in the fight against coronavirus. Is it habitual of NMA to complain about being sidelined or is the Minister, a medical doctor not advising the Federal Government to involve the association in taming the dreaded virus?
The state governor might have thumped his chest for reaching out a truce with the healthcare professionals. Assuming the NMA and other health professional bodies in the state did not raise alarm, would the government not involve them in the fight? Or, was protest fulfilling an Akwa Ibom proverb which says “if the firstborn does not show seriousness in trying to sleep with the father’s wife, his father would not marry him a wife”? Is the state government not proactive to the extent of rolling out far-reaching measures to contain the pandemic?
In times of crisis, a black man thinks of cost implications, not the lives involved. While some advanced countries, particularly the U.S has doled out $2.6 billion to the Nigerian Government to wage war against the pandemic, the Federal government has not sent any financial stimulus to its citizens. No state government has provided succour to its citizens apart from providing isolation centres in which the governors and their contractors are the major beneficiaries. No state government has bought foodstuffs and sent them to the vulnerable, yet some states are on lockdown. The Federal Government has not put any mechanism in place to curtail the skyrocketing of food prices and other essential commodities. But there is a general belief that there is government, which, to a large extent, is not useful to the teeming masses especially the less privileged.
While the memory of the meeting lingers, both parties should take the pandemic fight seriously and stop playing to the gallery in a matter concerning human life. Let the two parties show responsibility in the discharge of their assigned duty and stop the blame-game that does no one any good. Let pecuniary interest be shoved aside, but let compassion for humanity blossom their relationships in order to preserve more lives.