Editor's note: Public affairs analyst, Funke Oladayo writes on the COVID-19 response of the Oyo state government with an emphasis on the use of data, logic and science by the Governor Seyi Makinde-led administration.
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It has been a long and bumpy ride for Oyo state and Governor Seyi Makinde in the last three months as the state battles with the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor has received heavy criticism for either doing too little or saying too much about the state’s COVID-19 response. For example, Governor Seyi Makinde was criticised for hosting a rally amid the COVID-19 outbreak. He was also criticised for self-isolating and asking people who were able to do so too. When he talked about immune boosters and showed a favourable attitude towards the use of herbs for prevention, he was also attacked. Some people even claimed he never really had coronavirus but had just suffered from malaria fever or a mild case of the flu popularly referred to as “Catarrh” in Nigeria.
Further, when Governor Makinde disclosed that some persons who were tested for COVID-19 in Oyo state, absconded before their results were released, he came under strong criticism. More recently, his decision to partially reopen schools and churches and have all civil servants return to work has also come under criticism. In fact, the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Oyo state, has said their members may not obey the directive of the governor until they get a directive from their national body.
Governor Seyi Makinde has always said that the state’s COVID-19 response will be based on data, science and logic. He also recently stated that a risk analysis was being conducted in the state to determine what the next steps would be as the country begins to open economically. The question, therefore, is: Has Governor Makinde really followed data, science and logic in his latest COVID-19 directives in Oyo state. Perhaps a consideration of available facts will provide an answer.
1. Data: One thing that cannot be argued in a country like Nigeria is that the economic implications of COVID-19 trump health considerations. The Nigerian Bureau of Statistics recently released data that shows 92% of Nigerians had financial concerns over COVID-19. The rise of internet begging and “giveaways” on social media alludes to this fact. Available data shows that nationwide, as of June 16, 2020, there have been 16,658 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Nigeria. If we use a conservative population of 180million persons, that would mean that less than one in ten thousand persons have been confirmed as having this virus.
In Oyo state, about 575 persons have been confirmed in a population of about 7million; This provides a ratio of 1:12,000. Of course, the argument can be made that neither Nigeria nor its component states are testing enough. But the bigger question is, can we test more? I am tempted to answer that Nigeria has hit the testing curve in states where they actually want to or can afford to test. What this means is that there may not be more numbers to be used for analysis. This does not mean that we have hit the infection curve. We may never know when we do. We can, therefore, conclude that the data for the number of COVID-19 cases will prove unreliable as a decision-making tool, but the data of economic realities remains indisputable.
2. Science: There is no known cure for COVID-19. The science, therefore, implies that you test and isolate people who have been infected and treat their symptoms. This requires upgrading or updating health facilities and training health personnel who serve as front-line officers. In Oyo state, Governor Seyi Makinde took steps to upgrade the virology lab at the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan. He also set up a standard treatment and research centre for infectious diseases at Olodo. Oyo state has tested over 5,000 samples. More recently, a second diagnostic centre also in UCH was added. People are being tested and isolated. Additionally, several primary healthcare centres and hospitals have been upgraded and converted into isolation centres.
But practising social distancing has proved to be an uphill task. The directives were given, but there was half-hearted enforcement. According to Governor Makinde, the possibility of highhandedness by the police force was a factor in the state opting for convincing rather than forcing people to follow the directives. It would seem that Oyo state went the way of countries such as Sweden, who decided that herd immunity would be the way to go. Although this system has been vilified by many, it is still science. Herd immunity is defined as ‘a build-up of immunity in a population due to natural immunity or the administration of vaccines.’ For natural herd immunity to kick in, “many people contract the disease and in time, build up an immune response to it.” The conflicting statements by experts as to how the virus behaves in survivors is one reason many have been hesitant about going down this route.
3. Logic: When any decision is taken, thinking people often ask why. What is the reasoning behind this decision? In Oyo state, the logic rationale behind the COVID-19 response seems to centre around two points. The first is the economic reality of a vast majority of the people vis a vis that of the Oyo state government. And the second is the implications of not having enough data to support the science of the response. For example, Governor Makinde talked about needing to use testing to map out how the virus behaves in the community. He wanted to test 10,000 people in “the shortest possible time.” Three months have passed, and the state can only boast of over 5,000 samples tested. Based on this, the new logic seems to be: If
a. we can’t test people as fast as we want to
b. we can’t get the data we want to
c. we can’t provide palliatives for people as we would like to
Then, we have to make the best of the bad situation. Which is:
a. test as much people as we can
b. make what we can of the available data
c. allow people to provide for themselves.
This strategy may not be the most intellectually viable, but it is the most practical approach.
So, has Governor Seyi Makinde followed science, data and logic in his COVID-19 response so far? I believe that he has used the available data, and worked with the science to arrive at the decisions he has communicated.
First, a post- COVID-19 lockdown guideline was provided. And then directives were provided which relaxed the curfews and also allowed religious centres to reopen but run at 25%. Pupils in the terminal classes, Primary 6, JSS 3 and SSS3 have been asked to return to school. They have national and regional examinations to sit and so they need time to prepare. The decision about opening schools and religious centres has been met with the fiercest opposition. But really, what is the logic behind keeping these places locked up when the rest of society continues to function per normal?
Critics might argue that the numbers of infected people will increase; more people will get very sick, and perhaps more people will die. But the fact remains that no one on earth right now can predict what will really happen. Every country in the world, every state, will try methods and change tactics until this pandemic passes or a vaccine is delivered. They will make mistakes; some will be costly mistakes. They will reverse themselves, and this will be understandable. But, leadership is about making the best decisions with the available information at any point in time. Of course, the Oyo state governor may see something tomorrow that will make him reverse his decisions, that would be leadership.
For now, no matter the strategy that is followed, the fact remains that people will get sick, and some people will die. It is nice to have say the right things. But these optics are only good for the cameras. Optics usually does not take into cognisance the realities of the people. People need to know that it is their responsibility to stay safe amidst this pandemic. The plan Oyo state is following makes sense given the state’s current realities: Allow herd immunity to develop. At the same time, the government provides the best possible healthcare for people who get sick.
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