Covid-19 May be an Opportunity for Africa to get Self-reliant- Shina Phillips, Nigerian Security Expert

These are interesting times for mankind. For the first time in a century, over 150 countries of the world are on total or partial lockdown. The world is facing a global recession very much unlike the global economic meltdown experienced in 2009. Important conferences, events, sports events, seminars including a conference on how to tackle the spread of the virus have been called off and are unlikely to be held any time soon. This year’s EURO Cup and the 2020 Olympics due to hold this summer in Tokyo, Japan have been put off. All football, rugby, basketball leagues in Europe, America, Asia, and Africa have long been suspended with organizers considering declaring them inconclusive altogether.

Saudi Arabia, the primordial home of all Muslims, has advised intending pilgrims to defer travel arrangements for the 2020 hajj scheduled to hold between July and August this year. If this year’s hajj is eventually called off, it will be the first time since the Saudi Kingdom was founded in 1932 and one of 40 times when it was cancelled since 629. All of this because of a novel Coronavirus which first attacked humans in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. Three months later, the pandemic, named Covid-19 by the World Health Organization (WHO) has spread to 185 countries of the world with a staggering four million cases and over 220, 000 fatalities.

The fact there has been about 1.4 million recoveries, still does not distract from the threat the highly contagious virus poses to human existence. Many high-ranking government officials, businesspersons, academics, celebrities, and religious leaders have been infected.  Justin Trudeau, Canadian Prime Minister and Boris Johnson, British Prime Minister are among leaders who have been infected. Late in the night of April 17, Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to the Nigeria President, Muhammadu Buhari died of complications from the viral infection.

To put the threat of this pandemic in better perspective and help seek a workable solution especially on the African continent, Timescape Magazine engaged a seasoned security analyst and initiator of the Nigeria Pitch Awards, Mr. Shina Philips. As a FIFA-Licensed Agent and organizer of the prestigious Nigeria Pitch Awards, he spoke on man’s best chance of overcoming the pandemic. He, however, enumerates the potential effects of the pandemic on a post-Covid-19 world.

In this interview with Samson Taiwo Adelu of Timescape Magazine’s Lagos bureau in Nigeria, Phillips begins by explaining how Covid-19 has affected the 7th Nigerian Pitch Awards Ceremony.

We had already scheduled the 7thAward Ceremony of the Nigeria Pitch Awards before the lockdown was announced. But like other international events, the pandemic forced organizers to suspend the event. This is not the only international event affected by the lockdown. The Olympic Games have also suffered this same fate. Major sporting events around the world including the unavoidable English Premier League and many other football leagues around the world have been suspended. For us as a responsible organization, we could not have done otherwise. We felt we should abide by government’s order and put the ceremony on hold. However, we are strategizing to ensure we can still hold the award ceremony in line with the social distancing guidelines.

 

How do you think the world can better tackle this pandemic, given the need to stay healthy as well as ensure economic survival?

I want to state clearly that Covid-19 is at war with humanity. But unlike other diseases that humans have dealt with in the past, Covid-19 has revealed the extent of human weakness and strength. The pandemic has shown that man’s touted areas of strength such as sophisticated long and medium range weapons and elaborate defense systems, investments and money have not played any great part in this war. This pandemic has shown us how frail and weak we are.

The virus itself knows no race, religion, social or class standing. Expectedly, nations are racing, and vigorously so, to research a solution to this problem. We can see nations investing funds, time, and energy to come up with solutions such as drugs and vaccines to deal with the pandemic. I can assure you of this though: once we are able to deal with this pandemic, the human race will emerge stronger and better equipped to deal with any challenge of this nature in future, even if it involves a confrontation with aliens, not that I believe they exist though.

Our strength lies in our cooperation with the authorities and acting together by listening to one another and adhering to the measures put in place by the government and international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO). Our government is following international best practices in global guidelines laid out to curb the spread of the pandemic. As safety measures, we have the principle of social distancing, testing of those who display symptoms of the virus, tracing those who have been in contact with infected persons and treating confirmed cases. The government must invest resources in extensive campaign to create awareness because this must continue. There must be awareness and enforcement of the principle of social distancing.

Man’s immediate best chance of winning this war is social distancing. We must continue with this while expecting scientists to come up with a vaccine. In the United Kingdom, the government recently released funding to the tune of £20 million to Oxford University to fund three projects related to extensive research on a vaccine for Covid-19. The projects include research for effective vaccine, working on pre-clinical and clinical vaccine trials and support for the manufacturing process to produce vaccine to the scale of up to a million doses. In the United States, clinical trials for Covid-19 vaccine have begun at New York University Langone Health. There are of course several other efforts on-going even right here in Africa to produce effective treatment for infected persons. It is usually an exceptionally long process with many protocols. Surely if there is a vaccine, we know that the virus can be eradicated.

 

How do you assess the effectiveness of the Nigerian government’s response to the pandemic?

A pandemic is an unusual problem. Responses will expectedly be varied because people have different understandings of the problem itself. The Nigerian government was swift in introducing measures and locking down the affected areas. But we could have done better if, prior to the lockdown, there had been a thorough and extensive sensitization campaign, not just on TV or radio or the internet but also on other media of mass communication because of our peculiar demography. Strategic campaign methods could have been put in place to spread the news of the virus.

As of December 2019, Nigeria had 126 million internet users and just 27 million of them are on Facebook. There are Nigerians who do not have access to the internet, the TV and even the radio. With our epileptic power supply, how many Nigerians can get information on TV or over the radio? The government should have extensively used the local traditional and oral media to reach many who live in the rural areas and who do not have direct access to modern forms of communication. Government could have used local town criers and public address systems to disseminate important information on Covid-19 in local languages to rural dwellers and those who do not have access to our conventional news media. Opinion leaders, traditional rulers and religious leaders are strategically placed to reach their immediate constituencies with the right information. Unfortunately, these people were not used in the sensitization campaign. If government had done this, we would have seen a better response of the populace to the campaign on social distancing.

 

Shina Phillips (right), a Nigerian seasoned security expert and Special Mashal of Nigeria's Federal Road Safety Corps

Secondly, the message should have explained why and how Covid-19 is different from other diseases we have been used to over the years. The only snag to government’s response to the pandemic is that they did not go about the sensitization in a strategic way as to reach those in rural areas, in densely populated areas and people who need to be addressed in their local languages and dialects.

 

What do you say about Africa’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic?

First, we need to be reminded that Covid-19 first broke out in Wuhan in China. Initially, world leaders applauded the Chinese government for its handling of the health crisis. However, recent reports have now shown that China withheld necessary and useful information which could have helped other governments adequately prepare for the pandemic.

One of the advantages of our experience with Covid-19 is that it has reinforced popular belief that the world is indeed and truly a global village. African leaders cannot shy away from the responsibility of coming together to solve this problem. Perhaps, the solution to this pandemic can come from Africa. We have great scientists, pharmacologists, virologists, and other medical researchers in Africa. These people can come together to promote the development of drugs, vaccine, or some other solutions to this problem. The American government recently stopped funding the WHO. Many people in Africa are not even aware that the WHO is the hose which connects Africa with world donors. African leaders should be talking to themselves right now.

 

What about the contribution of corporate organizations and religious bodies?

Some corporate bodies have done very well. For them, it is a matter of interest. When they donate to government or the people, it is essentially a part of their corporate social responsibility. This is not so for religious bodies. The action of religious leaders who sent relief materials to the government is good, but I can state that it is not expedient. Religious leaders shepherd very many people and are closer to these people than the government. As they say, charity begins at home. By attempting to reach out, they should have taken care of their own first by providing relief materials for their members and thereafter, the community. How many of their members will benefit from the materials they have donated to government? I am not implying that they should not have donated to government; I am only stressing that they should have first taken proper care of their members before reaching out to the government.

The religious bodies could have approached the government to say ‘we have a register of our members who are also citizens of the state. We have made provisions for them and therefore, the government should not bother to send palliatives to these members. The government would then send relief materials to other citizens outside the bracket of church and mosque members.

This method of distributing relief in crisis is scriptural. In Acts of the Apostles, chapter 11 verses 27-30, it is written: “And in these days came prophets from Jerusalem unto Antioch. (28) And there stood up one of them named Agabus and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout the entire world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. (29) Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: (30) which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul”. 

More importantly, I would like to lend a voice to the raging debate by some religious leaders on whether this pandemic is a pointer to the end of this age, or the world as prophesied in the Bible. Some religious leaders hold the view that this is punishment from God while others believe the pandemic is the beginning of the process of creating a new world order which will exterminate the Church and enthrone the forces of evil. First, let me say that the Bible is noticeably clear that forces of evil cannot prevail against and over the Church of Christ. Jesus Himself, the Head of the Church, said He has built His Church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Secondly, I think the situation is a win-win for mankind. If the devil and his cohorts are responsible for Covid-19, then we expect victory because it will surely boomerang. If God is responsible as some speculate, then there is great hope because if those that are called by His name shall humble themselves and pray, He will hear from Heaven and forgive our sins and heal our land. 

 

Do you think the world will remain the same after the pandemic?

First, social distancing will put a tough strain on physical contacts in our relationships. The urge for physical contact will see virtual reality play a more central role. We will also see advanced technology playing a major role in our lifestyles and relationships; we are also looking at how governments across the globe will approach international relations and what dimension world trade will take knowing very well that there will be a world recession which will trickle down to national economies. Whenever there is a recession, crime rate increases. So, we expect the crime rate of different countries to increase. Undoubtedly, only countries which had hitherto fully equipped their security arms will cope with few hitches.

In Nigeria, the Federal government will need to fund and adequately re-equip the police force and redesign the security architecture to meet the exigencies of the times. Nigeria is still at war with Boko Haram in the North-East. We are yet to completely stop the influx of arms and ammunition from across our borders. We are still battling with bandits and kidnapping in different parts of the country. If we do not prepare very well by improving funding for the Nigeria Police and employing technology to combat the potential upsurge, our security arms may be overwhelmed.

 

Shina Phillips (right) with Femi Adesina, Special Adviser on Media to Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari at the State House in ABuja

Global trade will change significantly, and this will affect our economy adversely. Without sounding pessimistic, our economy will take a hit because as we have just seen, crude oil prices have crashed, and we all know the Nigerian economy is heavily dependent on crude export. This clearly means revenue will dip and the federal government will struggle to meet its financial obligations to creditors, both local and foreign. At some point, the unemployment rate, which is already bad, will grow worse.

Western governments will pay more attention to their citizens and economies first and have less time and resources for developing and underdeveloped countries in some parts of Africa and Latin America. Therefore, our leaders must work to fully diversify the economy and introduce economic and social policies that will ameliorate the pain the common man may face. Covid-19 may eventually be a path to building a self-reliant economy. With careful planning and prayer, Nigeria and indeed Africa will overcome this season.