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#COVID-19: Reflection On Nigeria’s Health, Education Sectors; Way Forward

By Oluwatumininu Adetoro

On 27th of February marked a day of reckoning Nigeria as the first case of the novel corona virus disease was confirmed by the Nigeria Center for Disease Control(NCDC), this was the case of an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos, Nigeria on the 25th of February 2020. And ever since then, Nigeria has since experienced an exponential surge in the cases of corona virus.

The virus which started from Wuhan in China is said to take within 5-14 days before the symptoms begin to surface thereby making transmission unknowingly easy. Therefore, in order to curtail the widespread of the virus as the case of USA, ITALY and other countries, the Nigerian government had so far rolled out measures such as total lockdown, closure of borders, disbursement of palliatives amongst others in order to mitigate the effect of the disease.

With Lagos state being the commercial nerve center of the country and one of the most populous state, there has been no doubt more cases with the federal capital territory following suit in the highest number of cases recorded. It is then evident that if not properly and swiftly managed, this pandemic is capable of wiping out a generation.

Earlier before the outbreak of covid-19, Nigeria as a nation has been battling with a weak and dying health and educational sector as the government underfund these sectors. There have been several complaints about the health sector being poorly funded, state of the art hospitals not built, available ones not properly maintained, substandard facilities, poor remuneration of health care workers amongst others.

According to the recommendation of the World Health Organization declaration of April 2001 in Abuja, for Nigeria to be considered as prioritizing healthcare, the government must commit at least 15% of its annual budget to the healthcare sector (BUDGIT). However, it can be seen that Nigeria lags behind showing the allocations given to health over the years.

Despite the gigantic budget being approved yearly by federal and state governments, it could be seen that the health sector could only struggle to get a minute part of the budget.

The 2020 allocation for the healthcare sector is N440.73 billion, approximately 4.16% of the total budget. The State house clinic have also been receiving allocations annually from this allocation.

However, even with the large amount of money being pumped into the clinic at the state house, top government officials including the President still fly abroad for treatments for cases as little as malaria. What then happens to the money being allocated to the clinic? This therefore shows the decaying and deteriorating state of our health care system.

There is no doubt the outbreak of the Coronavirus disease has further exposed the poor state of the system despite the availability of the best doctors in the system. The poor funding and mismanagement of the system has therefore led to our health sector being crippled. This pandemic has only come to expose the decadence in the system.

Ever since the outbreak, Nigerians have begun to lament and panic on how catastrophic and disastrous it is going to be if the cases escalates further as seen in other nations. Noting the poor and limited facilities available to the system, and comparing how USA as a world power and other developed countries with great technological advancements even in their health sector is seen battling and suffering from the blows of the virus, the question that then comes to mind is what then becomes the fate of Nigeria in the face of such?

In a bid to reduce the colossal effect and help fight the pandemic, various organizations and private individuals have donated towards the fight against the corona virus disease. Eminent amongst these are UBA (5 billion), GTB, ACCESS BANK, EU (21 billion), Dangote (1 billion), Tinubu (200 million) amongst others. As a matter of fact, the Central Bank of Nigeria announced the total amounts received in donations to fight the virus to be N25.8bn as at March 17, 2020.

Another interesting yet thought provoking aspect of this pandemic is the fact that the government officials fond of flying abroad for treatments can no longer do that as countries are shutting their borders and Nigeria as one is not left out. Hence, they are all left with no option than to get treated in the health sector they have failed to develop over the years. Isn’t this the result of corrupt practices? Of course it is!

Recall that on 24th of march Late Mallam Abba Kyari: Chief of Staff to the President was said to have tested positive of the virus after his return from a trip to Germany where he went to negotiate a deal with Siemens AG. And after weeks fighting for survival, the nation lost her chief of staff to the cold hands of death.

It is pertinent to note that the Presidential villa has its own hospital which is being funded yearly but despite that, the federal government had to transfer the Chief of Staff to Lagos for treatment, therefore that is an indication that something is amiss in the running of the system. If the healthcare facility domiciled at the seat of power cannot handle basic and critical health challenges, what then happens to that in the state. Where then are the funds going to?

Nelson Mandela once said that a time would come when African leaders will no longer be able to travel abroad but will be left confined in their countries. Should we then say those golden words in form of prophecy has come to fulfilment?

This therefore should serve as a lesson and a clarion call to the government to see this outbreak as an avenue to repent and invest massively in the healthcare system of the country as we cannot be too sure what is to happen next. There is a need for the healthcare system to be well prepared to combat all health challenges bedeviling the citizens.

On EDUCATION, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” says the great Nelson Mandela of our time. It is therefore evident that the place of education in any forward thinking nation cannot be overemphasized.

Earlier before the outbreak, schools were in session, while some are just starting, some are preparing for exams while others are writing exams. Tertiary institutions are either in their first or second semester with the most being in the first semester; secondary school students were preparing for the Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), while the UTME examination is also going on. The outbreak of COVID-19 in the country however brought to a halt the running of schools as the social distancing and gathering preventive measures were put in place and there was the need for it to be strictly adhered to.

It is worthy to note that earlier before the outbreak, there have been several controversies and speculations on the state of the educational system in Nigeria. Issues such as poor infrastructural development, welfare of staffs and students, the curriculum being used, poor remuneration of staffs amongst others. Recall that earlier this year, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) has gone on a two weeks warning strike in a fight that seems to be unending between this body and the Federal Government.

The issue of strike has even become a norm in the system as there is now a cliché that if you do not experience strike during your course of study as a student, then you’ve not been to a Nigerian university. That shows the extent of the recklessness and ignorance of the harm being done to the system. In other countries where education has been advanced and being given maximum attention, as compared to Nigeria which only allocate just 6.48% of the 2020 budget to education as against the recommended 15-20% by UNESCO, there would not be much panic as to how to survive the crisis and keep the system running despite all odds.

Over the years, technological advancement and innovation in learning has been clamored for by stakeholders in the education sector. However, this pandemic seems to have forced us to embrace these innovations regardless. Recall that the federal government through the honourable minister for education; Adamu Adamu announced that schools should begin leveraging on online platforms to continue academic activities in the face of the lockdown. Ever since this announcement, managements of schools have rolled out different means and strategies to achieve that though there have been myriads of problems being faced in putting this in place as there are not enough modalities put in place to achieve the maximum efficiency and effectiveness of the innovation.

Problems such as how to access the platforms, technical and financial ability to access such, how to track the success rate amongst others. It would be seen that other countries who have earlier before now adopted the system and integrated them in their practices will not have much problem adjusting and adapting to these strategies in this trialing period as compared to the Nigerian system which is still struggling with the effectiveness of the offline system talk more of online.

How do we plan on measuring the effectiveness of these innovations that the pandemic has forced us to embrace? How will the average Nigerian home struggling to feed in the lockdown be able to provide the needed aid to receive this online learning?

Looking at the challenges faced by the health and education sector during this pandemic, it is obvious that Nigeria is not prepared for this and has not planned well for rainy days like this.

Nonetheless, in every problem they say is an opportunity. Despite the obvious mess we have found ourselves in, we are optimistic we will surmount and survive these travails. But, then the questions remain what happens to these critical sectors after this pandemic? Do we then go back to our careless living or we forge ahead maintaining the advancements and developments we were forced to inculcate? Is there a place for repentance and reflections on the part of the government in terms of developing the Nation? Is there a place for Sustainability on the parts of the citizens and government likewise?

There is a need for us to learn our lessons as a nation and see this as an opportunity to step up our developmental and sustainability race. The education sector is not expected to throw away these innovations nor should the health sector deteriorate in the improvements made during this period.

There is a need for the government to massively invest more in technology in the education sector. It should serve as a supplement to aid and ease teaching and learning. Likewise, on health, the place of technology cannot be overemphasized. The government need to procure and fix state of the art facilities in our hospitals in order to make work easier for our health workers and fast track the developments made in this sector.

Also, employments, appointments and promotions in these sectors should be based on merits and not favoritism, tribalism nor nepotism so as to avoid having the wrong persons in the right positions for the sake of effective and efficient discharge of duties. Citizens should also imbibe the spirit of patriotism by actively and consciously helping the government in their course to develop and progress these sectors.

This should serve as a lesson to the government also that there is need to invest more in the nation, education and health in particular and other critical sectors to be able to combat similar future occurrences. It is indeed a time to be sober and reflect on everything that matters. We should also note that there is no other place to call our home other than the Nigeria we have built for ourselves.

To the families of those whose lives have been lost during this pandemic, my prayer for them is that God gives them the fortitude to bear the irreparable loss.  

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