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Opinions of Friday, 27 March 2020

Columnist: Manasseh Azure

Manasseh's Folder: Why the NDC should disband its coronavirus team

We thought our wise elders were right when they said if the lizard eats pepper, the toad does not sweat as a result. They told us that if the wood insect gathers sticks on its back, it carries them alone. It is conventional wisdom that people who create or originate any problems bear the consequences alone, especially when they are in distant lands.

In our generation, however, there is a standing joke that some Chinese have eaten a particular meat, and the people of the world are washing their hands as a result.

On a more serious note, there couldn’t be a better illustration of the world as a global village than what we’re experiencing. It explains our elders’ saying that if a finger is dipped in palm oil and it’s not wiped early enough, it soils the rest of the fingers with time.

When the novel coronavirus hit the world’s most populous country and posed a mortal threat to the world’s weakest countries, Oboade the Creator, as usual, felt the need to intervene for Africa, or the black race generally.

When He created the world and its people and gave us the best weather and a black skin pigment to match, he soon realised we had our first pandemic. This pandemic happened when maggots of greed infested the fine brains he had given the black race and ate away the part of the brain responsible for collective interest and selflessness. Oboade was greatly disturbed by this, so He tried to help us. What did He do?

He allowed slavery to happen so we could learn some valuable lessons. But we did not learn.

Then He allowed colonisation to happen. We still did not learn. The post-independence problems and wars did not teach us any lessons, and it doesn’t appear we will ever learn any valuable lessons of our catastrophic past and mend our ways. Here is why.

The part of the civilized world with the best healthcare systems, where our politicians and upper-class citizens go to treat themselves, are singing a unanimous chorus about their health systems: they need to reform and upgrade after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here in Ghana, however, a key decision-maker in the person of the Speaker of Parliament, Rev. Professor Mike Aaron Ocquaye, hopes the pandemic would remind Ghanaians that Parliament needs a new chamber.

For this reason, God always appears to have a special arrangement for us whenever the catastrophes of large proportions hit the world. When a single Melcom building collapsed in 2012, Ghana sought help from Israel. So Oboade has spared us the devastating earthquakes and cyclones and tsunamis and the California and Australia kind of bushfires.

However, when Covid-19 happened, there were some Ghanaians in China to import toothpick or look for jobs; and there were some Chinese on their way to our forest reserves to legally and illegally extract gold, both with our support, and so Oboade knew we would get Covid-19. But he helped us.

He gave us a lot of time to prepare. At a point, the rest of the world was in awe, and some of us even thought blacks were immune to the virus. When some countries had reached their peak, most countries in Africa were yet to record their first case. We had the opportunity to learn from the exploits and mistakes of others.

And those in charge told us they were prepared for any eventuality.

When the reality hit us, we realised we had only a few hundreds of test kits and could not do mass testing of suspected cases. We had built little capacity in science and research, so the Noguchi Memorial Centre for Medical Research, which has been partly sustained by countries across the Atlantic Ocean, has been our best bet.

We are investing $100 million in the building of a grand national cathedral, but we haven’t spared much thought for Science and Technology. So, prayer has been our greatest weapon in this time of a global pandemic while we await the announcement of a cure from a foreign laboratory. I’m not saying prayer is not potent, but it is said that the most important part of prayer is the willingness to be part of the solution. Others are backing their scientists in the labs with prayers to get the cure.

But to be fair to the government of Ghana, it has not been sleeping since we started recording cases. It is doing the best it can under the messy circumstances, which it partly created, to help Ghanaians. In a country that corruption and blatant stealing of public wealth is more tolerable than lighting a cigarette; the leaders, public servants and their accomplices in the private sector steal billions of dollars every year from the poor tax payer.

Much of this loot is stashed into opaque foreign and offshore accounts and may never return or be spent because in some cases nobody, apart from the thief, knows about it. And death does not always come with an advance warning.

Because of this, we are often broke in times of adversity. That’s why our government is at the IMF to be beg $100million to help us fight the pandemic.

Meanwhile, our president has closed the borders. In fact, the president has got more powers than he needed from parliament to ban large gatherings such as festivals, large funerals, church services, among others. Travelers who got into the country a day or two after the closure of the borders were forcibly quarantined at the expense of the state. Samples are being taken and tested, and it reveals about 13.5% of them have the virus.

Proponents of a complete lockdown say those who entered the country for the past 14 days without quarantine may flood the nation with the deadly virus and are spreading it like gossip. A medical doctor who heads our education ministry, Matthew Opoku Prempeh, at a press conference yesterday said, “If you stop, the virus stops. If you move, the virus moves.”

While he was saying this, the Deputy Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Godfred Yeboah Dame, was in court fighting for the immediate hearing of an application that would allow the National Identification Authority (NIA) to go back to the president’s home region, the Eastern Region, to continue the mass registration of people. This would enable them to use those ID cards to help the Electoral Commission compile a needlessly new voters’ register for voting in December.

The Deputy Attorney General was not the only busy one. After the press conference by the government’s Covid-19team, the coronavirus team of the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) also held its press conference to announce alternative measures to fight the pandemic. After watching that press conference, its effect and the discussions on social media, my humble view is that the NDC should disband its team.

The competence of that well-assembled team is not in doubt, but it fails to answer a number of important questions satisfactorily.

Is it a team to help only members of the NDC, or it’s for the entire nation in this time of the pandemic? From its tone, it appears national in nature. But is it an operational team, one with resources and authority to give orders and take actions? The answer is no.

Is it one that the government’s team is prepared to co-opt and work with the expertise of its members? The answer is no.

In that case, the NDC does not need a working committee of competent people to be out there competing for attention. They can be the ‘go-to’ people the party can consult when it wants to make its position on what the government is doing in the Covid-19 fight.

We cannot have a united front, but it is better to have one front in these crises than two disunited fronts engaged in a battle in our ugly political market square.

In a country or society where leaders adhere to common sense and are guided by the supreme interest of the people they lead, the NDC and its health experts should not have been left out in the government’s team. This is a national crisis, and the NDC was in power during the Ebola crisis, when Ghana’s President at the time coordinated West Africa’s efforts at combatting the deadly disease.

Former President John Mahama and some people in his administration who worked on the Ebola gathered some experiences that would be useful to the Covid-19 team. But as the NDC would do if it were in power, the NPP administration has sidelined members of the NDC, irrespective of what they have to offer.

There are at least three reasons for this.

There is political capital to be gained here, so the Akufo-Addo administration does not want to share its glory with anyone, especially when the NDC’s John Mahama is contesting President Nana Akufo-Addo. Nana Akufo-Addo and the government have lost so much credibility and goodwill since the last election. This is the period to show that he is in charge, and any success made in the fight against Covid-19 should be attributed to Akufo-Addo. Apart from free SHS, this may form the nucleus of the NPP’s campaign in a few months if things go well.

The second reason the NDC has been sidelined is simple. They don’t have to know much. In our democracy, where public information is guarded more securely than sacred incantations of secret cults, the government must manage the good, the bad and ugly information well.

The final reason is that this is a time some people will buy their dream cars, build their dream houses and reach their targets in the number of digits they want to see in their bank accounts. Corruption is endemic when there is a pandemic. There are the honest ones who will sacrifice without even considering the wages due them. For some involved in Covid-19, however, this is how to get their campaign funds for election 2020 or secure their retirements.

Forgive my suspicion because our elders have thought us that we do not light a lamp in the night to identify someone we know very well in the day. A thief will always remain a thief in good time and, especially, in bad times such as this when there is a good reason to put aside the procurement law. The scandal-ridden fumigation of markets being held across the country gives a signal.

We have greedily lived like wild beasts in a survival-of-the-fittest jungle, leaving behind a critical mass of our citizens without the most basic commodities such as water. It’s the main reason we’re unable to lockdown when that appears to be the only dictate of common sense.

So the NDC is better off keeping an eye on the NPP administration than setting up a counter Covid-19 team. The optics don’t look appealing. Mr. John Mahama can rally his colleague former Presidents of Ghana to form strong voice. I’m sure the former presidents will be willing to put any partisan or parochial interests aside because their ages make them very vulnerable in the outbreak.

Former President Mahama can also serve as a strong advocate for a collective action within the sub-region by rallying other former presidents and the influencers’ network he has built over the years. If Ghana locks down and Togo, Burkina Faso or Cote d’Ivoire does not, our lockdown and subsequent defeat of Covid-19 will be meaningless.

Finally, the NDC can use part of its election war chest to buy and donate the much-needed personal protection equipment or test kits and donate to the government. That would make a better impression than being seen to be running a parallel team with no impact on the realities on the ground.

However, the NDC can keep the team if, as a party, it wants to educate its members.

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