On Sunday, 10th May 2020, Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State began to act on his promises to punish Rivers state residents who flouted government directives to obey a statewide lock down. Since earlier in the week, the governor had personally led patrols, arresting citizens who moved around in vehicles without essential services permits, impounding their vehicles and promising to sell the vehicles off in a state sanctioned auction to teach them a lesson. He also targeted hotels and other businesses still operating in spite of the government lock down, making good on his promise to demolish two hotels in the state.
Now all of Governor Nyesom Wike’s posturing would have made sense, if he didn’t go ahead to lift the lock down, the very next day after he demolished private properties for ‘violating’ lock down rules. By relaxing his self-imposed lock down rules (Wike announced earlier in the month that he had obtained an executive order permitting him to circumvent legal processes for persecuting violators of the lock down). Wike is not alone in this kind of governance. ‘Strong Men’ litter Nigeria’s political landscape, politicians who have attained their positions of influence through cronyism and intimidation and continue to rely on these models to hold on to power once they have attained political office. We saw it with Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, who spent the first few weeks of the pandemic denying the existence of the Coronavirus in Kano state, even though the evidence that came from the state suggested otherwise. Then of course there is Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River state, who has spent the bulk of his tenure terrorizing journalists who challenge his authority.
Wike’s callous behaviour is especially heinous because movement restrictions and sanctioned lock downs are not a precautionary measure on their own, they exist to provide governments time to ramp up testing for the Coronavirus and put in place isolation centers, specialized healthcare and other measures that improve the state’s chances of flattening the curve and saving lives. Wike has arbitrarily enforced lock downs and eased them, with little concern for the citizens whose lives he is inconveniencing and real plan for when lock downs become unviable as a solution to curb the spread of the virus.
The lawlessness of Nigerian politicians is just as dangerous as the pandemic, and it is time we started treating both with equal seriousness.