COVID-19 and the right to know

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By Bala Ibrahim

If there is one person whose style of doing things I desire to the point of envy, that person is Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. If God would give mortals like me the chance for a second coming, I would seek to return with his height, voice and fluidity of speech. I don’t know how he arrived at his name, but surely nature had designed him to be a Boss from the onset, undoubtedly. I always agree with him, most times with prejudice.

However, circumstances have compelled me, to compulsorily disagree with him now, without prejudice. And my discord even became louder, when I learnt that he is a lawyer.

Reports have it that, as the Chairman, Presidential Task Force on the Coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, Boss Mustapha has told COVID-19 survivors to stop giving details of the drugs used for their treatment. His reason according the reports is, so as not to encourage self-medication.

“The PTF congratulates and appreciates the testimonies of Nigerians who have recovered from COVID-19, which has given us more insights and further strengthens the need to adhere strictly to guidelines issued. However, an emerging issue from all these testimonies is the issue of prescription for treatments. We should always remember that the symptoms of COVID-19 mimic some illnesses we already know but treating the symptoms is not the same as treating the virus. For this reason, we strongly discourage self-medication,” the Boss said.

I am not a lawyer, but I have many lawyer friends, some are dead, but I would still quote them. Time without number I have heard them talk of the Right to know, which they say is the legal principle that the individual is entitled to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living. I’ve heard them say this long before the coming of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, which says that, every person has a legal right of access to information, records and documents held by government bodies and private bodies carrying out public functions.

If the individual is entitled to know, why should that individual be restricted from sharing his knowledge with the public? The importance of knowledge is to share, in the hope that it would empower us, give us the realities of life, and advance our world. Knowledge therefore helps to broaden our perspective and build our intellectual capacities. Knowledge hoarded, is knowledge wasted.

The Boss cannot claim ignorance to the controversy generating around the conspiracy of the Covid-19, including the threat of President Trump to halt the nearly $500 million, which the U.S. contributes annually to WHO. And the reason is simple, WHO has refused to disclose enough information about the disease, including when a cure or vaccine would arrive.

Although some members of the public have been expressing doubts about the government’s sincerity in the treatment of the disease, alongside other suspicions, as highlighted by the governor of Kogi state, Yahaya Bello, that misgiving become more after the discharge of Chief Raymond Dokpesi, the founder of DAAR Communications, owners of AIT and RayPower FM, who declared that the treatment had left him more confused than ever. “I still have doubts in my mind and I need to be educated. What’s the difference between COVID-19 and malaria? Every drug we were given were malaria medications. A number of persons who tested positive were checked in reputable labs, hospitals in Abuja and were found to have malaria parasites in their bloodstreams. When did malaria become synonymous with COVID-19?”- Dokpesi.

Before Chief Dokpesi, high profile personalities like Alh. Bala Mohammed, the governor of Bauchi state, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state and a host of others, have shared their experiences, to the pleasure of the public.

With lots of questions being asked about the NCDC’s mode of operation, and the need for the PTF to be painstakingly prudent, any attempt to censor the rights of the patients to talk, or quench the thirst of the public on what is transpiring at the isolation centers, could be seen as a ploy to evade accountability. And I know the SGF would not encourage that.

Consumer satisfaction is the overriding consideration of service delivery. And as part of the Federal Government’s initiative to improve the quality of public service delivery in Nigeria, SERVICOM, an acronym for Service Compact with all Nigerians was established. It’s major slogan is, You have the right to be served right.

So Sir, although you said the public should cover their mouths with masks, please permit the patients to open the masks and talk. That way, the public, whose ears are not covered by any mask, would not be ill informed later.

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