Former Governor of Anambra State, Chief Chukwuemeka Ezeife has joined other Nigerians to lend his voice to the rampaging Coronavirus pandemic, which has literally brought the world economy to its knees.
In this interview, the former governor appealed to orthodox medicine practitioners worldwide not to be insistent on clinical trials and proofs for the cure of Covid-19 before the available medicine is administered on patients, considering the rate at which people are dying.
Ezeife, who believes that a new Nigeria might just be in the making as the pandemic might force the Federal Government to improve the country’s health sector, and diversify its economy, drew a close comparison between Covid-19 and malaria, saying, “We have seen that there is some resemblance between malaria and this Covid-19. Therefore, what we use to treat malaria, we can use as herbal medicine to treat this virus, especially in Nigeria and tropical Africa.”
He also spoke on other nagging national issues, including the vagaries in the global oil market price and economic integration of the South Eastern Nigeria among others.
Like the rest of the world, Nigeria is currently battling to contain the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Do you think Nigeria is properly handling the fight against the dreaded virus and with the urgency it demands?
I must say that the presidential address on the Covid-19 is the best the president has made in a long time. It was comprehensive and clear and I couldn’t find anything to quarrel with it. I think that was the best statement the president has ever made. But, I have a problem with the treatment aspect. The whole world is making a bad mistake when it comes to treatment. There is no treatment being approved for this virus and it is not right. Even the US president mentioned chloroquine as a possible treatment. As you know, chloroquine has been used for treatment of malaria for decades; therefore, it is not a strange medicine. A doctor in America, Zeph Zelenko, used hydrochloroquine, zinc and one other thing to treat so many people for this Covid-19 and all of them improved; nobody died. Therefore, we must appeal to orthodox medicine practitioners worldwide not to be insistent on clinical trials and proofs in this circumstance. Even the chloroquine and zinc which Dr. Zelenko used are all tested and they have been there. They are known drugs. The issue is: What are we trying to do? Should we keep watching people die without giving them any treatment? Yes, they come to hospital and we take care of them; what does taking care of them mean? There is no cure attempted, but even where there is no cure available, we should do some treatments, after all, modern medicine is only treating; it doesn’t cure most of it. So, I think the medical profession should now tolerate aggressive treatment of people with Coronavirus in modern medicine; that is the orthodox medicine. When it comes to alternative means like herbal medicine, we had mosquitoes and malaria in Africa before the white man came with his medicine. So, we have things we rely upon to treat some ailments. Now, we have seen that there is some resemblance between malaria and this Covid-19. Therefore, what we use to treat malaria, we can use as herbal medicine to treat this virus, especially in Nigeria and tropical Africa. First, we have a number of herbs like lemon grass, ginger, garlic and many others. These ones are boiled, after which they are used to steam the infected persons. Steaming the person helps to free the chest and lungs that are congested and the person can breathe more easily. And we can do it many times a day for one person. That prevents me from getting the virus and if I have the virus, it helps me survive it. As of now, what we hear is no new cases coming in, old cases that survived and then the deaths. We are looking for ventilators. We didn’t know anything about ventilators in Africa and we saved people who had respiratory problems from dying. I am saying that the world should know that insisting on proper clinical trial should be suspended in this case. Where we see anything at all that can help, we use it without being very dogmatic about it. President Trump mentioned something like the use of chloroquine to cure Covid-19 and we ignored it; we should have tried it, even though till today, the CNN is still opposing the use of chloroquine because they haven’t been fully tested. What do you mean by not being fully tested when people are dying?
Over the years, there have been cries over the parlous state of our health sector and the need for government to pay attention to the health sector. Now that the Coronavirus pandemic has exposed the emptiness of our health sector, what do you think government should do, going forward?
Everybody knows what government should do, going forward. Every time, we go to the US, India, Dubai, London and other parts of the world to get medical treatment. What about being treated in Nigeria? All the civil servants who are big, all the ministers and all rich men travel overseas for treatment. It is like sending our children overseas to study instead of improving the quality of education in Nigeria. So, I agree that we should have prepared ourselves for emergencies like we have now. How many hospitals in Nigeria have ventilators? We must not insist on Western orthodox medicine when things like this happen. The Minister for Health should set up a committee to offer advice on how to improve our health delivery system in Nigeria; otherwise, another disease can still come in future and catch us unprepared. We are not ready to save lives in Nigeria and that is known to everybody.
As most states of the federation are locked down, following Covid-19 pandemic, another deadly virus which is hunger seems to be lurking around. Nigerians are hungry and the Federal Government is claiming that distribution of palliatives to Nigerians have commenced. It appears there is no such palliative distribution in the South East, how do you react to that?
Well, the South East is usually excluded from every benefit coming from the government. The most recent one is the over $22.7billion loan where every zone received something from it except the South East, which received no kobo from it. I have always been saying that the Federal Government, as it exists now, since the coming of Buhari and even before him, has been marginalizing the South East. They are pushing the South East out of Nigeria. So, I don’t really have too much to say again except that I don’t want people to steal government’s money in the name of reducing the suffering of the poor people. There are ways of distributing things for the benefit of the poor; workable ways and not what they are doing currently. They said they are going to places and giving money to people. This is an avenue for politicians to steal government money under the pretense that they are giving people money. Well, I am not sure that South-South and South East have received anything but the people of the South East are used to not receiving and we are likely to go to court about it.
The Minister of Information is reported to have said that the FG has spent over N1billion on palliatives. Again, out of over 180 million Nigerians, the FG has said the palliatives of N20,000 per family could only be given to one million Nigerians. Some people have said the government’s effort is just like a drop in the ocean; do you align with such argument?
Of course, the Minister of Information should know that if what he said is government policy, that government policy is wrong. How did they arrive at N20,000? Who gives the N20,000? Who decides who gives the N20,000? I think if you want to do something, you do it right. This is stealing. It is another way of stealing government’s money. How do we account for what has been done now? If they want, let’s set up a panel to see what has been done so far. You can find effective ways of fairly distributing palliatives to the people.
The reduction in fuel pump price first from N145 to N125 and then to N123.50, which the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) is still fighting against, was received by Nigerians with mixed feelings. Does the action amount to reducing the suffering of Nigerians? Is it commensurate with the continued fall in the price of crude oil in the international market? And what impact will it have on the quality of life of Nigerians?
Well, I am happy that they even talked about reducing it at all, but they didn’t do enough. The government doesn’t seem to worry about the suffering of Nigerians. I say so because government increased Value Added Tax (VAT), which covers many things and people are spending so much on it. From over $100 down to $50 per barrel, the crude oil price came down to about $20 per barrel, and you reduced from N145 to N125. I mean it is not commensurate at all. The ratio should be by far more if we are converting but that is not the way we should go. I had proposed to several presidents that we should make sure that we refine all the crude we need to refine to get the products we need in Nigeria. That is the best thing to do; use what we have to improve our economy. If we are refining in Nigeria, the pump price of petrol should not be more than N40 or N50 per litre, and it will make more impact because we can use the petroleum prices to support manufacturing. Our cost of transport becomes lower and we can sell at better competition with the rest of the world. So, we can estimate what we need in terms of refined products and then convert it to crude oil and produce it at home. But, we don’t need to restrict what we produce at home. We can produce as much refined products as possible and export. That’s better and that is necessary for a country like Nigeria.
What will be the fate of the country’s economy as the crude oil price continues to fall far below the country’s budget benchmark of $57 per barrel?
Our economy is in danger and everybody knows that. Fareed Zachary in the CNN listed Nigeria, particularly, as one of the endangered countries because we are virtually a one-product economy. We depend on crude oil for more than 60 percent of our foreign exchange earnings but today, we don’t have earning power from the crude oil, and the consequence is that we won’t have enough foreign exchange to look for things to buy. We cannot pay for as much import as we used to pay, so we will import less and prices will go up in the local market. The reason we can go slow is that there are negotiations going on now and prices may begin to recover. But, it is not necessary for sellers of petroleum products to be changing prices every day; it is difficult. So, this time around, maybe around N100 per litre should be okay and we stay there for a long time until we see positive changes.
Does this situation not underscore the importance of diversification that some Nigerians have been advocating over the years?
Yes, but you know that it is obvious. We cannot depend on one product and not have problems. If for example crude oil is only 10 or 20 percent of our export earnings, when the price collapses, we have other things, but we are not diversifying. Agriculture and manufacturing are not getting the attention they deserve. I think for some years, we have been asleep from the point of view of economic development and we seem not to care. I say so because those who can help; people who know what to do to improve this economy are around but they don’t get calls to come and do something. Those who are called are cousins and in-laws, relations; nepotism is the name of the game. I think the Coronavirus may be causing something good. We may be forced to think consistently. We may be forced to improve our medical facilities, diversify our economy, and do those things in the economy which give us strength, and make us reliant. So, something good often comes from something bad. Maybe, we can look at Covid-19 and see what we can learn from it, but what has been the problem in Nigeria has been leadership; there has been lack of effective leadership that shows concern about the economy and welfare of the people. If we can get effective leadership, Nigeria is blessed. Let me say that Africa seems to be the area God wants human beings to live. Let us not pretend that we don’t know, this virus wouldn’t have been here with us if not for the thieves who went overseas and brought it back to Nigeria. People from China who went on holiday, would have been on quarantine until they are well, but the people who brought this virus to us are our own Nigerians mostly, who went overseas either to tend to their houses, check their accounts or do some other things like treatment of minor aches and pains. This is a country where there is no earthquake, no tsunami, nothing. God gave Nigeria a gem of a country and the politicians are ruining everything, but God is superior to man. I think, eventually, Nigeria will survive. A new Nigeria may even be in the making now and it is possible that this virus may trigger some changes in some parts of Nigeria.