Communicating Covid-19 Messages
By Tajudeen Kareem
In communication theory and practice, the medium is as good as the message. The efficacy and fidelity of any message is largely influenced by the choice of the medium employed.
It remains unclear and quite surprising why officials of government believe that messages on coronavirus are best communicated to Nigerians through the traditional media – radio, television and newspapers.
The medium remains the message. But messages on the pervasive coronavirus require quite a holistic strategy, especially against the obvious constraints of the traditional media. No matter the message and the messenger, attenuating factors are always present, namely selective perception and selective interpretation.
A great opportunity to reach a large segment of the population is the hand washing message and television images from President Muhammadu Buhari. An ingenuous instrument. Alas, we have seen this only on NTA channels. Why are other TV and radio channels not broadcasting this testimonial in local languages? Did our policy makers see Mallam say ba korona video from Kano? Have we estimated the damage such trending video has done to the efforts of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19?
Watching the Chairman of the PTF on Covid-19, Boss Mustapha on the podium, Monday through Friday, cuts the picture of a classroom teacher as he took time to lecture the class on the text, nuances and import of the message contained in the March 29 broadcast of President Buhari to Nigerians.
Everyday, he tried strenuously to persuade press men, as the mirror of the society, to read and make a meaning of the message sent by PMB. The sore point is the penchant of journalists, both on-beat and studio-analysts, to keep asking same questions that have been repeatedly answered on ‘grey’ areas on the strategy and measures to combat Covid-19.
If you ask me, na who I go ask? Mustapha was at pains, severally, persuading journalists to digest the President’s speech to enable them inform Nigerians correctly and adequately. The question kept recurring, but what did PMB told Nigerians.
“We are fully aware that such measures will cause much hardship and inconvenience to many citizens. But this is a matter of life and death, if we look at the dreadful daily toll of deaths in Italy, France and Spain.
“However, we must all see this as our national and patriotic duty to control and contain the spread of this virus. I will therefore ask all of us affected by this order to put aside our personal comfort to safeguard ourselves and fellow human beings. This common enemy can only be controlled if we all come together and obey scientific and medical advice,” the President was certainly not oblivious of the hardship and sacrifice of those who earn their income and livelihood on a daily basis. But the questions kept coming!
“For the most vulnerable in our society, I have directed that the conditional cash transfers for the next two months be paid immediately. Our internally displaced persons will also receive two months of food rations in the coming weeks.
“We also call on all Nigerians to take personal responsibility to support those who are vulnerable within their communities, helping them with whatever they may need,” the President promised, but journalists and analysts on TV stations keep asking how the poor will feed during the lockdown.
The following submissions by members of the PTF are quite instructive. First the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiya Farouq, speaking at Kwali Area Council in the FCT:
“As we know, the CCT is for poor and vulnerable households in the country. Beneficiaries are entitled to N5, 000 every month; however, the payment of N20, 000 now to each beneficiary is for four mouths. It is going to happen all over the country, but we are starting with FCT, Lagos and Ogun. These are the frontline states. Other states will follow.
“With the current pandemic and circumstances on ground, this amount will go a long way to support the families in their daily lives. Today, we are giving out N20,000 each to about 190 beneficiaries in Kwali Area Council. The total beneficiaries in FCT are 5, 000,’’ Farouq said; emphasised that the beneficiaries were chosen without any form of bias and that political party affiliation was never a criterion for selection of beneficiaries.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire disclosed that:
“The NCDC has expanded its capacity by engaging hundreds of ad-hoc staff to support various areas of response including the call centres, contact tracing and follow-up of persons of interest. To meet the demand that will arise as a result of this expansion of the case definition, the NCDC has added a new laboratory to its network of molecular laboratories for COVID-19. This is the Virology Laboratory of University College Hospital, Oyo State. We project that in three weeks, seven more labs in Abakaliki, Kaduna, Kano, Maiduguri, Port Harcourt and Sokoto will be added to this network to further expand testing capacity nationwide.
“As the situation evolves, we shall need to focus our limited resources on those persons, who actually need them most critically; from testing to treatment of confirmed cases. I wish to remind citizen of the importance of following the recommended protocol to request testing, so as to prevent further exposure and spread of the virus, by those infected with COVID-19.”
From Lagos, Prof. Akin Abayomi, the commissioner for health, has also explained in full view of TV cameras that ventilators are not in urgent need as Nigeria continues to battle the spread of the COVID-19 disease.
At a briefing last Tuesday, Dr. Abayomi said most of the cases being treated in Lagos are not severe and not in need of ventilators. “Most of our patients are experiencing a very mild to moderate degree of illness. In fact, we don’t have anybody that is requiring ventilation at the moment which is a symptom of what you would describe as severe disease,” the commissioner stated.
While members of the PTF provide updates daily to keep Nigerians abreast of developments in combating Covid-19, a very sore point remains lack of elucidation and clarification on the exemptions to the lockdown. Security men have molested those on essential duties, including journalists, even when people who reside in the FCT Area Councils continue their daily business as if they are immune to coronavirus.
Another slow response and inaction is lack of definite pronouncement on how the restriction affects the banks. Banks have remained shut despite a circular by the Central Bank of Nigeria promising skeletal operations.
As scientists and researchers continue seeking how to cure coronavirus, Nigeria may also be in contention in finding a cure. The Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu,has confirmed that the United States is conducting tests on a ‘chemical compound’ isolated by former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Maurice Iwu,. Although Iwu had submitted his chemical compound to cure SARS, the feat may turn out as a possible cure for coronavirus.
Perhaps the most striking testimony to the giant strides of the PTF and Nigeria’s deft handling of the global pandemic is the recent pronouncement of the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. At a virtual news briefing in New York last Thursday, the UN boss praised Nigeria’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Indeed he singled out Nigeria as one of the developing countries that have “shown a remarkable capacity to respond to the coronavirus.”
“I have to say this; some of these developing countries have shown a remarkable capacity to respond. I was quite impressed to see, for instance, Nigeria putting in place and immediately establishing a hospital. And I saw difficulties in countries that are much more developed to do quickly the same,” said Guterres.
While the PTF and all those engaged in battling coronavirus require the full cooperation of all Nigerians, the pronouncement of President Buhari must continue to resonate: although we have adopted strategies used globally, our implementation programs have been tailored to reflect our local realities.
Kareem is a Public Affairs Analyst.