University of Oxford

The presidency has responded to Monday’s rebuke by Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, who criticised President Muhammad Buhari’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, saying the president had been conspicuously absent as the virus gained a foothold across the country.

Soyinka also said the president may have overstepped his constitutional boundaries for issuing a stay-at-home order in some parts of Nigeria to stem the spread of the pandemic.

The president, during a nationwide broadcast Sunday night, announced a 14-day lockdown on Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory, the two places most affected by the outbreak. The lockdown also affected Ogun State due to its proximity to Lagos.

The Nobel laureate said rational measures for the containment of the coronavirus pandemic should align with the unity of purpose between the federal and state governments “without nitpicking dissentions.”

“What happens when the orders conflict with state measures, the product of a systematic containment strategy—including even trial-and-error and hiccups — undertaken without let or leave of the centre,” Soyinka queried.

On Wednesday, the presidency, in a response by the president’s media aide, Garba Shehu, condemned Soyinka for criticising the president’s action, saying he has no professional expertise in the matter.

“Professor Soyinka is not a medical professor. His qualifications are in English literature, and his prizes are for writing books and plays for theatres.

“He is of course entitled to his opinions – but that is exactly all they are: semantics, not science. They cannot – and should not – therefore be judged as professional expertise in this matter in any shape or form,” Shehu said.

The presidency said governments across the globe have ratcheted up lockdown measures to flatten the spreading curve of the pandemic, based on medical and scientific evidence.

“Across the world – from parts of the United States and China, to countries including the United Kingdom and France, government-mandated lockdowns are in place to slow and defeat the spread of coronavirus.

“All have been declared, and all have been made necessary, based on medical and scientific evidence. The guidance of the Nigerian Government’s medical specialists is to advise the same,” Shehu said.

He said Soyinka’s comment that “we are not in a war emergency’’ was superficial to the views of highly-placed scientists.

“Dr Richard Hatchett, Head of the International Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (and former Director of the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority) has said, ‘War is an appropriate analogy’.

“Professor Anthony Fauci, Director of the United States National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force has said of the battle against the pandemic is almost like the fog of war,” Shehu said.

On the legality of the lockdown, he said the government’s primary duty in law and action is the defence of the people of Nigeria, against the pandemic.

“We face a global pandemic. Nigeria is now affected. The scientific and medical guidance the world over is clear: the way to defeat the virus is to halt its spread through limitation of movement of people.

“Perhaps Wole Soyinka may write a play on the coronavirus pandemic, after this emergency is over. In the meantime, we ask the people of Nigeria to trust the words of our doctors and scientists – and not fiction writers – at this time of national crisis,’’ he concluded.

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