“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to our eyes” — Brooke Foss Westcott
In this piece, I will be writing about a man whose sense of patriotism and belief in the unity and progress of Nigeria is unequalled. This is a man who believes in excellence and has demonstrated that the utopian society where everything is in perfect condition can be made real if given the necessary support.
This was the intellectual idea that influenced his decision to join the struggle to actualize the lofty dreams of our founders when in 1988 at the age 32, he became member of the Constituent Assembly; a think-tank group assembled by the then Federal Government to draft Nigeria’s Constitution for its transition programme to the Third Republic.
Fellow Nigerians, I’m talking about the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC) on COVID-19, Barrister Boss Gidahyelda Mustapha, as he turns 65 on September 4, 2021.
Nonetheless, I want to state that the essence of this article is not to seek personal gratification or achieve political objectives, but to sincerely say ‘thank you’ to the man who put his life on the line to save the lives of millions from the deadliest plague in human history after the ‘Bubonic Plague’ better known as ‘The Black Death’ of the 14th Century.
According to report, the Bubonic Plague, which ravaged humanity between 1346 and 1353, caused the death of over 50 million people in the 14th Century.
The plague spread majorly through the bite of a flea infected with plague-causing bacterium called ‘Yersinia Pest.’ Huge number of animals succumbed to it and died while hungry fleas turned to humans and within three to five days of the bite, one will start experiencing fever, headache, chills and weakness of the body. The infection spread through the blood stream and affected respiration in the lungs.
Although the world has witnessed several plagues since then, none has been as virulent as the Coronavirus.
Recall that some experts had predicted that Africa, especially Nigeria been the most populous country in the continent, would be littered with dead bodies.
So there were fears, pandemonium and anxieties all over the land without anyone knowing where to run to or seek assistance from.
Perhaps, looking at the pedigree of some of the experts who made the prediction, one will have every reason to fear because their predictions have never failed for decades just as the Chinese philosopher, Confucius stated that for us to define the future, we have to study the past.
Besides, I think one does not have to be a rocket scientist to know that the nation was truly standing between the devil and the deep blue sea. The devil being the Coronavirus imported by an Italian while the deep blue sea is the fact that the nation’s healthcare system was so dysfunctional that hospitals were mere consulting clinics without drugs and assuring hope of survival.
In a nation with over 200 million people, the Presidential Steering Committee started the fight against COVID-19 with just two molecular laboratories with daily testing capacity of just 500.
Despite the fact that Nigeria once fought and defeated the Ebola Virus, Avian Influenza and other viral diseases, there was no blue-print on ground to serve as guide to containing the outbreak of any viral disease in the future neither were there adequate infrastructure to support the fight against Coronavirus.
So their prediction was justifiable because no one can give what he does not have – nemo dat quod non habet.
Again, in the heat of the pandemic, there were bans on international travels or flight operations around the world; no medical tourism nor check-ups abroad let alone assessing treatment for Coronavirus outside the country.
Worst still, the novel nature of the virus made it difficult for our health professionals to acquaint themselves with relevant information about the disease let alone proffering solutions to it because knowledge of the virus was limited. So no matter how one views it, it was really a terrifying moment for Nigerians, Africans and the world at large.
Therefore, it took courage, love of a country and unyielding faith in God to accept the responsibility of leading the fight against Coronavirus at that material time that Boss Mustapha was appointed Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 now known as the Presidential Steering Committee, which was like a death sentence.
It would have been more consoling if there were established guides or pedestals to build upon, but in this case, only a certificate of appointment was issued.
Based on the foregoing, there are two questions I would love to ask the SGF and Chairman of PSC if I have the opportunity to meet him or have access to him.
The first question is to know what was the first thought that came to his mind upon hearing the news that he has been appointed to lead the war against a virulent and deadliest disease in about seven centuries, at the time many were confused and were scampering for safety?
The second question is to know how he felt when his family members tested positive to COVID-19. Because I’m just imagining the pain, agony, trauma as well as the psychological confusion usually associated with such development.
Although the battle is not yet over, looking at how far we have come and the availability of vaccines as well as the ongoing administration of the jabs on Nigerians, one can say that the aim of achieving herd immunity that will lead to eventual defeat of COVID-19 or flattening the curve is achievable in the nearest future.
However, if there is anything the outbreak of Coronavirus and the successful prosecution of the war against it by the Boss Mustapha-led PSC has taught us, it is the fact that there is no adversity or challenge that Nigeria cannot overcome if we have the right leadership and team in place.
From just two molecular laboratories and 500 daily testing capacity with inadequate manpower and facilities, the PSC successfully waged the war on COVID-19 with minimal casualties, averted national calamity, upgraded and repositioned our healthcare system and infrastructures to optimal level. Oliver Wendell Homes must be right when he said that ‘A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.’
Though we are not yet there, but because of what the PSC has done and is still doing, Nigeria’s healthcare system is now better equipped to contain the outbreak of any disease in the future as Nigeria now have over 150 molecular laboratories with over 50,000 daily testing capacity as well as isolation and treatment centres in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory while the construction of Oxygen Production Plants in all the states and the FCT is ongoing.
Through the PSC, rehabilitation and remodelling works are ongoing at the Nigeria’s Vaccine Production Laboratory in Yaba, Lagos State.
Nigeria has also joined the list of countries regarded as vaccine candidates because two vaccines produced by Nigerian scientists are awaiting clinical trials and the certification of World Health Organisation before it would be put in to use.
Against the initial fear on vaccine storage, the PSC rehabilitated existing cold chain facilities as well as the procurement and installation of Ultra-Cold Chain equipment across the federation.
Today, the PSC is administering Moderna Vaccines on Nigerians without encountering facility problem despite the fact that it requires refrigeration of about 2 to 8 Degree Celsius. This is even as the WHO has ranked the country’s response to COVID-19 as the fourth most successful in the World.
Similarly, in July 2021, a normalcy index published by The Economist Magazine based in the United Kingdom ranked Nigeria fourth on the list of countries whose responses to COVID-19 pandemic have resulted to normalcy.
In all these, I commend President Muhammadu Buhari for showing leadership and commitment to the fight against COVID-19 at the time the country needed him most.
In the midst of the battle, many cynical voices and conspiracy theories rent the airwaves and dominated our news and cyber space, but Mr. President remained undaunted and refused to be distracted; instead, he remained focused and continually reaffirmed his unwavering commitment to the task of flattening the COVID-19 curve in Nigeria. He allowed science and statistics to prevail over unsubstantiated beliefs.
Today, it looks as if nothing calamitous ever befell Nigeria. But make no mistake, many waters passed under the bridge even as there are still many rivers to cross.
To the Chief celebrant and one of the unsung heroes COVID-19 has unveiled to our eyes, Barrister Boss Mustapha, I say a big thank you for accepting to put your life on the line so that many would be saved.
You accepted the responsibility at a time when there was no plane in the sky and limited cars on the road. This is the new Nigerian spirit everyone who truly loves the country should imbibe.
The anointing and grace you are carrying shielded the country from calamity because it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
Therefore, I’m using this opportunity to wish you a very warm, remarkable and memorable birthday anniversary and many happy returns even as I also congratulate you for winning this year’s Leadership Newspaper “Annual Conference and Awards” as its “Public Service Person of the Year,” while the Presidential Steering Committee which you lead emerged as the “Public Agency of the Year.”
Truly, great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to our eyes.
I say: Congratulations and Happy Birthday to the Boss of bosses!
Comrade Edwin Uhara is a UN-trained Negotiator and member, APC Presidential Campaign Council in the 2019 Presidential Election. He writes from Abuja.