On Thursday, President Muhammadu Buhari caused an Internet sensation after a photo of him wearing a face mask appeared. Buhari was captured wearing a mask as he got off the presidential plane in Bamako, the capital of Mali. The President was in the country to join other leaders in the West African region in seeking solutions to the political turmoil in the French-speaking country
For the first time since COVID-19 pandemic struck, Buhari wore mask and that didn’t go unnoticed by Nigerians, many of whom took to social media platforms to comment on it. For supporters of the president, it was nothing unusual, but critics sharply differ, knocking Buhari for waiting this long before using a mask in public.
Nigeria first recorded COVID-19 infection in February and since then, the disease has spread to infect nearly 40,000 Nigerians, out of which 833 have died. Initially, the Nigerian government shutdown parts of the country to limit the spread of the disease, but concerns for economic impacts persuaded the government to ease lockdowns and mandate precautionary measures to slow down the rate of infections.
One of those precautionary measures is wearing masks in public, which experts advised will help contain the spread of the dreaded virus. By May, the presidential task force (PTF) on COVID-19 took a definite position on face masks, making it mandatory for anyone to use it whenever they are outside or in a gathering.
In the document signed by the Secretary to the Government of Federation (SGF), who is also the chairman of PTF on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, the government noted that “Anyone without face mask/covering will be asked to return home and will be prosecuted.” Clarifying misconception on the usage of masks, Mustapha at the 31st joint national briefing of the taskforce emphatically said usage of a mask is not optional since “it was part of the declaration that was signed by Mr. President.”
So, the use of masks is binding on everyone or so we were made to believe. Because not long after it became mandatory, the president, would not only undermine the guideline his signature helped forced into law but not wearing a mask going by pictures of appearances as he had ordered weakened public resolve to adhere to that guideline.
It is indisputable that wearing a mask in public slows down the spread of the dreaded coronavirus and in turn saves lives, but having a president not using it stirred doubts. That is why most of his appearances without a mask on stirs debate and fuelled questions on the commitment to his administration’s guideline “to help block the spread of the respiratory droplets from person to person.”
When the questions keep coming, a presidential aide, Lauretta Onochie tried to shrug off concerns by pointing out that Buhari was restricted to Aso Rock and can choose not to use a mask because he was in a safe environment. But what she failed to realize or probably ignored, was the message that the president was sending to millions of Nigerians that wearing a mask is not as important as been painted. Because in that ‘safe environment’, top government officials, some of who later tested positive for the virus, visit more often.
Even when his closest aide, Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff, was lost to the virus, the president wouldn’t yield and continue to attend meetings without wearing masks. Let us get something clear here, Buhari may not have fouled the law has argued by his aide, but what happens to leading by example? The president has a duty to inspire people to do things he believes will shield them from a rampaging enemy.
That is what Lauretta or anyone pushing back at criticisms of the president’s no mask posture failed to recognize or they are just, as usual, trying to play political correctness. And when Buhari chose to wear a mask, it was in a foreign land and appeared he did so because he was attending meetings of other leaders in the West Africa region, knowing so well its essence.
Imagine if Buhari had worn a mask when his administration authorized it for citizens, and how that might have encouraged millions of Nigerians to stick with the bailout measure because their President also uses it. What about limiting infections, because more and more people will understand how important it is to use a mask because the President is wearing it? This and much more is what Buhari Mask could have done for Nigerians, but again the President has done almost nothing.