When COVID-19 broke out in Wuhan, China, some world leaders did not take it seriously. They believed it was a little flu that would fizzle out with time. Unfortunately, their thinking was as abysmal as the loss of lives that would later happen as a result of infection with the virus.
India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi was blamed by his people for not making adequate preparations for deadlier strains of the virus. Some of his actions were seen to be detrimental to efforts geared towards fighting the virus.
According to www.usnews.com, “Even as significant pockets of the country had not fully suppressed the virus, Modi and other members of his party held jam-packed outdoor campaign rallies before April elections. Few attendees wore masks”.
Other world leaders who were caught in a web of controversies regarding the pathogenesis of the disease include Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro; Belarusian President, Alexander Lukashenko; former American President, Donald Trump; and Mexican President, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
Apart from the devastating impact it had on the health and economy of nations, COVID-19 also affected the political fortunes of many nations of the world. It created vacuums and disrupted certain political equations that would have led to entirely different outcomes from what we have today.
In the middle of the pandemic, at least 84 countries observed a state of emergency, in response to the trepidation caused by the virus, which raised concerns about the abuse of power. Reporters Without Borders did claim that 38 countries restricted freedom of the press as a result.
Other political consequences of the pandemic included the ban on mass protests, postponement of elections or holding them when the opposition could not effectively campaign, enforcement of lockdown rules on political opponents, handing out relief payments to political supporters and scapegoating minorities.
In March 2020, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson tested positive to the virus, which is no respecter of status. For weeks, the British leader was on the sidelines, self-isolating and working from home. The fact that he tested positive was a warning to many Britons that nobody was immune to the contagious virus. All that mattered then was the need for caution and total adherence to safety guidelines.
Former American military officer Collin Powell was among the public officers killed by COVID-19. Powell became the first African-American secretary of state in 2001 under the then Republican President, George W Bush. In shaping the politics of the Iraqi war, he was famous for garnering global support for the government of George Bush, in the midst of the hostilities that ensued at that time.
The deaths of Presidents Magufuli of Tanzania and Nkurunziza of Burundi came as a rude shock to many of their countrymen and Africans in general. And even though the press releases announcing their deaths did not specify COVID-19 as cause, there was a general belief that their deaths were caused by the virus. In fact, many in the media and civil society have suggested a plausible connection between their deaths and COVID-19.
It is on the basis of the foregoing that we can conveniently conclude that the pandemic has had its own contribution in the temporary disruption of political affairs in some parts of Africa, a continent with a fairly terrible reputation for concealing the health status of its leaders. In other parts of the world, especially in Europe, the health conditions of leaders and celebrities are not often shrouded in secrecy.
In Nigeria, there were major political gladiators who succumbed to the cold hands of death caused by complications from COVID-19. The list includes a former Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, who wielded so much power that he was referred to as the strong member of the cabal holding sway at Aso Rock. His death on 17 April, 2020 created a temporary vacuum at the seat of power and forced the government of President Buhari to embark on a search for a capable replacement, almost immediately.
A former governor of Oyo State, and chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Party (APC), Senator Abiola Ajimobi, also died of complications from COVID-19. According to reports, he was said to have been admitted into First Cardiology Consultants Hospital in Lagos, after falling into a coma, following COVID-19 complications. He was thereafter pronounced dead on 25 June, 2020.
On 8 August, 2020, a chieftain of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Buruji Kashamu, also died of complications from COVID-19. The man, who had been gearing up to contest for the governorship of Ogun State, could not fulfil his ambition; and thus, counter-balanced the political expectations and permutations of followers and members of his inner caucus.
Essentially, just as it hampered economic activities across nations of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic had its toll on the political architecture of many nations. It led to deaths in political circles, halted the order of many political activities and calendars and created a general sense of global uncertainty with regards to international relations and foreign policy.