From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
Evidently, Nigerians are gradually beginning to drop the fear, anxiety and culture that accompanied the outbreak of deadly COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria. It’s an indication that people are either tired of COVID-19 safety protocol or had lost confidence in the efficacy of the virus to attack and possibly kill.
Also, many Nigerians are beginning to view the disease and the whole activities that surrounded it as “scam” and a deliberate ploy by some individuals to instill unnecessary fear on Nigerians with the intention of exploiting them, financially and otherwise.
Besides, some highly placed Nigerians including senior government officials and religious leaders were completely indifferent with the COVID-19 right from when response began in February, 2020, even though many of them were not confident enough to openly state their position because of the political position they occupy in the society.
How it started
At the peak of the pandemic, February 2020, which was accompanied by national lockdown and other restrictions; use of face mask, regular hand washing and use of hand sanitizers, among few other measures, was like a “national anthem” in every household in Nigeria and other public gatherings, as was recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as primary way to avoid contracting the virus and not the cure.
At the same time, there were several myths, misconceptions and misinformation that caused more confusion and anxiety among Nigerians. This was, perhaps, due to limited information that was available to health workers and Nigerians regarding the virus.
Both health workers and top researchers in the academia were running from “pillar to post” and couldn’t explain the reactions of the virus especially at the early stage of pandemic, until few months into WHO sponsored research by experts and virologists resulting in early recommendation of the non-pharmaceutical measures as preventive measures.
In Nigeria, there was bandwagon effect on the response as recommended by the global community. The then Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, which was later transformed into Presidential Steering Committee, had a hard time convincing Nigerians about the efficacy of disease until few days after when
confirmed cases and deaths begun to rise.
Amidst strong doubt and disbelief, the government officials intensified campaign on testing, isolation, quarantine, treatment, and most importantly, preventive measures, notably, the non-pharmaceutical measures.
There was unimpressive results being recorded across the country in terms of compliance with COVID-19 safety protocols until the number of confirmed cases and deaths began to rise. The fear and anxiety increased when the former Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, died
The consciousness of Nigerians was reawakened to the reality and efficacy of COVID-19, and that resulted in increased caution. There was increased testing, isolation, quarantine and other responses including the ones sponsored by private organizations, individuals, faith-based organizations and other international donor partners.
The consciousness was extended to the market, churches, schools and other areas of public convergence which was significantly limited by the government’s response officials against COVID-19.
Unfortunately, the guards have begun to drop with many people partially and totally discarding the COVID-19 safety protocols even when the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had insisted that COVID-19 is still much around in Nigeria.
There are indications that several isolation centres across the country have been closed because of low or complete absence of patronage. In addition to that, other strict measures and protocols established to assist in the fight have been reduced.
Few days ago, the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, released a revised guidelines on COVID-19 response in which it practically lifted all the restrictions hitherto introduced at the peak of COVID-19 pandemic, but encouraged people to take personal responsibilities for their health and wellbeing.
The Committee said their decision was in view of the declining number of COVID-19 confirmed cases, reduced risk of importation of new variants, as well as the availability of vaccines and increasing number of vaccinated people in Nigeria and globally.
Catherine Ekem, a resident of Lokogoma, Abuja, said the COVID-19 was a total “scam” carefully designed to extort and deceive Nigerians and Africans. Unfortunately, African leaders played into the hands and scripts of the West to deceive its people.
“Few individuals benefitted from the pandemic, financially and otherwise, but majority of people suffered unjustly because of ignorance of the world especially Africa with weak economy and system.
“I can boldly tell you that I lost confidence in the COVID-19 few weeks into the national restrictions. I realized that we were being used by our government to make fortunes and satisfy the interest of the western world who were worst hit by the COVID-19 which, to us here, is malaria and typhoid that we are used to.
“I was completely against the national restrictions that was announced by the government because of its effect, and we are feeling it in our economy and security system especially the SMEs many of whom folded during the period and thousands of people sent to labour market.
“More people went back into poverty because their source of livelihood was affected. Crime in the society has skyrocketed and no one is exempted from the activities of the criminals,” she said.
For Karim Azeez, a resident of Zuba, Abuja; COVID-19 was an over hyped malaria and typhoid joined together. All the symptoms they listed were what we are familiar with since our birth. Fever, headache, sneezing and several others are some of the symptoms, according to the government. These are things we suffer everyday and used. So, I was not worried about the COVID-19 from day one and everyone around me could attest to that.
Oluwatosin Ogunmola, a resident of Dawaki, Abuja, said she contracted the virus at the early stage of the pandemic and it was like a death sentence for her. “I almost died of fear, anxiety and loneliness. I was completely avoided by people just the way it was during HIV/AIDS. No one talked to me nor had anything to do with me. I was alone for several weeks until I tested negative.”
She confirmed that COVID-19 is real but not as deadly as people made us to believe. “It was ignorance that was our problem then. There was limited information about the virus and how best to respond to it. I was consistently being treated with anti-malaria medicine for the long I was in isolation until my test returned negative. To me, COVID-19 is overrated malaria.”
Chidimma Ike, a resident of Kurudu, Abuja, described COVID-19 as hoax, demanding that Federal Government apologize to Nigerians for the suffer they were subjected to during the period.
“I used to be against Kogi Governor, Yahaya Bello and some renowned Pastors like David Oyedepo of Winners’ Chapel for not believing in existence of COVID-19 and telling their members to disregard the pandemic. But I am now one of their convert.
“I was one of the few people that suffered the ignorance of the COVID-19. Fear enveloped me after I began to read about the COVID-19, followed by the rising daily deaths in the US, UK and other parts of world.
“My house was locked for few weeks when the national lockdown was declared following the rising number of confirmed cases and deaths in Nigeria. But I know better now.
Femi Aderigbigbe, a resident of Kubwa, Abuja, said that COVID-19 is real and as deadly as being claimed by global health leaders. “Nigeria and Africa was lucky with the disease because its effect was not catastrophic in Nigeria and Africa as it was in United States, United Kingdom, China and other developed countries.
“I was in US at the peak of the pandemic, and I saw, first hand, its effect on the people. People were dropping dead like overripe fruits. We were just lucky in Nigeria because we were far in terms of sophisticated health care system to handle the challenges.”
NCDC has registered serious concerns about the high rate with which people are beginning to disregard the COVID-19 safety protocols, reminding them of vulnerability of Nigeria being a member of the global community.
NCDC Director General, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, told journalists at recent press conference at the in headquarters of the Federal Ministry of Health that some countries of the world are returning to partial or total lockdown due to rising cases of COVID-19 and deaths.
He said the fact that fatality rate was not as high as cases in some Western countries does not mean Nigeria was off the hook, while Nigerians be less careful about the efficacy of the virus.
He said: “COVID-19 is still much around and it’s killing people on daily basis. Some people may doubt it but that’s the fact. So, we shouldn’t drop our guards. We should, rather, maintained our non-pharmaceutical measures against the virus.”
He confirmed that significant progress is being made as regards vaccination. Nevertheless, he advocated more caution, insisting that vaccination alone was not enough to combat the deadly COVID-19 virus.
He asked organizations, religious centres, groups and other interested parties to approach NCDC and National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA) for mass vaccination against COVID-19.
NCDC, however, raised concerns about the possibility of significant rise in number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths due to ongoing massive political activities ahead of 2023 general elections.
He encouraged political parties to adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols, also requesting that NCDC be consulted for advisory ahead any political gathering.