By Cosmas Omegoh, Olakunle Olafioye and Henry Okonkwo
Perish that thought. COVID-19 is still here. It has not shifted an inch away. Instead, it has returned with gusto and marching with vengeance, in what experts called a second wave. It is infecting a lot more people at the moment, and killing many more quickly.
Some experts have advised that the recent wave of the pandemic is one the government and Nigerians must fight doubly hard to overcome.
However, the fight – it seems – is being hampered by this growing perception that government’s actions and inactions are giving ample reasons for the people to believe that everything about the pandemic is nothing but a story – just one made up in some cozy environment, with well declared intention to cheat.
Apparently, for this reason, many citizens are unapologetically living in denial of this deadly virus, its presence and the power to kill. They are putting down everything about it as a hoax.
Concerned experts now fear that the people’s continued failure to observe simple non-pharmaceutical intervention strategies is also increasingly becoming the energy the virus is feeding on to fester. And this is going to be the country’s Achilles Heel – the real reason Nigeria may lose the battle against the pandemic.
Against this backdrop, Dr Abayomi Ogunbekun, chairman of Christian Health Association of Nigeria (CHAN), Lagos State chapter, has warned, particularly residents of Lagos, to be careful.
He insisted that no one should underrate the second wave of COVID-19 whose current sting is clearly ruthless, hewing down both the prominent and the lowly, brutally.
“Anyone who tells you that COVID-19 is not here is deceiving you. People are being killed by this virus in their numbers.
“In the past two weeks, more than 35 doctors died of COVID-19. Five professors from the University of Lagos have also died.
“People are dying every day. All the 19 COVID-19 centres in Lagos at the moment are fully occupied by patients. Some unfortunate ones are being asked to go back home or to private hospitals to be treated.
“Unfortunately, there is this fear that the government is not telling us the whole facts – that they are underreporting the figures.
“The reality before us is that there is a second wave of the virus now in the country. There is an upswing; the infection rate is almost double of what we saw during the first wave.
“We need to bring this to the attention of our people; we need to educate our people to take personal responsibility. Anywhere you are, wear your facemask, observe social distancing, and wash your hands regularly. These are very important observances.
“This second wave is coming with a new strain which is more deadly – very infectious. It is spreading like a wide fire; it kills more easily.
“There was a case of a doctor practicing in the USA who arrived here to observe his Christmas holiday; he died on January 2, 2021. That is to underline the severity of the virus. People must know this,” he warned.
To underline the severity of this COVID-19’s latest onslaught, the Lagos State government some days ago cried out that many now being infected “are gasping for breath and needing oxygen” to survive, afraid that this pandemic’s renewed march might be deadlier than imagined. Such is the challenge staring both the government and the residents in the face, a long-drawn duel.
Govt allowing NIN registration
Even when the second wave of COVID-19 is here, marching on majestically, the Federal Government through the Ministry of Minister of Communication and Digital Economy Isa Ali Pantami rolled out a plan for all Nigerians to troop out to various centres for their NIN registration. The government warned that anyone who failed to register and linked their NIN with their telephone numbers would have their sims yanked off the networks at the end of December 2020.
Although the deadline for compliance with the directives was extended, the Federal Government has not backed down on the order that Nigerians must get registered before the end of February 2021.
Many had wondered why the government should call out Nigerians for such an exercise when it ought to know full well that the registration centres are potential COVID-19 breeding ground. Even the NIMC staff carrying out the registration have had to protest their exposure to COVID-19. But the outrage expressed by the public has only fallen on deaf ears.
At the Olayemi registration centre in Ajeromi Ifelodun LGA in Lagos State, the crowd was such a mammoth one. Everyone in the crowd was restive, seething with anger. They kept murmuring, and cursing the government for the “wicked” policy. There was no form of social distancing. Everyone mixed freely. Many were not wearing any form of facemask. Some who had one wore them on their chins. They were feeling frustrated as the sun continued to beat down relentlessly.
From time to time, an official of NIMC emerged, called in a few lucky ones to come for their capture. It was such process Sunday Sun was told; one has to spend at least 10 minutes from start to finish to be captured.
“This is simply wicked,” a man who identified himself as Yomi, thundered amid curses, saying “How can this government be tasking Nigerians to come out for this kind of labourious exercise when they know that we can easily contract COVID-19 from here?”
Another man, Tony Onunkwo, said that he arrived at the centre as early as 6:00 a.m on the same day to pen his name on a certain piece of paper, but was still unlucky not to have been called in for the capture.
He said: “I have been at this centre on two occasions in the past. I was unable to get captured due to the attitude of the officials. This is appalling.”
A middle-aged woman, Mrs Obiare accused the government of double-dealing, saying “these people are not thinking. What is in NIN registration that cannot wait until this wave of Coronavirus is over?
“They are the same people that are fighting Coronavirus and the same people encouraging its spread. We are watching,” she said.
Govt’s decision to reopen schools dangerous
The Federal Government’s toiling with the idea of reopening schools has also been seen as real doom waiting to happen.
Earlier, the government said that schools should reopen on January 18, 2021. Universities should have reopened on the said date nearly a year owning to the COVID-19 lockdown, and the prolonged strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
However, the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, some days ago made a U-turn by saying that the date was tentative. Hinting that a new date might be issued soon, he said the government was studying the situation. But the various universities have rolled out their academic calendar, most of them calling on their students to resume lectures on January 25.
This is coming as the country’s COVID-19 figure climbed well above the 100, 000 mark with fatalities also going beyond 1,200 threshold.
Also the government’s intention to reopen school had been greeted with fear following the spike in the number of people testing positive for the virus, leaving authorities in the country with limited options.
The Federal Government has continued to issue contradictory reports on the possibility of a fresh lockdown despite the fact that the nation is yet to recover from the fallouts of the last exercise. This precarious situation, has equally elicited mixed feelings among stakeholders in the nation’s education sector. While most students have expressed happiness at the prospect of returning to their studies, the risk of contracting the deadly virus at schools, where some stakeholders have claimed to be fertile ground, due to what they termed as the non-conformity of the facilities available in most of the nation’s higher school of learning to COVID-19 protocols, however, remains a source of concern.
In separate phone chats with Sunday Sun, the chairmen of (ASUU) University of Nigeria, Nsukka chapter, Dr Christian Opata and University of Jos, Dr. Lazarus Maigoro expressed their concerns over the safety of students and staff in returning to school considering the prevailing state of facilities in the nation’s tertiary institutions.
“It is the university management that should announce its readiness to resume activities through the provision of required facilities and not ASUU. But personally, I have not seen anything that is different from what existed before. It’s just as simple as that,” Dr Opata said.
Dr Maigoro echoed a similar view, saying: “It’s the university that will put the infrastructure in place. As for ASUU, our members are no longer on strike. So, if the management puts the facilities in place and announces a resumption date, if the facilities are on the ground, we will have no excuse to resume; but if they don’t they will be putting the lives of the people in danger.
Although some schools have announced their decision to resort to virtual classes, certain exigencies have made physical contacts unavoidable. For instance, the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta resumed virtual classes for their students, but certain categories of students are expected to be physically present at school for practical sessions.
A student in the Department of Chemistry, Gbolahan Rachael, confirmed to Sunday Sun that students in her department were expected to be physically present in school occasionally for practical sessions.
“We started the virtual classes this week, but those of us offering courses that require practical classes will still have to go to school for practicals,” she said.
A parent, Mr Adeoye Daniel said that the decision to allow school reopening despite the ravaging COVID-19 should be preceded with adequate provision and measures to ensure that learning takes place in an environment with limited risks to the lives of students and lecturers.
“The government and the school authorities must ensure that the risk to lives of students and their lecturers is reduced to the barest minimum. In addition to ensuring that adequate measures for adherence to COVID-19 protocols are in place, lectures should also be staggered in a way that social distancing can be achieved,” Mr. Adeoye said.
Govt allows transport operators free rein
Despite increased awareness drive by the government and health experts on the rapid spread of this deadlier strain of the Coronavirus, most Nigerians have remained adamant about the warnings.
Sunday Sun investigations at different interstate motor parks located in Oshodi, Iyana Ipaja, Jibowu, and bustling ones at Mushin, Oyingbo and Iyana-Oba, all in Lagos State, revealed that motorists and their passengers had jettisoned the facemask-wearing idea.
Also, the transporters showed no interest in ensuring social distancing, as they all loaded their buses to full capacity.
Hardly was any commercial bus driver seen wearing any facemasks.
It was also observed that large crowds of hawkers, roadside traders, passengers, and passersby were all clustered, with many of them not donning any facemasks.
A few of the drivers said that they had facemasks, but they complained that the hot weather makes them feel uncomfortable while wearing them.
“I find it hard wearing my facemasks because I fell challenged breathing properly while I have it on,” Mr Sadiku, a Mushin-based bus driver, said.
While boarding a government BRT bus at Barracks bus stop on the way to the Island, the conductor merely asked people to show their facemask, our reporter was told. Those who were not wearing theirs merely showed it and were allowed in.
Meanwhile, some transporters see the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as a scheme to get foreign grants. One of such is Chief Rasheed Oduola, a former drivers’ union leader.
According to him, the recent threat by the government to impose a lockdown is annoying, warning them to ditch the idea and explore other means of tackling the second wave of the Coronavirus.
“COVID-19 is not as dangerous as it is presented,” he said. He lamented the billions wasted on COVID-19 and the economic loss occasioned by the exercise.
He said that the lockdown in Nigeria was proof that Nigeria lacks leaders that think.
“There is no greater charade than the shenanigan of the lockdown in Nigeria. Government response to COVID-19 in Nigeria is more of business than it is of an attempt at helping the masses. They should leave us alone to recoup the losses of last year.”
Markets still bursting
With the government mulling imposition of another lockdown, all markets in Lagos, for instance, are operating in full swing with no one observing any form of social distancing. At the popular Oshodi market, traders and their customers mixed freely, body-to-body. The situation was not different at the Ipodo market and Computer Village both in Ikeja. There were no places for handwashing. Most traders and their customers do not wear any type of facemasks.
Concerned Lagos residents fear that this is unhealthy as it would encourage the spread of COVID-19 and want the government to act.
“The situation in our market is appalling,” Mrs Oluwatoyin Oludare who was in Oshodi to make purchases told our reporter.
“No one is observing any form of protocol. This is not healthy for anyone. We expect government and even NGOs to take this COVID-19 awareness campaign to the markets to educate residents on the dangers facing everyone at the moment.”