These are, indeed, unusual times. Like the rest parts of the world being ravaged by Coronavirus pandemic, every Nigerian is now increasingly getting worried with the steady rise in incident cases.
The country recorded the first confirmed case on February 27, this year when an Italian citizen in Lagos tested positive for the virus. This was immediately followed by another case in Ewekoro, Ogun State, involving a Nigerian who had contact with the Italian national.
When the strange disease first broke out in Wuhan city in China, the World Health Organisation (WHO) didn’t hesitate to list Nigeria among 13 African countries identified as high-risk for the spread of the virus. And as usual, the Federal Government assured the citizens of its readiness to strengthen surveillance at the five international airports in the country to prevent the spread of the disease. These are Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos; Nnamdi Azikwe Airport, Abuja; Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu; Rivers airport and Kano airport. For further assurance purposes, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) followed up by announcing its preparedness to activate its incident system in case of any outbreak of the virus.
In anticipation of any eventuality, the centre also outlined the guidelines for self-isolation for passengers coming into the country from already infected countries as necessary precautionary measures to stave off the threat of the pandemic.
Among other things, the guideline discourages travellers coming in from high-risk countries from travelling across the states in Nigeria during the 14-day period of self-isolation either by plane, train, bus or car. Such individuals are also required to provide their names, next of kin, physical address and telephone contacts to the relevant health authorities. All these were to avoid face-to-face contact with the people to forestall the transmission of the disease.
But surprisingly, some privileged individuals in the corridors of power deliberately chose to circumvent the rules of procedure to undermine the safety of the populace. This revelation followed the recent incident case involving one of the sons of former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Mohammed Atiku Abubakar, who refused to subject himself to the routine scrutiny of the health authorities and went about endangering the lives of other Nigerians, including the governor of Bauchi State, Bala Muhammed, who had contact with him in a flight to Abuja from Lagos. The unsuspecting governor, who already tested positive to the dreaded virus, and now in self isolation is just one among several others Muhammed had come in contact with since his arrival into the country.
Perhaps, as a face-saving measure, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar announced in his verified tweeter handle @atiku on Sunday that his son had become the latest to test positive for the scourge and had been moved to Gwagwalada Specialist Teaching Hospital, Abuja, urging Nigerians to pray for his recovery. But rather than the expected empathy, the appeal sparked off a rage of anger from Nigerians for the willful disregard of the constituted authority and the rules of procedure.
Similarly, the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, was alleged to have refused to submit himself to the health authorities for proper screening when he arrived from Germany only for them to find out that he had already been infected. Consequently, three of his personal aides are also in for the troubled times.
Ironically, it was Kyari that wrote to the leadership of the National Assembly, complaining about the reluctance of the lawmakers to submit themselves to normal screening procedure. In two separate letters to the Senate President, Senator Ahmed Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, respectively, he stated that screening of people arriving from airports remained one of the defence the Federal Government had put in place to overcome the Coronavirus pandemic.
His letter reads in part: “It has been brought to the Hon. Minister of Health recently reports to this office that some Senators are refusing to subject themselves to medical screening at airports.
“As you are aware, these airport screenings are our primary line of defense and refusal by any citizen to subject to these tests is a threat to our nation.
“Accordingly, you are kindly requested to direct all Senators who returned to Nigeria from foreign trips to report themselves to the nearest NCDC test centre with immediate effect”.
Reacting to the development, Senator Anthony Adeniyi, who represented Ekiti State in the 7th National Assembly, likened the impunity by those in the positions of authority to an adventurer who set out on a suicide mission.
“I won’t believe that anybody would take that kind of risk since the president who is the head of government had subjected himself to such test which was reported to be negative. It will be stupid for anybody, however, highly placed, not to protect his life by subjecting himself or herself to such test by the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, because death is imminent once the virus is fully blown in any human being. So, it is always wise for everybody to subject himself or herself to test to determine the individual’s true state of health in the case there is a need for treatment. I don’t know why anybody will subject himself to imminence of death by avoiding to be tested,” he said.
With the rising figure of incident cases, he warned that the government might be compelled to announce a total lockdown to curtail the spread of the dreaded disease.
“No state government will hesitate to lockdown everything completely, if it expands to an embarrassing level. I have listened to the governor of Lagos on what he has been doing to keep the pandemic in check. I think the government has tried enough. It is now left for whoever has ears to listen and follow the guidelines provided. Nobody anticipated the level it has attained, but I think the authorities are trying their best to contain its spread within the space of time,” he added.
In the same vein, Senator Gbenga Oshinowo, who represented Ogun State in the last National Assembly, took a swipe on the recalcitrant lawmakers, saying it was the height of irresponsibility.
He said: “Believe me, when I read it, I doubted it and I am still doubting it because nobody wants to die. They are knowledgeable enough to know the implication. If that is what truly happened, that is a peak of irresponsibility because it is like putting the lives of other people in danger.”
Asked to assess the performance of the government in its effort to contain the spread of the pandemic, he said: “Talking to my contacts all over the world on this issue of COVID-19, I tell you that the Federal Government is not doing well enough. Can you image the Chief of Staff to the President being taken from Abuja to Lagos? It puts a question mark on the level of preparedness of the government. What does it take to set up quarantine facilities? I learnt the budget for the State House clinic from 2015 is N101.9 billion. Where has the money gone to? It calls for concern.”
Also lending credence to the imperative of a total lockdown, he said: “It is very unfortunate that our economy is wired in a survivalist way. But even at that, if there is a need for a total lockdown, I go for it because if there is no concerted effort to stop the spread, it will continue to grow. We are a communal people; we want to be in constant touch with one another. But that is the only way we can preserve our lives and be useful to one another. You can be sure that the number of cases being reported is four times bigger. There are several cases that are unaccounted for. We just have to be very careful. It is already a looming danger worldwide. For me, I have been in my room. I have stopped receiving visitors. If the government feels that a total lockdown will solve our problem, I support the government.”
On his part, Senator Ayo Arise, also speaking in the same breadth in an interview with Sunday Sun, warned of the looming danger of reckless impunity.
His words: “I think it is a matter of life and death. Everyone should subject him or herself to health authorities. It is imperative that we all respect the safety of one another. Everybody should adhere strictly to whatever policy the Minister of Health or NCDC has put in place to protect majority of Nigerians. This thing does not know social status. So, we should all subject ourselves to whatever measure the Federal Government has put down to preserve the lives of Nigerians.
“We don’t have the health facilities to contain it or the ventilators or equipment required to trace whoever gets sick. If people decide to be on the suicide mission by themselves, that is completely a different scenario. But it is important that we respect this social distancing that has been found to be fairly reasonable and effective in terms of containment in other climes. We cannot avoid the kind of situation that is currently going on in Italy. It will be a calamitous disaster. We don’t have the man power, the health facilities and production capacity to tackle the virus, if it hits us in large number.”
As part of the measures to contain the spread of the disease, some state governments have announced the closure of religious gathering above 50 persons, social distancing, as well as all forms of ceremonial engagements.
In Lagos State, for instance, where there is highest number of incident cases, people are anticipating the possibility of a total lockdown. With the steady rise in the figure of infected persons, most residents are already in panic mode, and fears of the looming danger of the pandemic.