Nigerians may not know the importance of President Muhammadu Buhari’s order for a total lockdown of Lagos State, the Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) and Ogun State, as one of the measures to arrest the spread of the deadly coronavirus. They may not also appreciate the lockdown order of some governors, irrespective of my earlier reservations about the closure of state boundaries, in their respective states to help combat this pandemic. In the absence of a known cure, the restriction of movement is one of the best actions any government could take now to fight the rapid spread of coronavirus. It happened in the United States of America. It has been adopted in Canada. It happened in China, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom and other countries that have been hard hit by this deadly disease.
This is why it is sad that some Nigerians, in their gratuitous obstinacy, are violating the stay-at-home order in Lagos, Abuja and other cities. It defies logic and common sense that a people who are aware of the ravages of coronavirus in other nations and actions taken to fight the scourge are finding it difficult to adhere to a simple instruction to stay in their homes. They are behaving like the Israelites of old who were given a simple task of looking at a moulded bronze serpent and live, in the face of a plague, but stubbornly refused. They are behaving like the stubborn fly, which follows the corpse into the grave.
In the last couple of days in Lagos, the violation of stay-at-home order is most apparent. People who are not exempted owing to the nature of their jobs, are moving about and increasing the risk of coronavirus spread. Instead of staying in their homes, these deviant Nigerians congregate at bus stations, road junctions or squares discussing nothingness. Some of them drive or trek long distances out of their neighbourhoods. Others play football in the street or playground. Even commercial buses, tricycles and motorbikes are clandestinely operating in some places, carrying people whose commuting may just be for frivolities. Markets, shops, offices are shut, but some Nigerians consider the stay-at-home order a waste of time and, therefore, are moving about, sometimes with the ridiculous excuse of going to look for food to buy when they are not.
I have been wondering why Nigerians are like this. Why is it that our people would rather be forced to obey a simple instruction? I have followed events across the world, as governments battle coronavirus. In countries and cities outside our shores, where stay-at-home order is in force, people who are not on essential services are at home. They only go out of their homes to make purchases of food and drugs. They do not gather in clusters discussing. They do not engage in street football. They are not visiting friends and relatives. They just sit at home, as has been advised, because they know that this is one of the ways they could stay alive. Conversely, Nigerians would only obey when roadblocks are mounted, when security agents start going from street to street chasing them into their homes or, perhaps, when they are whipped.
Self-isolation and social distancing are two ways through which coronavirus would be reduced, for now. This disease is transmitted mainly through person-to-person contact. It could be transmitted through inhalation, but person-to-person contact is the fastest way of transmission. As long as people hug each other, practice handshakes and cluster together, among others, so shall coronavirus spread. When people, on the other hand, stay apart, when personal contact is reduced, the spread of this deadly virus would be curtailed. When interaction is restricted to homes, with people whose status one could vouch for, the spread of coronavirus would reduce. This is why nations have adopted the stay-at-home strategy as a weapon to fight this pandemic.
Today, the United States has been badly battered by coronavirus because the authorities, initially, did not see the disease as something to worry about. At first, President Donald Trump believed that the number of casualties would drop to zero sooner than later. He was wrong. Now coronavirus has given the US a bloody nose, such that on Wednesday a whopping 928 people died in a single day. What a tragedy! In response to that, more states in the US are shutting down, ordering people to stay at home. The initial lethargy, therefore, is fast giving way to this survival policy: Lockdown or stay-at-home.
Nigerians should not wait until we go the way of the US, Spain, Italy and China, where people died and are still dying like chickens from coronavirus. We should not be deceived by the official figures of casualties or patients. The figures are low because of our testing capacity. Expanded testing would obviously show higher casualty figures. This is not to say that we should only concentrate our effort in testing more people. Not at all! We should expand testing capacity and also amplify the principle of self-isolation and social distancing, anchored on the stay-at-home order. We are lucky that the mortality rate is still low in Nigeria. We may not have an explanation for this. We should, therefore, as individuals, contribute our quota in ensuring that the spread is stopped, by obeying the lockdown order.
I have heard people say that government should not just order Nigerians to stay at home when there is no programme to cushion the adverse effects. I agree and disagree. Government can order people to stay at home as a measure to save lives. Government is also under obligation to take care of people at a time of emergency. However, inasmuch as government has the responsibility of catering to the needs of the people, it is obvious that it cannot singlehandedly do this. I am not holding brief for anybody, but it is certain that government is helpless in the face of coronavirus. This nation does not have the ability to offer an all-embracing palliative when, we, as a country, have no social security safety net.
For those comparing Nigeria with other countries, where governments have announced incentives, we should understand the peculiar nature of Nigeria, compared to other nations. The US has approved a $2.2 trillion stimulus package to keep the economy running. Nigerians want government to also announce a similar package. Yes, the government should do something to help the economy. However, we should know that someone must bear the cost of whatever incentive. The US citizens, for instance, have a price to pay in the stimulus regime. First, they have contributed to the social security purse, one way or another. Second, employed United States citizens may not be paid by their employers for the days they are at home, except there is a bailout. In Nigeria, we do not have social security contributions from the citizenry. Here, workers who stay away from work still get paid their full salaries, irrespective of the number of days of redundancy. These are the differences. However, the basic palliative government must give is to ensure that food supply chain is not disrupted. Disruption of food supply would not only bring about hunger but also cause great harm in a nation still battling with the problem of malnutrition in some regions.
However, I would rather Nigerians took measures that would save their lives than looking for palliatives before they stay at home this season. It is those alive who will look for or enjoy palliatives. It is in our best interest to observe the guidelines that would help us to survive coronavirus. We should practice self-isolation, even when we are not suspecting infection. We should practice social distancing as advised, at home or when we come out to buy basic needs. We should wash our hands regularly with soap and running water. We should observe basic hygiene. We should stay at home, to live. It is just for a moment, after which we go back to our normal lives, when coronavirus would have been conquered, with God’s intervention, in particular, and medicine as well as vaccine, in general.