Last Wednesday, I went to my elder brother’s home in Surulere, Lagos, as part of our family’s New Year tradition. I trekked to his place in line with my usual exercise regime. Of course, I wore my 9mobile face mask gifted to me by one of my former neighbours. On the way, most people stared at me as if I was an eyesore! This idiocy was a function of the fact that not up to 5% of the more than 300 people I encountered—both ways—had the protective shield on! I was utterly embarrassed.
There is a reckless culture of blissful ignorance, arrogance and irresponsibility with regard to this pandemic. Issuing from this is nonchalance and fatalistic carelessness. I don’t understand the basis for the increasing disbelief in the existence of the lethal scourge. This is despite the fact that almost every day some people die following complications arising from COVID-19. What other evidence do these skeptics need? Is it until a member of their family harvests death? Initially, when some chaps averred that it was a mechanism by the government to attract donations for diversion, I thought it was just a joke. I never knew it will become veritably phenomenal and enduring.
Last week, eminent jurist Prof. Afe Babalola declared that it was illegal for the government to have close schools in the wake of the ravaging disease. I ask: is it better for schools to be on amid increasing casualties or for schools to be closed and fatality foreclosed? Is it not better to be alive and go to school than to die and not attend any school? The closure is not perpetual—it is for a while.
There had been instances when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) went on strike for whole sessions over disagreements with the federal government and heavens did not fall. I lost a year while in the university because of ASUU strike! Safety of life must take precedence over legalism in this instance. The current disruption in teaching and learning is circumstantial and ephemeral—the government does not stand to benefit anything by its decision on the temporary closure of schools, which, by the way, are resuming today. I still do not know how the issue of social distancing will be handled in our typically overcrowded hostels and lecture halls/classrooms.
I would have recommended virtual scholarship via online platforms until such a time when the pandemic would be under effective and efficient control. This system of imparting knowledge may not be the best, but it achieves basic literacy and maximal safety of life. In any case, it is not a permanent solution—the temporariness of such an arrangement mitigates any fear about the concomitant quality of education.
Without being alarmist and at the risk of pessimism, I have the conviction that if the anti-COVID vaccine is not promptly and massively circulated, government may be compelled to shut schools again when fresh cases of contraction quadruple with a high probability. Already, some states are kicking over the sharing formula for the first batch of vaccine that has arrived. Is it not even possible for states and opulent individuals to access this vaccine and distribute it comprehensively without everyone depending on the federal government?
Another dimension of the pandemic is the issue of places of worship and attendance. Federal and state governments had issued directives as regards compliance with COVID-19 protocols in churches and mosques. The truth of the matter is that the guidelines are observed more in breach. For most churches that usually had large streams of worshippers at different sessions it is almost impossible adjusting to fresh governmental stipulations.
There is also the self-deception of faith healing by Christians—and even church-goers who are not, strictly speaking, in the same eschatological clan! Without needless intellectualization of Christianity, it is not in all situations that faith healing comes to the fore. Yes, I believe in miracles, spiritual wonders and God’s awesomeness-cum-grace which conquer all impossibilities. But, we should not try God. Indeed, the Almighty helps only those who help themselves. So, let us do our own bit first by observing all the anti-COVID protocols and God will then crown our efforts by shielding us from the pandemic. We cannot expose ourselves to the disease and lazily rely on our Creator for protection! It cannot work that way even if you have bishopric credentials or papal attributions. Enough of spirituality and religiosity on this deadly matter please.
A fortnight ago, I read something posted on Facebook by quintessential Airtel Director of Communications, Emeka Oparah, that you need to deposit N3.5 million before any private hospital can admit you for COVID treatment! Now, tell me, how many Nigerians can afford this amount and other subsequent payments? And to worsen matters, government facilities and hospitals for the management of COVID have been overstretched so much that new victims are being turned back! I equally know that some of the facilities have been shut down due to managerial incapacity.
If you are 50 years or above, like me, it is imperative that you exercise more care because we are at greater risk. The implication of this is that we have limited chances of surviving this onslaught if not urgently and properly managed unlike those outside that age bracket. Above all, we should not allow the fear of COVID to kill us without even possibly contracting the disease! That would be the greatest challenge of this phenomenon that will soon pass away, like others before it.
If possible—and why not—always carry handy sanitizers about, wear a face mask and thoroughly wash your hands at any opportune time infrequently until you go to bed. Let safety be your canon. The second phase of COVID-19 is surprisingly turning out to be worse than the first time. Despite this, the level of people’s indifference to the pandemic now is even pathetically worse than it was a few months ago when it first besieged us! The prevalent haughtiness and disbelief by some of us cannot help our existential humanity.
Avoid crowds and stay at home. Go out only when it is absolutely necessary. Do not hug, cover your mouth when coughing and generally keep away from people who do the same or break other associated protocols. If possible, don’t go visiting people for fun or welcoming guests—except for critical reasons. Last but not least, observe social distancing on all occasions and at all times.
Do not wait until the man next door dies of the pandemic before you sit up and protect yourself and the society by extrapolation. Believe you me, COVID-19 is real. If it were not so, I would not have written this column today. I beg of you: stay safe. We shall all die quite all right, but not prematurely by God’s grace.