In the wake of the pandemic and the confusion surrounding its nature, several protocols were developed around the elimination of the disease, particularly the transmission process. For example, human beings are expected to maintain a physical and social distance of two metres from each other. The washing of hands with soap and water and the regular sanitization of hands after touching any surface was institutionalized. Public transportation protocol in terms of the number of passengers to be moved by vehicles was stated. All social and religious gatherings were forbidden, including closure of hotels and all entertainment centres. Isolation after exposure to any person infected with the virus for a period of not less than seven days became a rule. Special handling of burial rites for dead victims was also developed. Sensing the inability of all these measures and many more to stem the tide, several nations, including Nigeria, imposed lockdown for a period of time before lifting it to pave way for economic activities and avoid total recession.
The impact of the lockdown on the curtailment of the spread during the first wave remains a subject of controversy but suffice to say, from my perspective, that it had some desirable effect, though not in the magnitude expected by the majority of the people. Notwithstanding all the above, millions of people globally still ended up being infected and dying from the virus. At the tail end of the implementation of all the protocols, including the lockdowns, the curve of the spread was eventually tamed, though not levelled. As the various restrictions were relaxed, we were warned, just as in the 1918 Spanish flu, to expect a second wave, which, from experience, is usually more aggressive and deadlier than the earlier phase. Not so many people believed this prediction, much less adhered to the protocols to stave the resumption of the surge.
In Nigeria, for instance, the country achieved a remarkable feat in reducing the degree of transmission in the first phase and truly warned against resumption of business as usual. The accomplishment led to the eventual closure of most isolation centres hitherto set up for the management of patients. Recall then that the isolation centres were established not only in Nigeria but globally. In the usual nature of human beings, however, they thought it was over and resumed normal habits, throwing caution to the wind.
Alas! There suddenly arrived the second wave as predicted by experts, and most nations were found unprepared for the magnitude of the waves and the aggression. The worst aspect was the discovery and detection of new variants in some countries, particularly Brazil and South Africa, whose mutation and transmission are faster than the original virus. From statistics so far, this second wave of the pandemic has consumed more people than the first wave, notwithstanding the vaccination that is ongoing globally. In addition, studies so far have revealed not only that the fact of infection the first time does not fortify a patient against a subsequent attack, but that even vaccination does not guarantee protection against being infected. (One then wonders the purpose and essence of the vaccines in view of the associated noise and the expectations raised.) This, therefore, dictates the insistence of experts that, beyond vaccination, people must still comply and observe the protocols. This underscores the importance of the COVID-19 protocols and places it above any other remedy, including vaccination, in the management of the deadly virus and curbing the spread.
It is against this background that one feels compelled to examine the degree of compliance in Nigeria with the protocols and the attitude of government at all levels and the people at large with respect to public upholding and enforcement of the said COVID-19 protocols. It is no news in Nigeria today that the degree of transmission is on the rise. The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 continues to warn on this, and occasionally threatens lockdown of the nation, if the citizens fail to adhere to the protocols. However, it seems Nigerians do not appreciate the precarious situation of the Federal Government with respect to imposition of another lockdown. The economy is still not in good shape and cannot absorb any such shock again, particularly with the economic recession the country is in. In addition, the economy can equally not afford to bear the cost implication of another procurement and distribution of palliatives to the vulnerable citizens in the event of another lockdown. The truth of the matter is that the implications and consequences of another lockdown are grave beyond imagination and pragmatism. In the circumstances, the option of lockdown, therefore, would have to remain in the realm of threat.
Consequently, the imposition of lockdown is not an option for the country. Thus, Nigerians continue to be devious in the face of the challenge and the lengthening of the pandemic curve. The detection and figures rolling out from the tests carried out daily are worrisome, thereby calling for urgent measures. The fact remains that, with all caution on the part of some Nigerians, they still fall victim. One should then imagine a situation where no such caution is imbibed. It simply will be catastrophic. I am in particular scared of the transmission, witnessing the death of so many loved ones and associates. So many others are already demobilized due to the infection. This brings me to the attitude of Nigerians, which is highly unhelpful in the containment of the spread. While figures keep soaring terrifyingly of victims of the deadly disease, in many parts of the country, people still behave as if the whole story is a hoax.
We hear of deaths of bumbling, strong men and women in high and low places and one reckons that it is a confirmation of the fatalistic effect of the virus. Unfortunately, in markets, social events and other large gatherings, people behave as if the ravages of the virus were just moonlight tales woven to scare stubborn children; a kind of Ojuju Calabar stuff. Whatever could be responsible for the low rates of causalities in Africa, and particularly among the poor, it is not an everlasting assurance of immunity against the disease. People must learn to self-preserve as knowing the truth of the pandemic in the grave is not a good way to learn. The Yoruba concept of “ad’orun mo otito” (he who confirms the truth of eternity only in the grave), is not a desirable way to live. The point of realization has no remedy and the ailment would have been beyond cure. The message of the pandemic is, let the dead take responsibility for their death.
A disease that can easily be avoided ought not to send one to an early grave. In fact, just as in the first wave, stay at home, if there is no life-threatening or compelling reason to go out. That ceremony you want to attend or organize can be done behind you without anyone noticing your absence. Where you are so important to others that to celebrate without reckoning with your stupidity will prick their conscience, they will accord you a minute of silence. Why must you commit suicide to please others or satisfy your reckless self-negation? I am of the strong view that this is not worth the risk involved.
On the part of government, urgent measures need to be put in place, particularly resurrection of the earlier restrictions and enforcement of same. All social and religious events must be brought to a halt. The time is over-ripe for government at all levels now to be further proactive, firm and decisive in their approach. Bold, firm and courageous decisions and action are now required to stem the tide of the pandemic in Nigeria. The government must gather the necessary political will to enforce all the protocols now. This is not a period for popularity contest or politics of pacifying popular sentiments. At the end of the day, where deaths ravage the masses, as predicted and as occurring, the blame will still end up at the government’s doorstep.
It is time to preserve as many lives as possible through the enforcement of the protocols. It is best to be safe than sorry. Let us help ourselves to help others. The government must ensure that activities that call for mass gathering should not be encouraged. For instance, the registration for National Identity Number currently going on is a sure platform for spreading the pandemic, looking at the way people gather, jostle and bump into one another to get registered. At this critical time, such an exercise, if it must continue at all, must be decentralized in a way that does not encourage gathering of multitudes. All persons who have registered for BVN are supposed to have had National Identity Number, their biometrics having been captured for the BVN.
The same goes for all who have international traveller’s passports whose biometrics must have been captured by the relevant authorities while obtaining the passports. I believe the data captured by the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) also includes biometrics of drivers when issuing licences. The telephone service providers have, at various times, obtained biometric data of their users. The government only needs to synchronise these various data gathered at different times. That will definitely reduce the number of people who are struggling to get registered for the National Identity Card.
I am equally not oblivious of the ruling party’s registration exercise, which is propounded to be COVID-19 protocol-compliant. I await the practicality of this. As the government is playing its role, so must each and every Nigerian take responsibility. This must not be restricted to your acts but extended to oversight of other citizens’ actions and inactions. A word is enough for the wise.