Five days after the Federal Government’s order for gradual easing of lockdown in Lagos State, Ogun State as well as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and, by extension, the whole federation, took effect, events that could make the authorities to think that a mistake may have been made in so doing have been happening. To show how the government feels about these events, the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on the fight against coronavirus (COVID-19), just 24 hours after the easing of lockdown, expressed disappointment at Nigerians’ bahaviour. The task force has also declared that, going by how Nigerians have carried themselves, it is obvious they are underrating COVID-19.
Indeed, it is not only the PTF that has expressed sadness and dismayed that there is non-compliance regarding the guidelines earlier released by government in a post-lockdown regime. The Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), piqued by what Nigerians did just one day after the easing of lockdown, said the country should expect a fresh lockdown or explosion of COVID-19. The NMA had earlier said the lifting of the lockdown was premature. Individuals and organisations have equally raised the alarm over breaches of guidelines released by government to keep Nigerians, as a people, and Nigeria, as a country, safe without total lockdown.
It is not as if what happened in the last couple of days came as a surprise to some of us. Knowing Nigerians for who they are, it was obvious that many would breach the guidelines. It was, therefore, a misbehaviour foretold. That many Nigerians are going about their businesses as if COVID-19 is a joke is not surprising. That many Nigerians are not wearing face masks in public places, as required, is not strange. That there is disregard for social and physical distancing in public places is not surprising. That people are no longer washing their hands with soap and running water regularly nor observing respiratory hygiene was expected. Nigerians are not serious about their health and their tendency for disobedience is very high. They attach more importance to mundane things than their health and would want to be compelled before they do what they should ordinarily do.
Indeed, since Monday, when easing of lockdown started, it has been disappointing seeing Nigerians behave as if nothing is amiss. I see the situation in banks, where hundreds of people struggle to be given attention. In the banks, some of the customers wear face masks. Some others do not wear face masks. People cluster together, pushing, shoving and touching each other. In commercial buses, some drivers, conductors and passengers wear face masks. Some other drivers, bus conductors and passengers do not wear face masks. Some commercial buses also breach the guideline on maximum number of passengers to carry at any point in time. They seldom give passengers sanitizers to cleanse their hands. In markets, people cluster together. Traders, including those selling food items, do not wear face masks and hand gloves. It is as if Nigerians have been possessed by evil spirits and are, therefore, destined for self-destruction.
As I said last weeks, the power of life and death, in a no-lockdown Nigeria, is in the hands of Nigerians. Whatever happens to Nigerians is in their hands. Face mask wearing may be difficult, but it is not impossible. Regular washing of hands may be daunting, but it is something we can do. Avoiding touching the eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands may be difficult, but it is not impossible. There is no difficulty in observing social distancing. There is no difficulty in avoiding handshakes, hugs and close contact with people. There is no difficulty in staying at home when going out is unnecessary. These are things we could do, if we want, but many have chosen not to. There is overt disobedience to the rules. Those who try to obey the rules, do so with some inherent disaffection. The majority of the people who “wear” face masks are pretending. They are not wearing face masks in the true sense of it. They are displaying or hanging face masks on their jaws and moving about, with their nostrils and mouths exposed.
It must be said that COVID-19 is real and has the capacity to wipe out a whole race. It is a plague of monumental proportions. It kills. It has put economies in jeopardy. It has disrupted social life and put government at high jump. It has stifled progress and indeed set the world back. The fight against the disease is tougher when there is no restriction of movement, as now in Nigeria.
In the face of this, Nigerians should help themselves. What is happening at the banks is clear. People are desperate to transact banking business but the banks are not making things easier. The policy of opening a few branches to legions of customers is the major cause of the mess happening at the banks. When a few branches are open, many people will certainly congregate in them for their banking transactions. If, on the other hand, all the branches are open, the crowd will be less at every branch. Granted that banks are also worried about the safety of their workers, but when they operate at full capacity, with all branches open, while adhering to the guidelines on social distancing, the risk will be minimal. A situation where a few branches open and bank officials have to attend to a larger number of people makes the risk higher. The banks should be more flexible and reasonable. It is either they are open or shut.
The government should also look into the activities of security agents. Inasmuch as security agents have done well so far in a bad situation, there are still some who are not adhering to the rules of engagement. There is curfew in the country, which restricts movement, except for those on essential duty. There is a ban on inter-state passenger travels. However, people are travelling from one state to another, paying exorbitant fare. This can only be possible with the collusion of security agents, who may be collecting tips from commercial bus operators involved. This is where the leadership of the security agencies should come in. Soldiers, policemen and other operatives of different arms of the security services should be called to order in this regard.
It is in the best interest of Nigerians to adhere to the guidelines. Although some people believe that the lifting of the lockdown was ill-advised, government has shown understanding and due consideration in so doing. Nigerians should not give the government cause to regret its action in that regard. I must warn that, if the conduct and misconduct of Nigerians make government to order another total lockdown, it would be bad for the people.
When the country will come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is definitely dependent on how responsible we become. It took China about 10 weeks of total lockdown to arrest the situation. Now fresh cases are not being recorded, as before. It took some other countries in Europe eight to 10 weeks of lockdown to contain coronavirus. These countries have used lockdown to achieve good results and have opened up the economy. Nigeria did five weeks of total lockdown and opened up the country, with the belief that the citizenry will obey the rules. Let’s hope this will pay off. We will have ourselves to blame for its failure.