In December 2019, Coronavirus broke out in far away Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province in the People’s Republic of China. And within a couple of weeks, the virus had spread across parts of China, killing people in thousands. Considering the rate with which the virus spread across China, the high fatality rate and its devastating effect on the Chinese economy, other Asian countries knew it was only a matter of time before it gets to them and even other countries of the world. They started putting measures in place to stop the virus from invading their countries, as well as measures to mitigate its effect in case it finally gets to them.
As rightly predicted, the virus did not take long time before it engulfed other Asian countries, as well as other continents, killing and destroying nations’ economies; a situation that forced the United Nations Organisation to declare it a pandemic on March 11, 2020. From Asia to Europe, America and Africa, Covid-19, as it also come to be known, has wreaked untold havoc. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives, with many battling to survive in various health facilities across the world, even as the world economy is in total disarray. European countries like Italy, Spain and France are the worst hit.
While other countries of the world were being ravaged by the pandemic, Nigeria remained aloof, with her citizens praying and wishing that it would not get to Nigeria. The leaders failed to take proactive measures to prevent it, believing that it would never get to Nigeria.
However, the curtain fell on Nigeria, when on February 27, the Federal Ministry of Health confirmed the first Corona-virus case in Lagos. The carrier is an Italian who works in Nigeria and had just returned from Milan, Italy, on January 25. His case was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital; a part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
A section of Nigerians has given kudos to the Lagos State government for its swift and radical response to the index case through enlightenment. The State did not waste time in churning out enlightenment messages to Lagosians on various preventive measures to contain the spread, while the index case was quarantined, where an intensive medical care commenced.
There is a strong belief in some quarters that if the Federal Government had acted as swiftly as the Lagos State government did while the pandemic was ravaging other continents, it wouldn’t have reared its ugly head in Nigeria. This group also blamed the laxity on the part of the Federal Government even when the index case was recorded in Lagos, regretting that while Lagos was battling with the index case and more cases were being reported in Lagos, the Federal Government went to sleep. They lamented that politicians refused to act, but rather, played politics with the issue, until it started spreading to other states. “It was when other states started recording cases of Covid-19 that it dawned on everybody that we are in a dire strait; which could only be mitigated by drastic action,” they maintained.
On a daily basis, the number kept growing and at the last count, 11 states, including Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Edo, Enugu, Rivers, Benue and Bauchi plus the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, had recorded cases of the virus, with Lagos having the largest number. Yesterday, the number had risen to 97.
In the last one week, Nigeria has been on a partial shutdown with most states even declaring total lockdown. The Federal Government has closed its land borders and airports. Both chambers of the National Assembly have been shut down. Some state Houses of Assembly have also shut down. Most state governments have equally closed their land borders. Schools, motor parks, club houses, brothels, shopping malls, football viewing centres, event centres, churches and mosques as well as markets except those that deal on food, medicine and other essential commodities, have all been shut down in most states of the federation including Abuja, the seat of power. Weddings, naming ceremonies, marriage ceremonies as well as burial and funeral ceremonies have all been put on hold or where they are inevitable, not more than 10 persons are expected to grace such occasion. Civil servants on certain cadres have been asked to stay at home for two weeks in the first instance while the situation is being monitored in most states of the federation. There is the likelihood of extension if the pandemic continues to ravage the country. Some private establishments have also asked most of their employees to work from home. These are measures by both government and private sectors to ensure that more than 10 persons do not congregate at a time, and also to ensure social distancing which has been proven to be effective in combating the spread in the European countries.
Panic envelops Nigerians
With the announcement that the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari has tested positive to the deadly virus and is receiving treatment, there seems to be some sort of apprehensions among the public on what is happening to the governance structure in the presidency. This is because of Kyari’s influence in the presidency, so with him testing positive to Covid-19, Nigerians want to know what happens to governance command structure in the presidency. Those in this league fear that since Kyari is down with Covid-19, the governance of the country is also at a standstill. The Executive Director, Authority Newspapers, Chuks Akunna shared this view as guest on the African Independent Television (AIT) Newspapers review last week. Akunna said: “I can tell you that with what has happened to Abba Kyari, governance has gone to a halt. The president said all ministers have to pass through Kyari and the same man whom all the ministers are supposed to pass through is now grounded.”
There are those who are also apprehensive about the health of the president. They reasoned that Kyari’s position in the presidency disposes him to meet with the President often. Though the president’s handlers have said he had been screened and he tested negative, Nigerians are still apprehensive because they wanted to see their leader, hear him and know the direction things are going.
Yet, there are others who are concerned that many ministers might have contracted the virus since Kyari’s position makes it impossible for ministers to operate without coming in contact with him. Those who hold this view insist that those ministers and other top government functionaries who might have had contact with Kyari would have also had contacts with numerous other Nigerians, raising fears of possible implosion of the virus in no distant time.
However, with the likes of the governors of Bauchi and Kaduna States, the Edo State House of Assembly Speaker and Alhaji Abubakar Atiku’s son already down with Covid-19, the fear among Nigerians is heightened, especially among the elite. Those who have had contacts with them in the last 14 days have been advised to self-isolate as well as submit themselves for Covid-19 test, to avoid further spread to other Nigerians.
Myth about Covid-19
In this age of social media, Nigerians have been inundated with lots of stories about the cure for Covid-19, leaving people with different beliefs. Some believe that constant sex as well as enough consumption of alcoholic drink offer a permanent cure, while others hold the view that chloroquine does the magic. The Chloroquine followers grew with pronouncement from the American President, Donald Trump, that Chloroquine could cure the virus. Yet, there are those who believe that exposure to sun kills the virus. Others equally believe that taking tobacco snuffs or chewing ginger and garlic settle the matter, even as others believe that taking a mixture of boiled Dogonyaro leaves, slices of lemon orange, ginger and garlic, prevents the disease, and at the same time, cures an infected person.
There is another group that believes in the potency of a mixture of gin (kaikai), alligator pepper, and lemon as an antidote to Covid-19. If a person who is educated believes in all of these, one could imagine what happens to other illiterate ones. And some of these wrong views are held strongly by the educated Nigerians because they lack the right information.
Now, some Nigerians have argued that these misconceptions would have been laid to rest if somebody like the president had been addressing Nigerians regularly as his counterparts in Ghana, Burundi and other small African countries are doing. “If it were elections, you would have seen the president addressing Nigerians. If you complain, they will tell you that he has been speaking to Nigerians through his media aides, ministers for Health, and Information as well as the Director General, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control among other government functionaries. But, that is not enough; we want to see him address us on regular basis just like other presidents elsewhere are doing,” they insisted.
With all the myths flying around in the social media, some Nigerians want to know where the National Orientation Agency (NOA) has gone to. This class of Nigerians believes that the agency which should be under the Ministry of Information is not doing enough to sensitize and conscientise Nigerians about the virus. They quickly remind all that if the agency is up and running to its responsibility, there would be no need to contemplate employing the services of the military to enforce compliance to stay at home and closure of market order in the country. “If you conscientise people about the virus, they will voluntarily comply with all the safety measures put in place by the government. They would also voluntarily submit themselves for test. How will the military enforce compliance? Do they know who is sick or who has the virus,” they wondered.
There is also the general belief that Coronavirus is a rich man’s problem, probably because of the caliber of people so far diagnosed with the virus. But, that is not also true. Debunking the myth on television last week, the Chief Executive Officer, Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, said it is everybody’s problem since everybody is exposed to it. He also called on Nigerians to unite to fight the pandemic, saying, “There is no better time to come together and work together than now. Social distancing is hard to maintain but we must do it for now. Nigerians must not be forced to comply with any order. Their minds and hearts need to be won over, otherwise they will go underground. But, when you win over their hearts and minds, they can hold one another responsible to do what they need to do to win this battle.”
Reasons for the confusion
It is a consensus among Nigerians that if successive governments had not blatantly neglected the health sector, the panic and fear that is currently associated with the Coronavirus, wouldn’t have been this much. But, regrettably, successive political leaders deliberately refused to develop the health sector; instead they prefer to seek medical help outside because they can afford it, while millions who are poor are left to die in the substandard health facilities in the country.
A section of Nigerians is angry that year in year out, billions of Naira that is budgeted for the health sector, end up in private pockets without anybody being held to account for the monies. “All along, our leaders have been paying lip service to the health sector. They never considered the common man. They are selfish and wicked,” they submitted.
Chicken coming home to roost
Today, what many Nigerians had feared over the years is here with them. Corona-virus has suddenly exposed the emptiness of Nigeria’s health facilities and those who are used to flying abroad for medical help are stuck in the country. It is reported that there are only five testing laboratories for the virus as at today. Quarantine centres were non-existent before the outbreak. As it is, the elite are afraid to even leave their immediate environment, not to talk of travelling overseas for any medical assistance, because those overseas countries are currently facing more serious existential threats. In fact, it is no more about those countries restricting Nigerians from entering their territories, it is the other way round. The argument is that many Nigerians won’t even go for free because the effect of Covid-19 is more devastating in those countries than in the country. As a matter of fact, most of the elite are even bringing their families back home from those foreign countries where many of them had lived for several years. They come home to receive treatment because the fatality rate is higher outside Nigeria. So, it appears the Coronavirus has leveled everybody and consigned the rich and the poor, the educated and the uneducated, the elite ruling class and the proletariats to make use of the dilapidated health facilities, which successive leaders refused to fix over the years.
Analysts believe that this is the time for the country’s political leaders to look inward and rebuild the health sector. “It is time to respond to the yearning of the masses and develop the health sector to a standard comparable to those in the advanced countries of the world. There are those who stretch the argument further that maybe, it is a way God wants to answer the cry of the downtrodden that have been on the receiving end of the indifference of the leadership over the years.
“Nigeria must rise from the ashes of the effect of this pandemic and build enviable health facilities across the country. Never again shall the leaders of the country be held hostage due to their ineptitude and insensitivity to the plight of their subject. Even some small African countries have world class health institutions, where they have taken recourse to as this pandemic ravages the earth. Former South African president, late Nelson Mandela did not seek medical care outside South Africa. South African leaders built world class health institutions to cater to the health needs of their people and that is the way to go in Nigeria after this Covid-19 pandemic,” they stated.
Positive side of Covid-19
The last one week has witnessed an appreciable upsurge in the number of new cases, thus forcing governments at various levels to take drastic measures to contain its further spread. Some of the measures include shutting down some public places where people congregate in large numbers, shutting down markets, closing some government institutions and asking some categories of workers to stay at home for some period of time among other measures.
However, analysts are quick to point out that apart from the downsides of Covid-19, it also has numerous positives, one of which is the fact that politicians now are now constrained to reflect on the need to develop the country even as countries now realise the importance of God. Countries that hitherto did not believe in the existence of God are now looking up to Him. The development has also shown that all humans are equal and that nobody, no matter his colour or status is more human than the other.
They contend that one of the greatest positives of this pandemic is that the Nigerian elite are now forced to pay attention to the health sector. They have to do that because they cannot fly out to get medical help. They have been forced to face the reality, which is that the health sector is in tatters. Thus, they are already looking inward to see how the country’s health sector could be developed to be able to respond to future health emergencies.
Considering the contributions from individuals, corporate organisations and governments at various levels to ensure that adequate medical facilities to contain the pandemic are provided, Nigerians are of the opinion that when the dust settles, the country would have better health facilities, which could be improved upon. “Maybe, this is how God wants to force our leaders to develop our health sector. Yes, because after this Covid-19 troubles, what would be on ground in our health sector would surpass whatever had been put in that sector in the past 50 years. And, surely, they would have learnt their lessons, meaning that henceforth, serious attention would be given to the health sector.”
Again, Covid-19 offers families opportunity to socialise since people are now forced to stay at home. Wives who, hitherto, have lost their husbands to their jobs also have the opportunity to enjoy their marriages once more. Children, who are left in the care of house-help and care-givers, now have the opportunity to stay with their parents and enjoy their companionship.
Still on the good sides of the pandemic, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh, went spiritual when he said: “I am a creationist. God created heaven and earth and all that is between. And His creative word, ‘let there be light,’ is a law which must be obeyed. A man will pick with addition whatever he puts into creation. Anything happening to us at any time is the fruit of what we sowed before; the law never fails. So, this pandemic is a reaping of what we sowed before and we must see it as a challenge that will make us grow in the direction of knowing God’s will. That being the case, since God has commanded us to thank Him in any situation, we must thank Him for pulling our ears to understand that He is the maker and we are not the powerful people we think we are,” he stated.
He said that another good side of the pandemic is that people are discovering new ways of living. “You don’t have to live because you go to night clubs. You don’t have to be active because you are boxing. There are other ways of living and people are being forced to investigate those other ways, having discovered that they are grounded,” he said.
The former minister equally said the pandemic has made the world to realise that the environment has become cleaner and fresher with the grounding of all the industries, air and land transport. “All over the world, in china, Italy, America and every other place, people have discovered that the air pollution is less. When things settle, are they going to allow the level of massive pollution to return because we can all see that the environment is cleaner now? People are now seeing the effect of non-performance of heavy duty vehicles, industries, flight and all those. They are all grounded and people have now seen that the air is fresher. Will people move worldwide for a healthier living condition? How we can move out of all these industrial complexes that pollute our air? Those are the big issues after the pandemic,” he submitted.
He maintained that a time to think is now because the Covid-19 challenges have just presented an opportunity for Nigerians to see things differently and see how they can work in and with nature.