The Covid-19 crisis is bringing out the best and the worst in human beings, irrespective of age and sex. Several countries have chosen to be cruel in order to be kind as William Shakespeare would love to to put it. They have fashioned out several measures to halt the rapid spread of the virus in their territories. Some of these measures include inconvenient restrictions such as social distancing, which prescribes distances in public places between persons. Some countries have put a peg on the maximum number of persons that can lawfully assemble in public places. But human beings who think they can defy these restrictions have been savagely dealt with in some countries. In most cases, it is instant flogging of the dissidents. In Uganda and Zimbabwe, policemen were dispatched into churches to horsewhip those who disobeyed the order to avoid large gatherings. In China, people were physically arrested and given some dirty slaps. They did not spare women or the aged. The story of this virus is that it affects men more than it affects women. But it would be stupid for any woman to think that she has, by that fact, some kind of immunity from its devastating impact.
There is no immunity on the basis of sex. The other story is that it affects older people more than the younger ones. The young ones may feel that it means that the corrosive hands of the virus will not touch them. It is a lie. They don’t have any such immunity. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has pointedly told the young ones that they are not invincible. If they are not invincible it means that, like everyone else, they are vincible. They should take the precautions that the WHO and municipal authorities prescribe. But many human beings just think that the virus is a China affair and will never reach them, in spite of the daily global death toll. So, they defy the orders of the authorities in their territories either to stay home or to avoid gatherings that exceed a certain number of people. India, with a population of 1.3 billion people, thought that if it needed to impose severe restrictions so as to reduce the speed of the spread its people would understand and obey. Most of the people obeyed but those who did not were severely humiliated.
They were ordered to lie down on the dirty floor and roll to the left as they were being flogged. Then they would be asked to roll to the right as the severe flogging went on. Those who choose to disobey the orders of the authorities in Nigeria should watch out for the punishment that awaits them. A few days ago, security men in Lagos went into a shop that was selling alcohol and destroyed the entire consignment of drinks that they found in that place. While we may blame the shopowner for disobeying the directive of the state government, many people think it would have been a more humane approach to just seal the shop than destroy the goods at this difficult time. But in moments of crisis, even reasonable people may lose their sense of priority and propriety.
A few weeks ago, the Federal Government directed that tertiary institutions nationwide should close for a month to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. One of the persons who reacted negatively was a man who has earned considerable respect for his public exertions, Afe Babalola. Babalola is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and the proprietor of Afe Babalola University in Ado-Ekiti, Ekiti State. He said: “The Ministry of Education knows that it has no right to close universities. That was why it wrote a letter to the National Universities Commission (NUC) to close down universities. The NUC also knows that the power to close down universities under Section 22 of the Education (National Minimum Standard) provides that it must afford the proprietor of the institutions an opportunity to make representation for consideration within 70 days before it can close down a university.”
He said that the authorities ought to have invited proprietors of universities to an emergency meeting to discuss the letter from the Ministry of Education. Babalola seemed to be worried more about the impact of the one month closure of universities than the impact of the possible spread of the virus among his students and lecturers. He said: “The one-month closure would have adverse effects on the predictable academic calendar of private universities just like the public universities where four year programmes are not completed in eight years.”
This is a non sequitor argument put forward by the learned lawyer. This is close to a war situation, a situation of life and death and every argument must bow to the need for protecting life, whether you operate in a private or public institution. If there is an outbreak of the virus at any university that university will be in deep trouble. Parents will withdraw their kids and the kids will even opt out on their own in preference to staying safely at home.
This virus that has killed thousands of people globally and continues to do so daily deserves to be taken seriously by all sensible persons. This includes institutions of higher or lower learning, churches and mosques and other groups who worry about either the loss of membership or the loss of money in their facilities. They forget that, if their members die, they will lose membership. And if their members die they will lose money. So, isn’t it better to lose membership and or money temporarily than to lose either or both permanently?
Luckily for the world, the irrational persons on this matter are in the minority. Majority of the people appreciate the enormity of the problem and are willing, even if grudgingly, to give what it takes for them and their families to stay alive. Others have actually shown that, in moments of extreme crisis, like this, they are willing to be their brother’s – and sister’s-keeper. A coalition of private sector titans coordinated by the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele, has placed its money muscle at the disposal of the government and the people of Nigeria. They have formed the N1 billion club, a club, which is populated by Nigeria’s foremost capitalists. They want both the rich and the super-rich to put on the table humongous sums for the purpose of tackling the enemy at the door. Other persons with the milk of human kindness are also playing their part, minor or major, in combating the fury of this virus. It is the right spirit at this time and everyone who can help someone in ways big or small should do so.
Now political differences do not matter. Divisions do not matter. They have been buried. The leader of the opposition Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has shown that he is a statesman. He has donated N50 million to help the cause of stemming the tide of the virus. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who has consistently and patriotically harassed the government at the centre for its inefficiency in tackling the multiple problems facing the country, has donated his house for use by the government in tackling the virus.
The Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mele Kyari, has organised a group of indigenous oil producers to fork out N11 billion for tackling the menace. The funds are still rolling in and in the days to come we expect that more men and women of financial timber and caterpillar, apologies to K.O. Mbadiwe, will come on board and make the battle against the virus less arduous.
It is not a fight for only the rich. Everyone who can help should help. In Italy, where there has been a total lockdown for some weeks now, some neighbours simply comfort their neighbours by opening their windows and shouting words of comfort to them. In Nigeria, food is likely to be the need of most people, especially the low income people.
The Lagos State government is working out a formula for delivering packs of food to at least 200,000 Lagosians at the lowest rung of the social and economic ladder. That will not go far but it will help. Other people can also do whatever they can wherever they are to bridge the gap.
It is a mammoth problem and making these deliveries is not a child’s play in a country where there is no reliable database for ascertaining who lives where and what is his station in life. A few untoward fallouts have been noticed since the news of the virus broke. Some unscrupulous persons have resorted to producing and selling fake sanitisers. Others who sell the genuine ones have raised the prices astronomically. It is cruel to exploit people at a time like this when they should be supporting people to survive. But no one can do anything about those who have chosen to be unscrupulous and unconscionable rather than being unconditionally generous and accommodating.