President Muhammadu Buhari should dissolve the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 without further ado. It is high time we ended the hysteria about the coronavirus pandemic, whether first wave, second wave or third wave! The death rate occasioned by coronavirus pales into insignificance when compared with deaths on a regular basis as a result of other (preventable and treatable) diseases.
For instance, pneumonia, a preventable disease, claims the lives over 150,000 children every year in Nigeria! At least 90,000 Nigerians die of malaria every year! At least 50,000 of our women die during childbirth every year! However, the total number of deaths in Nigeria as a result of coronavirus is 1,311!
Besides, if the restrictions continue or there is any further lockdown, millions of the masses will die as a result of hunger or poor nutrition occasioned by loss of means of livelihood. All our health indices will take a further plunge into the abyss irrecoverably. The poor have yet to recover from months of lockdown in 2020. Buhari’s government is for the masses. Yet, it is the same masses that suffer the consequences of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.
The well-heeled members of the PTF have done their best. It is time to wind up. The Nigeria Centre for Disease and Control (NCDC) should be left to continue its statutory job. President Buhari is a friend of the talakawas. He should no longer be misled.
We appear to be self-centred in this country. Oftentimes, we play to the gallery. How often we forget that Nigeria is not in Europe, North America nor is it among the Asian Tigers!
I often wonder why those in the fore front calling for restrictions, abridged or disguised lockdown, those calling for non-resumption of academic activities in the universities or indefinite extension of school holidays are usually public sector workers and political office holders whose jobs and emoluments are secure.
This group of citizens, who are not up to 5 per cent of the country’s population, are sure of their salaries at the end of every month! Over 80 per cent of the Nigerian workers are in the informal sector. They rely on daily income to feed their families. A number of them eke out a living daily in the public educational institutions that have been closed down for nearly a year.
Many educational labour union leaders have their children in private higher institutions of learning in and out of the country. Since resumption of academic activities in these Nigerian private universities, one is yet to read of any student that died of coronavirus. Yet, before the advent of COVID-19, occasionally, we read the sad news of the death of one student or the other due to other preventable diseases in the country. Were citizens not dying at a higher rate from other preventable diseases before COVID-19 reared its ugly head? It is time to end the hysteria about coronavirus in Nigeria.
In one state alone, infant mortality in the year 2020 was higher than the number of citizens the nation lost to COVID-19. In another state, maternal mortality was higher than the total number of compatriots that succumbed to the pandemic. Chances are, more Nigerians have lost their lives as a result of fear of COVID-19 than the number that actually succumbed to the dreaded contagion. There are lamentable tales of preventable deaths of citizens just because the health personnel refused to attend to them for fear of COVID-19 infection. These people did not fall sick because of an attack of coronavirus. Nigerians had been falling sick before the advent of COVID-19. How can we then conclude that all health conditions are products of coronavirus infection?
Nigeria is in a recession. The economy, rather than grow, has contracted by about 5 per cent. As a result of the debilitating 2020 lockdowns, many Nigerian companies sacked and continue to sack their workers. Thousands of others have had to right-size or down-size (euphemisms for retrenchment), since there is no longer business. Some companies are paying their employees 50 per cent or 25 per cent of their salaries. Some firms are not paying at all, they are not making money; they are no longer in business!
This has created a social anomie. At the moment, unemployment has skyrocketed. Prices of goods have shot up astronomically. Some have gone up as high as 300 per cent, as a result of economic paralysis occasioned by COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.
Currently, there is a dangerous surge in crime. States are battling with rise in teenage pregnancies, rape and murder as a result of closure of schools. Idle hands work for the devil! As livelihoods of citizens are wiped off, the rate of suicide as a result of frustrations is bound to rise.
The Nigerian economy cannot sustain these renewed staggered and scattered restrictions across the country. Life must return to normal without further ado. Wearing of face masks, washing of hands and social distancing, as much as practicable, should suffice.
Observation is one of the methods of science. How many of the poor masses have died of COVID-19 in Nigeria?! Yet, thousands have died as a result of other (preventable) diseases. As at January 3, 2021, in wealthy United States of America, the number of deaths was 360,028. In another rich country, the United Kingdom, the number of deaths was 75,024. But in a poor country like Nigeria, the number of deaths was 1,311! What conclusions can be drawn from the figures? Could it be that coronavirus is not a Nigerian disease? Could it be that COVID-19 is not a poor man’s disease?
With the high rate of Nigerians’ disregard for ‘safety regulations’ such as social distancing and use of face masks, especially in markets, bus stops, bank premises, during (Edo) elections, at the registration offices of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC), even at the peak of the pandemic, millions of the Nigerian masses should have died of coronavirus! But NO!
It’s time to end the hysteria about COVID and face other more important matters germane to the well-being of the overwhelming majority of Nigerians. How do we end the yearly deaths of thousands of Nigerians from pneumonia, malaria, diarrhoea, measles, tuberculosis, etcetera, etcetera? How do we contain rising maternal mortality and child mortality?
We deeply regret any life lost to coronavirus but empirical evidence has shown that other diseases kill at least 10 times more in Nigeria than COVID-19. We sympathize with those who lost their loved ones to the pandemic. Our hearts are with them. The life of every Nigeria is important but we cannot kill a million in order to save 10!
Public and private primary, secondary and tertiary educational institutions should reopen without any delay. Worship centres should reopen without let or hindrance. We appreciate the efforts of government across the federation to protect Nigerians from the infectious disease. Now is the time to end all forms of restrictions and lockdowns. We cannot kill a million in order to protect 10. As experts have predicted, coronavirus is not about to disappear even if we lock down Nigeria for another year. A degeneration of the social anomie is inevitable if there are any further restrictions. It is time to end the hysteria about coronavirus.
• Soyombo, media
professional and public affairs analyst, writes from Abeokuta via [email protected]