Despite the unwanted presence of COVID-19 pandemic in our midst for several months now and the havoc it has done to life and living, some people still remain infected by the bug of unbelief. That includes Mr. Yahaya Bello, the governor of Kogi State, who has fought vaingloriously to prove that his state is an idyllic island untouched and untainted by the droplets of the COVID-19 pandemic. If a state governor thinks in this atavistic fashion despite the overwhelming evidence of the ubiquitousness of the pandemic, how do you expect poor, illiterate persons in our midst to think?
Mr. Bello’s posture is the worst form of disservice to his state and Nigeria for it is a shame, a crying shame, for a governor in any of Nigeria’s states to state, without proof, that COVID-19 is a scam. He has conveniently assumed a pose of superior disdain for all the health information churned out daily by responsible, knowledgeable global organisations to the effect that the pandemic not only exists but that it has neither a cure nor a vaccine yet. If a man of Bello’s calibre cannot be brought to the circle of reason on this matter, how can we then convince the bulk of our hapless population who are stuck in the ignorant web of their own weaving?
The truth, therefore, is that we still have a long way to go in convincing our people that the pandemic is real and that we can do certain things to limit its spread and reduce the death toll. The three most essential things we are told to do are (a) wear face masks (b) wash your hands regularly with soap and water and (c) observe social distancing of at least two metres. Some organisations are doing their best to induce an observance of these life-saving rules. Some provide water and soap or sanitisers and temperature monitors.
They also insist that those who come into their facilities must observe social distancing by organising their entry in a manner that supports that objective. They also ensure that all their staff and visitors wear their face masks during their temporary sojourn in their facility. So, the problem of non-observance of these protocols is considerably reduced in many organised public and private sector settings. But they remain a serious problem with the informal private sector settings such as markets, worship centres, eateries, bars, lounges and motor parks. Many of them have exhibited an insane sense of ambivalence, as if they believe that, by some celestial sleight of hand, the pandemic will go away or will halt its tragic journey soon, now, yesterday.
Of the three items in the must-do list for avoiding the spread of the pandemic, the face mask is perhaps the most important and the easiest to enforce. The virus is transmitted and spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. The other method of spread is through surfaces like door handles, railings, etc, that we touch. The spread through these surfaces can be reduced by regular handwashing and the wearing of disposable gloves, where available. But, according to experts, the spread can be largely curtained if people religiously wear their face masks, in addition to observing the other protocols. Health officials think that mask wearing is the most effective way of reducing the possibility of community transmission.
There is evidential proof of reduced transmission in countries where there is a strict enforcement of face masks wearing. Countries such as China, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong that have had the experience of using face masks to curb the spread of such viruses as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in the past have attested to the benefits of such masks.
That is why they are the leaders in punitive enforcement of face mask wearing during this COVID-19 era. But even countries such as Germany and United States that have not had that epidemic experience are ramping up punitive fines that can discourage disobedience and induce compliance.
For instance, Germany imposes a fine of €10,000 for non-wearing of face masks, while Miami, Florida, United States, charges $500 for the offence. In Nigeria, the punishment for non-compliance varies from state to state. In Anambra State, there is a fine of N10,000; in Lagos, the fine is N100,000 plus 14 days of community service; while Cross River State charges N200,000 and 14 days of community service. Despite these stiff fines, many Nigerians are still unwilling to discard some of those fantasies and fads that they think make life comfortable.
They crowd into churches and night clubs unmindful of the immense danger that they face. It is obvious that some of them cannot afford to buy face masks when their most immediate and compelling need is to find food to eat. Others can afford but just don’t want to wear them because they feel it is an inconvenience and makes them unable to breathe freely. But I am sure that it is not the equivalent of a knee on their necks. However, there must be the push by the various government and private sector organisations to invest in the mass production of cheap face masks.
In many cities some face masks go for as high as N500 while it is possible to buy some for N20 or less in rural areas. The members of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 have set a good example by wearing face masks in their daily briefings to the media. That is a demonstration of good leadership on their part, which the citizens should emulate without waiting to be whipped before they do so.
Wearing face masks and observing the other protocols can reduce the spread and make the push for the opening of the economy a realistic proposition. But some Nigerians don’t even wear the masks properly. Every mask worn must cover the mouth and nose in order to prevent the passage of fluid from one person to another. It is also not to be worn for too long in order to prevent what is called hypoxia, that is, the lack of adequate oxygen.
We are told that we should, also, not use masks when we jog or do serious exercises so that we do not get choked. Many Nigerians have turned the face mask into some kind of fashion item, wearing different colours of them to match their outfits on each day that they step out. There is no problem with that. We are people who enjoy exhibitionism and showiness.
Some people simply hang the masks loosely around their chins without covering their mouths or nose. This may be a way of fulfilling all righteousness but it does not serve the purpose for which it was created. There must be a stricter enforcement of face masks-wearing throughout the country.
That is one item in the COVID-19 arsenal that has not been varied from week to week. It remains a constant fixture in the COVID-19 control architecture. The observation by many analysts is that there are three main groups who have been a cog in the wheel of the smooth curbing of the pandemic: One, some religious leaders who believe that either the virus does not exist or God will rescue them from it. It is this moronic mindset that has brought them into conflicts with governments in some of the states. The second group are the so-called celebrities who are supposed to be models of propriety.
Even though some of them have been penalised in some states, they are unable to adjust to the new reality. As for the irresponsible religious leaders, the least said about them the better. Even though their umbrella body, CAN, has given its okay to the continued closure of their worship centres in some of the states, some rebellious church leaders have sought to violate these restrictions either because they are not members of CAN or that CAN cannot take a decision on their behalf.
The third group are, ironically, the official enforcers, namely the security agencies. It is obvious that, since the wearing of face masks involves all the people in the country who step out into the public space, the security agencies are overwhelmed by the huge number of persons that they have to deal with.
Many of them have also been accused of condonement due to corruption but they must not forget that, in the light of the serious situation in which we are, wearing of the face masks is an absolute necessity. If it is an absolute necessity, it, therefore, leaves us with no choice but to obey.
But we also know that, in life, some people refuse to heed advice even if that advice is necessary for their survival. It was Chesterfield who said that “advice is seldom welcome and those who need it the most like it the least.”
That is why the numbers of the infected and the dead are going up daily. The important thing for us is to think about death, the innumerable deaths caused by this pandemic. It is only by thinking about death that we can appreciate life. With the tragic burst of bad news every day, none of us would want to be numbered among the dead or our loved ones either.
Since there is no victory walk yet over COVID-19, my view is that there is no room now for us to take the serious and excruciating situation in which we find ourselves with mindless passivity. If we view the situation in the calm light of reason, we will know that our choices in the COVID-19 enterprise are very very limited, so limited that it amounts to choicelessness.