By Lawrence Enyoghasu
The evidence stares you in the face right from Idi-Araba Bus Stop. It is quite obvious that a health facility treat¬ing COVID-19 patients is lo¬cated around. Welcome to Idi- Araba, Mushin, Lagos one of the thickly populated Lagos su¬burbs.
Commercial motorcycle riders here do their work fully kitted, in compliance with the Federal Government directives on the pandemic preventive pro¬tocols.
They wear facemasks and in¬sist that their passengers follow suit. Here, residents take the in-struction of wearing masks and observing social distance very, very seriously. It is not diffi¬cult to know why: the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) where most of the vic¬tims are treated occupies the ma¬jor part of the landmass, with its staff living in the environs.
It is not only the commercial motorcycle riders that take the direc¬tive seriously; other residents like fruit sellers also do. They insist on prospective buyers watching while they turn the fruits around for them to make up their minds to buy or not, in¬stead of allowing them to touch every fruit before they leave. A local herbs seller keeps a rubber water dispenser that she insists her customers should wash their hands with if they are going to sit in her shop. Another lady, a food seller, keeps reminding her customers that there is not enough space to take in more customers and express her wish that they go for takeaway packs.
Residents share reason for the climate of fear
If you dig deeper into the spreading climate of fear, you are likely to end your journey in one of the nearby wards at LUTH handling COVID-19 cas¬es. In this community, the fear of the pandemic is the beginning of wisdom. It is such that if you knock on their doors, as a visi¬tor, they are not likely to open for you for fear of being struck down by the COVID-19 ghost. It may not be so in other com¬munities but the fear is real here. Almost everyone is scared of the pandemic. And they avoid strangers like a plague, especially anyone dressed as a medical practitioner.
Some sources interviewed said that the fear became heightened after the death of their Baale, High Chief Alamu Ayanyemi. The 63-year-old man was rumoured to have died of COVID-19, owing to his activities with LUTH officials and their staffs. Soon, unfounded rumours talked about some LUTH work¬ers contracting the disease and the fear of spreading it among the residents took a life of its own.
Such was the situation when this reporter walked into their midst to find out what actually is driving their fear. A commercial motorcycle rider, Hakeem Wale, said that it is because the second wave of the virus seems more dangerous and deadlier than the first. He added that the mere fact of watching those who tested positive to it being brought in to LUTH in large numbers is enough to instil fear in the heart of a committed cynic, forcing him to take some precau¬tions and err on the side of cau¬tion rather than presumption.
Action, it is said, speaks loud¬er than words. While Wale was speaking with this reporter, he kept pushing his nose mask up and down, sometimes, to allow him breathe more freely, and, other times, to protect himself. The man who claimed to have been plying his trade on the LUTH-Ojuelegba road for five years and who spoke mostly in Yoruba because he found that more convenient, said: “Govern¬ment scammed us with the first lockdown but they are afraid to lock down again because of what is likely be the outcome if they do. But the truth is that the virus is real now. We hardly al¬low passengers to cough while they are on top of our okada be¬cause most of them in this place have tested positive even as the hospital management is trying hard to cover it up.
“We are the ones close to these people, the health work¬ers. We hear their conversa¬tions. Sometimes, they advise us by themselves because they would not like to contract it from an okada man. We see them when they bring in severe CO¬VID-19 patients. They bring them in through the backdoor.”
Iya Kinsu, a local herb seller told Saturday Sun that she is afraid.
“Although they said some of their workers tested positive, we have been careful because these people are also our customers, brothers and sis¬ters and neighbours,” she said. “They have the same thing to lose like we do. They rumoured that it was what killed our Baale but we don’t know because his corpse was not taken to the hospital but buried according to Muslim tradition. We can’t doubt those who said that he died of COVID because he was in constant liai¬son with the hospital manage¬ment and authorities concerning community matters.”
Speculations and fears
The fear is most felt among residents, tenants and landlords, on Paul Oguntola Street where the senior staff of the hospital live; Anjorin where their youths working with okada or keke pick and drop passengers from any of the surrounding areas to the gates of the hospital; Apesin where most of the landlords do menial jobs for LUTH as well as harbour some of the junior staff. Comrade Bankole Ahmed, 50, one of the landlords and head of the Yaigbo Community Devel-opment Area, expressed his wish to see the government spray the area with anti-virus chemical as well as provide extra-protective mea¬sures for them. The man who lives on Cardoso Street off Ape¬sin, stated his reason for saying so:
“We live very close to LUTH where they treat COVID pa¬tients,” he said. “And they have not provided special assistance to us. They treat us like touts. We have had reported cases in the area yet the government turned a deaf ear to us. At a point, we told them to take to herbs and they all complied. That is why when you get to LUTH road, you will see many people drink¬ing herbs, irrespective of their age and background.
“We have tried to use the right channel to complain. The last time any politician or govern¬ment came here, we were given four Derica cups of rice to share among ourselves. We are in con¬stant fear of contracting the vi¬rus because we dwell with those who have contracted it.”
On the speculation making the rounds about the death of their Baale, Ahmed noted that the youths are not happy with the way government treated his death. “We lost our Baale two weeks ago,” he confirmed. “He might have died of COVID be¬cause while alive he received dignitaries and related with LUTH management. As you have come, if he was alive, he would have been the one to at¬tend to you. Another thing is that he shares fence with LUTH and that is risky. We need govern¬ment assistance. The govern¬ment abandoned us because we are in Mushin. So we are not rel¬evant to the government. We are the ones trying to stop the youths in this area from taking matters into their hands.”
Muftau Afuwape, who claimed to have lived in the area for 30 years, said there is no way the people can be the same after watching CO¬VID-19 patients being conveyed to the hospital or hearing about LUTH workers who live in the community contracting the vi¬rus.
“We heard about the workers that died in the hospital recent¬ly,” Afuwape said. “All we pray for is protection and consider¬ation. We have only been hear¬ing about palliatives but we have never seen any.”