Chika Abanobi and Elizabeth Ogunbamowo
Whether you agree or not, February 27 has now become a watershed date in the annals of Nigerian history, for it was on that day, February 27, 2020, that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was officially announced in the country. This followed the positive testing, in Lagos, of an Italian citizen who entered the country on February 25, from Milan, Italy, on a business visit. He fell ill on February 26 and was tested and confirmed of the virus by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), part of the laboratory network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. He was subsequently transferred to the Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH), Yaba, for treatment.
“Citizens must not abuse social media and indulge in spreading misinformation that causes fear and panic,” the Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, warned on the day he announced the Italian case. “The Federal Ministry of Health, through Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, will continue to provide updates and will initiate all measures required to prevent the spread of an outbreak in Nigeria.”
Increasing number of cases and divisions among Nigerians
But three months later, the number has risen from the index case to about 12,000 confirmed cases, comprising about 8,000 active cases, about 4,000 recoveries and about 400 deaths. With the exception of Cross River and Kogi states where no case has been officially reported, so far, the pandemic has spread to virtually all the states in Nigeria, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). And so has the misinformation, which Ehanire warned about, through the social media, especially Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Youtube, leading to, not just fear and panic but now widespread skepticism among the populace, about the pandemic.
From this worrisome development, three groups of Nigerians have emerged. The first are those who don’t believe in the existence of the virus, despite increasing cases and overwhelming evidences from within and outside the country. The second are those who used to believe but later changed their minds and started believing the information, especially conspiracy theories being dished out by social media. The third and the last are those Nigerians who still believe in the phenomenon despite avalanche of misinformation and alleged misdoings of Nigerian public officers.
Saturday Sun findings show that whereas the first group evolved from the conspiracy theories created from the alleged radiation mishap that took place during the installation of 5G network cables in Wuhan and in many parts of the world, including Nigeria, and the widely rumoured China expansionist drive and creation of a new world order by Bill Gate and co. through the rigging of our skin underneath, with a nano-sized microchip, the second group emerged from constant and consistent bombardment of misinformation through the social media and the alleged personal profiteering by government officials. The third group comprises mainly of people who survived the pandemic, who lost loved ones and Nigerians who are awed by and who believe in the updates being provided by the news channels and government officials.
Those who don’t believe and why
“There are coronavirus cases in almost all Nigerian states,” Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), warned in one of its sms messages. “Even those who have not traveled can be affected. Follow guidance from health authorities.” Sadiq Shehu, a businessman and Kano indigene believes that there is nothing like Coronavirus anywhere in Nigeria. This is in spite of the alleged mysterious deaths taking place in Kano. According to the man who does not want his photograph published along with his view, the figures of cases being pushed out, on daily basis, by the NCDC are not enough evidence to show the existence of the pandemic. He is hardly impressed by the agency’s magnanimous act. In fact, as far as he is concerned, they are spurious figures as no one gets to see the photographs and videos of either the hospitalized in the isolation centres or the dead, as is the case with other countries like Italy, Spain, United States and Brazil. Asked to explain the cause of the burgeoning figures of deaths in Kano, his home state, he attributed it to a natural cause. “The truth is, most of the deceased have been suffering from some illnesses before the alleged pandemic started,” he said.
“COVID-19 can affect anyone,” NCDC warned in another of its sms messages. “People of all races, ages and economic status have been infected. Let’s take responsibility to reduce the risk of infection.” Like Shehu, Halimat Usman, a solicitor with a Lagos-based law firm believes that Coronavirus is not existent in Nigeria, “If it is, why is the Nigerian government not being transparent with information about it?” she queried. “In other countries, if any COVID-19 patient is admitted or eventually die, you would see the video of the incident or probably the location of the deceased’s body but in Nigeria, we only announce results without proofs. Sincerely, I don’t believe in it at all.”
And, she said that right from its alleged inception in Nigeria till date she has never believed one bit of what the government health officials and members of task force, whether at the Federal or state level, have been telling Nigerians though she believes the virus exists in other parts of the world. At this juncture, she turns to you and asks you to disprove her claim. “Ok, with the exception of that of Abba Kyari, have you seen any video of a death caused by COVID-19 in Nigeria?” You said no, and she came in with a clincher. “My sister that Coronavirus is in Nigeria is a misconception. I don’t subscribe to fraudulent gov- ernment at all,” she snapped.
As you confront the next person who goes by the name, Ikechukwu Ukwuoma, (like Shehu, he also refused to allow his photograph published along with his view), with the question of whether he believes in the pandemic or not, you soon discovered that mutual trust between the government and its citizens, seems to be the rarest commodity in Nigeria, at the moment. “I think the government is doing business with coronavirus not only in Nigeria but in all the countries in Africa,” he said. “Look at the poor health facilities in Nigeria. If indeed, Coronavirus is in Nigeria more than half of the population would have died by now.”
And, although the Minister of Health duly announced the index case of the Italian, Ukwuoma said that, ironically, his skepticism started from there. “Can’t you see that the government was unable to provide the picture or video of the Italian man they claimed was in their custody? It seems that they just put out the lies in order to get money from W.H.O (World Health Organisation) and they are making a lot of money with it.”
Amadi Ikenna, also from Lagos, believes strongly that the government is falsifying figures. Like others in this category, it all boils down to the issue of transparency with the reports. “Why are we not being shown videos or pictures of COVID-19 cases?” he queried like others before him did. “Why are there no transparent reports of cases? We hear about deaths. But we don’t get to see or hear families of the deceased claim the deaths. It is unfortunate,” he said with a vehement shaking of head.
Onuorji Susan, another Lagos resident said although she believes that the pandemic exists but what she is not really sure is the government reeling out the figures daily. “I believe there is Coronavirus in Nigeria but the numbers are not as high as what the government and the media reports are trying to make us believe. They’re simply falsifying figures for their own gain,” she said.
A respondent who simply identified herself as Amanda said at the beginning she believed there was something like Coronavirus but somewhere along the line she became convinced that there was nothing like that. According to her, “the videos released from the isolation centers made the virus look like a joke. Basically, I feel the government and health workers are just bringing random people as COVID-19 patients and that’s because the government have something to gain from the money being donated by various philanthropists. How can they claim that the cases are increasing yet allow people to roam about?” she quipped.
Like Onuorji, Larry Kohkoh from Kogi believes that the virus is in Nigeria but wonders why the figures are being inflated. “Yes, I believe there is Coronavirus in Ni- geria but the Federal government is hyping the figures. We see how other countries report cases of the virus worldwide. It is only in Nigeria that they give figures and we don’t see any infected person. The only thing they do is to give figures.”
He believes that if the figures are as high as the government claims, more preventive measures would have been put in place rather than relaxing the already existing ones. He added that whereas right from the beginning, he believed that there were some people infected with the virus but now, he doesn’t believe in what’s happening any more. For Ezeokoli Amarachi, COVID-19 is a thing of the past, it is no longer in Nigeria, she insists. “Yes, once there was COVID-19 in Nigeria but it doesn’t exist anymore,” she said. “Those figures are just being falsi- fied day by day.”
“I believe it’s in other countries but not in Nigeria”, Mrs. Amarachi Ozoemena, 43-year-old business-woman based in Mile 12, Lagos, said. “How can they claim that scores of people are being discharged everyday and they have not told other African countries what they are using to treat the patients? They keep showing us on TV the Oyinbo patients from United States, Italy, Spain, Brazil, United Kingdom, China, but where are the Nigerian patients? Let’s see them. There should be transparency, or are they hiding something from us? My friends working in the medical laboratories told me that coronavirus couldn’t survive the hot weather in Nigeria. They keep discharging people anyhow? Are they treating typhoid and malaria? If it is that easy, why are the great Americans dying like fowls? With our poor health facilities here, can we survive it if it really hits Nigeria?”
Doubts occasioned by distribution of palliatives
In April, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State, distributed relief materials of 3kg of rice, cas- sava flakes, beans and two tomato pastes to the elderly and the most vulnerable persons in the state. The distribution said to have targeted about 200,000 people, caused rancour, accusations and counter-accu- sations and, in some places, disbelief, among residents who couldn’t get or got much less than what was promised. Within the same period, the state government claimed to have tested 118,000 people during its house-to-house community active search for coronavirus cases. Out of this number, it said that 119 residents showed symptoms.
Mrs. Omavuare Olowolaiyemo, 38, a fashion designer based in Ojo, Lagos found those figures and claims mindbogging. “If door-to-door testing is being introduced in Lagos as officials claim,” she said, “there should also be door-to- door provision of palliative. There should be increase in the number of testing kits being provided for, to allow public health officials carry out more tests on daily basis. This will enable them stop tagging malaria, asthma and fever etc., coronavirus.”
The alleged Chinese connection
For Mr. Jacob Egba Sule, 51, a trader based in Shibiri, Oto Awori, Lagos, “the so-called COVID-19 is a laboratory-prepared virus gone awry and which started spreading globally irrespective of the climatic factor of the various countries. So what our people need is more enlightenment, sincerity from authorities, palliatives and strict adherence to rules.”
Pastor Joel O. Ezekiel, based in Nnewi, Anambra State, said that “although those who claim that COVID-19 is a disease brought about by China through laying of 5G cables, has no scientific proofs to back up their claims, China may not actually be able to completely wash her hands off the blame game connecting COVID-19 with 5G. The fact that 5G masts were hurriedly installed in many major cities of the world with official government protection, while citizens are placed under lockdown and are asked not to move about, easily lends credence to the accusations that COVID-19 is connected to the 5G technology.”
He pushed the argument further with the following observations: “With the news making the rounds that China, is hand-in-gloves with Bill Gates and his co-conspirators to zealously and forcefully impose the idea of worldwide vaccination, the wearing of face masks, social distancing, it is difficult not to believe that there is a hidden agenda surrounding COVID-19. It is al- most easier to believe going by happenings around the world, especially with revelations from the accusations and rejection of testing kits and vaccines from China by the USA, Canada, and the Great Britain as well as Russia, that COVID-19 is a man-made health crisis.”
He ended his submission with reference to the Bible. “For those who understand eschatology, Biblical prophecies regarding end times are becoming fulfilled in bits and pieces. It may not be too difficult to say that China is culpable and that COVID-19 is more of a ‘plandemic’ than pandemic. It seems our governments have not done enough. There seems to be integrity and sincerity crisis with regard to the response of the governments so far. It is easy to assume from reports across the country that COVID-19 pandemic has since become a moneymaking venture for government agencies, whereas those who allegedly tested positive to the virus are at the short end of the stick. And this is unfortunate and reprehensible. How wonderful it would be if the Federal and state governments would do what few African na- tions like Rwanda and Madagascar are reported to be doing for their people.”
To buttress the points he made earlier, obviously, he forwarded to one of our correspondents a WhatsApp link in which the Japanese professor of physiology and medicine, Tasuku Honjo, was said to have claimed that the corona vi- rus is not natural. “If it is natural, it will not have affected the whole world like that,” he was quoted to have said. “Because, depending on the nature, the temperature is different in different countries. If it were natural, it would only have affected countries with the same temperature as China. Instead, it spreads to a country like Switzerland, the same way it spreads to desert areas, whereas if it were natural, it would have spread in cold places, but would have died in hot places. I have done 40 years of research on animals and viruses. It is not natural. It is manufactured and the virus is completely artificial.”
But a check with the Wikipedia website link he referred our reporter to, showed the man disclaiming the statements attributed to him. The BBC Reality Check team reported that, “in a statement published on the website of Kyoto University, he said he was greatly saddened that his name had been used to spread ‘false accusations and misinformation. Scientists say genome sequencing shows that the virus came from animals and was not man-made.”
The confused and undecided
Mr. Emmanuel Moses from Benue State confessed to being confused with developments on the pandemic after three months. “I don’t know where I belong to anymore,” he told Saturday Sun. “When you see what’s happening in European countries, the pictures and videos being shown, you are made to accept that COVID-19 is real. But when you come here you don’t know what to believe. It’s not as if I don’t believe that the pandemic is real but our government can’t be trusted. They play politics with everything. Their propaganda is endless.”
Nigerians who believe in COVID-19 and why
But for Messrs. Michael Otono, Nestor Akubueze, Mr. Peter Okonkwo, Kelechi Udochukwu, Oghenemarho Ighorodje and Chief Chika Okonkwo the pandemic is real and nothing to toy with. While Otono, 60, a Surulere, Lagos-based civil servant would want governments at Federal and state levels “to stop playing politics with it,” Akubueze, resi- dent of Zaria Road, Kano said he believes in its existence because many deaths have occurred glob- ally from the virus. “It has wrought unprecedented deaths in many countries, Nigeria inclusive,” he said. “China may be culpable in its emergence but there is no proof of its relationship with the 5G network.” He recommends ag- gressive sensitization through the media and credible individuals, churches and mosques.
For Peter Okonkwo, 65, a retired civil servant based in World Bank Housing Estate, Owerri, Imo State, “though there has been no case of COVID-19 reported in my area of residence, one should not wait to experience the virus before believing that it is real. Media reports, both local and foreign, on the ravaging effects of the pandemic on the whole world, our country, Nigeria, not excluded, point to the reality of the existence of the monster.
“WHO is still battling to find a solution to this global pandemic. God will help His people. The testimony of those who survived coronavirus in Nigeria is enough evidence to believe that it exists.” Quoting from Hosea 6: 1 and Isaiah 45:22, he said: “to tackle this pandemic, the government, at all levels and the people need to return to the Lord our Maker and humble themselves before Him in a solemn assembly and seek His face to obtain His mercy and forgiveness so that every measure taken by government will be fruitful.”
Ighorodje, 32, an administrator based in Surulere, Lagos would like to see Babatunde Raji Fashola, former governor of Lagos State, drafted into the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19. This is because, according to him, he was key to the quick stoppage of Ebola in Lagos and Nigeria dur- ing his political tenure in office. And, he believes he can repeat the same feat if drafted. “Create more isolation and treatment centres,” he said. “People are dying. The fact that our government is play- ing games with it does not make it unreal and should not make us deny its existence. The reason we appear to have low figures in Nigeria for now is because we have not done up to 100,000 tests.”
Udochukwu, 55, a business consultant, based in Gbagada, Lagos, said: “I believe it exists because it has affected me directly. Two of my relations residing overseas contracted it. One recovered but unfortunately we lost the other. Coronavirus is a leveler; it respects no status, age or sex. Anyone exposed to it gets infected. This is why governments must have a coordinated approach in its fight. Enforcement of the guidelines announced must be ensured. Adequate testing kits must be provided. Health workers and caregivers must be protected and insurance policy should be put in place for them.”
Chief Okonkwo, a Red Cross official based in Owerri, Imo State, noted that he and his team wouldn’t have embarked on aggressive enlightenment campaign in his local government area, Ihitte Uboma, if they believe that the virus does not exist. Describing it as “real, dangerously contagious and deadly,” he called on Nigerians to follow the guidelines being given by both the Federal and state health authorities on how to re- main safe from the pandemic.
“Most people with COVID-19 may not show any signs but can still spread the disease,” NCDC noted in one of its sms messages. “As you go about work or business, wear a face mask, wash your hands with soap & water, stay at least 2 metres away from another person. Take responsibility.”