By Muyiwa Adetiba
A quick glance at my phone to see if there was an urgent message before shutting it down to concentrate on my article brought a jolt. It was to alter the direction and texture of this week’s column.
The jolting message was that Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff to the President had tested positive to the raging coronavirus. A day before, the son of a former Vice President had tested positive. That day also announced the first death to coronavirus in Nigeria.
The tragic victim was a former Managing Director of a top parastatal.That same day, a sitting governor said he was self-isolating because he had contact with Atiku Abubakar’s son. Aisha, the wife of the president, also announced that her daughter was self-isolating because she had just returned from a coronavirus infested country.
All these high profile announcements happened in one day. All these high profile announcements confirmed one thing; that the rich also cry. They also indicated that the virus may have penetrated the country much more than the confirmed reports let on.
What bothers me is not so much the fact that COVID-19 has penetrated the highest seat of government and the inner chambers of power. We have long learnt that the virus is no respecter of persons as other world leaders have had their scare in varying degrees. Despite the display of pomp and air of invisibility, a president is as dispensable to God as a beggar on the street.
One life is as fragile as the other and enlightened is the man who realises this. What bothers me are the implications of the news given the culture of leadership in the country and its attitude to laid-down laws. Our leaders believe they are above the laws of the country except those that favour them. So it highly improbable that Abba Kyari and his entourage were tested or screened at the airport as they came in.
Had they been, it is possible that those with a high temperature would have been isolated immediately. A move that could ultimately save lives—including theirs. But we have earlier been told that our legislators felt too big to be tested at the airport. Yet, with this virus, two days or even a few hours can make a difference. Secondly, every Nigerian leader craves people around him.
The more powerful he is, the more people throng around him. And Abba Kyari is a powerful man in the Nigerian context. So he would have hosted courtiers, businessmen and public officials in their tens if not 30s in the week of his coming back to the country. Some of these people would have been infected. Some would have in turn, infected members of their constituencies and families. Moreover, Kyari is the engine room of this administration. His incapacitation would halt the already slow pace of governance. His incapacitation could create a power vacuum.
In a way, it is good that the virus went to the very top so early in the day unlike lasser fever which targeted the poor thus receiving a tepid response from government. It will hopefully elicit a better and more commensurate response than what we got from the other virus which has been killing Nigerians every year. In a way it is good that the borders are closed. It means the sick at whatever level will have to make do with the medical facilities available in the country.
Many of our leaders have never visited Nigerian hospitals before. Not even for a toothache. Now, should they become sick, they will have to. When our elites refer to ‘my doctor’ they are referring to their doctors in the UK, or Dubai or India. Now for the next few weeks, their doctors will be the poorly trained, poorly equipped and poorly motivated Nigerian doctors. The hospitals which had been mere consulting clinics for years because they lack modern equipment, will be their refuge. Our doctors have been emigrating in droves for years. Our leaders have been unperturbed because the solution to their health problems did not lie in Nigeria. Now it does for the next two to three months. I am almost hoping that some of them would have critical health challenges during this period so they can experience what the rest of us go through. They should also be treated in their state hospitals. After all,as you lay your bed so should you lie on it.
This pandemic will unmask many things about the Nigerian system, starting with the face masks. At the height of its crisis, China produced them in millions. America is doing the same. Where are the factories which will produce face masks to save Nigerian lives? Handwashing is critical to stemming the tide. Where are the factories which will produce the sanitisers at the needed quantity and speed? We dare not talk about respirators which are critical for the survival of infected elders.
Or intensive care units. I will be surprised if we even make hospital beds in Nigeria. And if a drug is recommended for speedy treatment, do we have pharmaceutical companies which will quickly manufacture them or do we have to rely on importation? Are we looking up to our universities or research centres for solutions to this pandemic? Or must we always look to Europe?
I mean no respect to the genuine men of God but isn’t it embarrassing that we have more pastors than doctors? More churches than factories and hospitals? The early missionaries took care of the sick. The latter day ones further extort the sick through ‘faith healing’ like the pool of Bethsaida in the Bible.
I have one on my street.Where will the pastors go with their congregants when the virus comes knocking?A famous church has just built a 20-billion naira mega place of worship and is planning to furnish it with 500 million naira. He has boasted that he will dedicate it by Easter. If he goes ahead, he will have to do it with less than 20 people.
That is assuming COVID-19 has not locked him down by then in a badly equipped isolation centre. God has just told him that He does not live in physical structures otherwise he would have had his wish. I pray he listens and does not harden his heart. He can still use his considerable wealth and influence to build a world class hospital. He will save lives in one and souls in the other.
I don’t want to be pessimistic but those who are hoping that our coronavirus experience will reset the minds of our leaders should remember that Obasanjo spent three years in prison. That didn’t make him to re-organise the prison system. But once in a while, they will reap what they sow.