By Donu Kogbara
“Coronavirus” is a word that strikes terror into the hearts of millions of human inhabitants of an increasingly besieged planet earth. And I find it helpful, psychologically, to minimise the power and impact of the word by almost jokily abbreviating it to “coro”.
Apologies if some Vanguard readers find this nicknaming too childishly flippant, given the seriousness of a devastating pandemic that has caused so many deaths. But we are all entitled to coping strategies, for as long as they are legal and not morally suspect.
Okay so coro is now a global obsession; and I’d like to plead for some much-deserved applause for my oft-maligned profession by pointing out the absolutely crucial role that the media – in Nigeria and everywhere else – has played and is playing within this context.
Without print, broadcast and online journalists, we wouldn’t be as well-educated as we are about coro and its numerous ramifications.
If not for the media men and media women who provide a steady stream of visual, aural and written news and features, residents of Abuja, Awka, Adamawa, Asaba, etc, wouldn’t have a clue what was happening in Lagos, currently the coro epicentre in this country.
If not for journalists and their supporters – the technicians who operate cameras, the researchers, the newsroom editors, etc – we wouldn’t have access to the harrowing film footage that comes out of Spanish hospitals every day…or the scary infection and fatality statistics that constantly emerge from so many other locations.
If not for media personnel and their bosses – the owners of media outlets such as this newspaper, Channels TV, Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC, etc – we wouldn’t be able to hear reassuring or inadequate statements from political and religious leaders…or medical experts.
If not for journalists, we wouldn’t be able to read moving testimonials from exhausted yet indomitable frontline healthcare staff in New York, Paris, wherever. If not for journalists, we wouldn’t know which nations were coping well or not so well.
If not for journalists who passionately believe in what they do and are ready to lose sleep and take risks to keep us informed, we wouldn’t be able to see, with our own eyes, the deserted streets of London on TV…or coffins solemnly lined up for burial in Italian churches to which the mortal remains of coro victims are sent.
Journalism is going through one of its finest hours at the moment; and I am proud to be a member (albeit a very minor member!) of the worldwide community of news gatherers and news commentators.
THE BEST CORO ARTICLE I’VE READ SO FAR
Dealing with Covid-19 as a Nigerian – Reality check
By Dike Chukwumerije
MY country reminds me of Samson, on the morning after Delilah had shaved his hair, being woken up from sleep with the cries of his enemies at the gate and rushing out thinking he was still possessed of his old strength, of his capacity to engage and defeat a determined foe. This is what my country reminds me of – a man suffering a great delusion about his own capacity at a critical time.
Me? My only real consolation in all this is in the number of people who seem able to recover from this virus on their own. Or who it is suspected contract it and remain asymptomatic from start to finish.
This is what comforts me, the possibility of some sort of emergent immunity. And all the indications that a treatment or vaccine may soon be found abroad…
I tell you.
Wash your hands regularly? But 55 million Nigerians have no access to clean water. Practice social distancing? But 50% of Nigerians live in slums, bachas, face-me-i-face-yous. Self-isolate for two weeks? We are the extreme poverty capital of the world. Over 87 million Nigerians live in it. That is the type of poverty that if you don’t hustle today, you don’t eat today. It is literally death by starvation versus death by infection. Test, test, test for the virus? In the four weeks since we had our first case, we’ve been able to do under 200 tests. In the same period, South Africa has done over 15000 tests….
…Treat worst cases in Intensive Care? Which Intensive Care? Just 16 years ago, WHO told us we had five hospital bed spaces (and by this they meant everything from public to private, from outpatient to intensive care) for every 10,000 Nigerians. Since then we have elected PDP, then APC. We have elected Christian then Muslim. We have elected Northerner then Southerner. We have elected Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba. Today? Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital has four single beds in Intensive Care – with nothing else apparently in the room. Tell me? How do you ramp up what does not exist?
This degeneration of systemic capacity is what we have consistently voted for for 16 years. This deterioration of collective ability is what our young men and women mobilise themselves into thuggish gangs on election day to defend. Because when you shout ‘vote for capacity and merit’ someone will come and start explaining to you why it is the turn of this clan or this village or this region or this tribe or this religion to chop building material. And now that owu is threatening to blow, we are looking for concrete shelter to hide inside? My people, that concrete shelter does not exist. Because we used the concrete to build stomach infrastructure in by-gone elections.
So, let us for a second stop pretending we can ‘handle this’. The horse bolted out of the stable years ago. In fact, it has reverted back to a wild horse in the bush and has spawned generations of wild horse children who now make an expert living from locating where we store materials for building stable doors and devouring them, so that no horse may ever be domesticated ever again. You understand? That if COVID-19 does not decimate us in this country it will not be because ‘we took steps’, commendable as those steps are, it would be because the virus itself turned out not to be as lethal as we feared in our worst nightmares.
And I fear that if that fact is not well articulated and understood the opportunity presented by this crisis – to truly change the way we approach politics and governance in this country, to truly realise that these things impact on lives, not in their tens or thousands, but in their millions and billions – will be lost. And we will continue to sow the seeds of tribalism, mediocrity, and nepotism, thinking that when it counts ‘las las’ we will rise to the occasion. Until that fateful day when Samson wakes up and runs outside to fight a truly lethal foe with a shining bald head.