By Ikechukwu Amaechi
The Latin phrase, annus horribilis (horrible year), which according to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia, was used in 1891 in an Anglican Church publication to describe 1870, the year in which the Catholic Church defined the dogma of papal infallibility, was brought to modern prominence by the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.
“1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis,” she moaned in a speech to Guildhall on November 24, 1992, marking the 40th anniversary of her accession to the throne.
She had good reasons to lament. 1992 was a year that three royal marriages collapsed, fire destroyed more than a hundred rooms in Windsor Castle, one of her official residences, and a toe-sucking scandal involving her daughter-in-law, Sarah Ferguson, wife of her second son, Prince Andrew, broke.
In 1992, the Queen was lamenting her personal woes. If she were to speak today, she will probably admit that 2020, a year that is only three months old is turning out to be the archetypical annus horribilis for the entire human race.
It is a year that has tried souls of men like no other in recent memory. It is the year of coronavirus (COVID-19) that has become a global pandemic.
Except perhaps the 1918 Spanish flu which lasted from January 1918 to December 1920, nothing has shaken the world like the coronavirus pandemic. But the world has changed fundamentally in the last century. Unlike in 1918, the world is today a global village, which makes the pandemic more catastrophic.
As I write, a virus that was detected in China in December 2019, barely four months ago, is affecting 203 countries and territories around the world and two international conveyances: the Diamond Princess Cruise ship harboured in Yokohama, Japan, and the Holland America’s MS Zaandam Cruise ship.
More than 884,996 people are infected, with at least 44,200 fatalities and still counting. Only 185,204 people have recovered.
In Britain, Queen Elizabeth’s first son, Prince Charles, British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, have all tested positive. Last Friday, the chief medical officer, Prof Chris Whitty, said he was self-isolating at home after experiencing symptoms compatible with Covid-19. Till date, Britain has 25,150 confirmed cases and 1,801 deaths.
As I was signing off on this column, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, disclosed in its latest update on the disease that the country has recorded 12 new cases, bringing the total in the country to 151, with two fatalities and seven patients recoveries. While the two deaths were recorded in Abuja, all those who recovered did so in Lagos.
Little wonder that President Muhammadu Buhari’s all-powerful Chief of Staff and de-facto leader of the infamous Aso Rock cabal, Mallam Abba Kyari, who tested positive last week, decided to relocate to Lagos for treatment.
In a statement he personally signed on Sunday, Kyari said: “I am writing to let you know that on medical advice, I will transfer to Lagos later today for additional tests and observation. This is a precautionary measure: I feel well, but last week, I tested positive for coronavirus, the pandemic that is sweeping the world. I have followed all the protocols the government has announced to self-isolate and quarantine.
“I have made my own care arrangements to avoid further burdening the public health system, which faces so many pressures.”
But Kyari, the wily chief of staff, sorely misses the point if he thinks that the issue at stake is who picks the bill because that is beside the point.
The only reason Abba Kyari is in Lagos is because there is no medical facility in Abuja where he can be adequately treated. And the only reason he is in Lagos today is because there is nowhere else to run to.
All the countries of the world are battling and international borders have been shut down. If Kyari was assured of medical attention elsewhere outside our shores, he will not be in the country today.
A friend of mine said last week that the good thing about this pandemic is that for the first time in our chequered history, we are in something together as Nigerians, an assertion which Abba Kyari apparently agrees with when he said: “This is a disease that recognises no difference between North and South, men or women, rich or poor. We are all in this together.”
What a world! Coronavirus has become the ultimate leveller.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the inanity of our leaders after reading the statement.
Rather than the unsolicited preachment, Kyari and his ilk should be ashamed that there is no single medical facility in Abuja that can handle his case despite the billions of Naira voted every year for Aso Rock clinic.
On October 9, 2017, the First Lady, Aisha Buhari, lamented the sorry state of affairs at the Aso Rock clinic. Speaking at the opening of a stakeholders meeting on reproductive, maternal, newborn child, adolescent health and nutrition, otherwise known as RMNCAH+N, at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, the First Lady lamented the poor state of the clinic and berated the Chief Medical Director, CMD, Dr. Hussain Munir, for running an ill-equipped healthcare facility despite the huge budgetary allocations.
In my article here on October 12, 2017, titled, “Aso Rock Clinic: First Lady as whistleblower,” I noted Aisha’s lamentation.
“Before I commence my speech,” the First Lady said, “I will like to be realistic and say a few words concerning health care and the health delivery system in Nigeria. The Nigeria health sector is in a very, very, very poor, sorry state to say the least.
“Few weeks ago, I was sick … they advised me to take the first flight out to London but I refused to go. I said I must be treated in Nigeria because there is a budget for an assigned clinic to take care of us. If the budget is N100 million, we need to know how the budget is spent.
“Along the line, I insisted they called Aso Clinic to find out if the x-ray machine was working. They said it was not working. They did not know that I was the one that was supposed to be in that hospital at that very time.
“I had to go to a hospital that was established by foreigners in and out 100 per cent … I am sure Dr. Munir will not like me saying this but I have to say it.”
I noted in that article that “in an environment where women are supposed to be seen but rarely heard, where a woman’s place is in the ‘kitchen, living room and the other room’ (apologies to President Buhari), Aisha has acquired the aura of an enigma, an enfant terrible, ready and willing to buck the trend.”
Her outburst packed the punch of a Category 5 Hurricane but she paid a steep price.
The Aso Rock cabal never forgave her. It was the beginning of her woes at the Presidential Villa. But now, the chickens have come home to roost. That is how the cookies crumble.
In the 2016 budget, N3.87 billion was allocated to the State House Clinic, a budget that made it get N787 million more in capital allocation than all the other 16 teaching hospitals in the country. But there is nothing to show for it. Today, Kyari is running from pillar to post to get good medical attention in a country that the government he is part of could not in the last five years build health infrastructure. Aisha, like many of the hoi-polloi in Nigeria, must be having a good laugh at the inanity of our leaders.
By coming to Lagos for medical treatment in facilities not set up with our commonwealth, Kyari has, no doubt, eaten the axiomatic humble pie.
Will this experience teach the powers-that-be in Nigeria a lesson? I doubt. When this is all over and they can easily hop into their private and presidential jets for medical tourism abroad, Abba Kyari will no longer remember Lagos. It will be business as usual.