By Prof Lai Olurode
The outbreak of COVID-19 has been most devastating and largely disturbing in its global spread. The figures on infections and death are scaring. Governments all over the world have generally responded responsibly though some acted belatedly and with the attitude, ‘it is not our portion’.
It is unfortunate that the pressure on health facilities globally has been unprecedented. Health workers are in danger and casualties among them had been huge. Needed health facilities and consumables are not readily available even in countries with robust budgetary allocations to health and with best health practices. Should third world countries experience the outbreak of the virus on scales as in China, Italy, Spain. USA and France, the situation is better imagined than real.
The health sector will just cave in. In countries of the third world, people generally live in groups rather than being individualistic. Person to person contacts are often at their peak. The implications for the spread of the virus can indeed be frightening. And as we know, it takes time for culture to respond to new change process and attitudinal modifications that containing the virus implies. This time lag can be fast tracked through repeated messages which advocate attitudinal alterations.
Personally and as a sociologist, I ‘ m uncomfortable with the use of force in enforcing compliance with government directives. Harassing street traders and the poor without providing alternative resources is not the best. The police will surely extort and seize their goods. People will become poorer. Persuasions and enlightenment will certainly produce better outcomes. We shouldn’t forget that many Nigerians operate at the informal sector and are largely self-employed. Their incomes get frozen anytime they are prevented from going out to advertise or sell their wares. Their businesses require personal contacts. Quarantine may thus mean acute and aggravated poverty which may result in death. To make measures relating to confinement and stay at home order to work and be sustainable, I urge governments at all levels to urgently and simultaneously put in place palliative measures. Governments must think the wretched of the earth in their policies for them to work.
Governments are advised to care for the most vulnerable sections of the Nigerian population if the measures are not to provoke unwarranted agonies and perhaps death. So far, the focus of outcome of tests has been on the powerful and the shakers of society. Their drivers and domestic staff hardly feature in the narratives.
This is partly the tragedy of our underdevelopment. News and attention are about government officials, indeed, a tiny proportion of over 200 million people. The narrative should change to reflect the reality of our population structure.
This is the time for the well off and the affluent to touch life and all of should breathe life into our religious beliefs by activating our sense of empathy.