By Ochereome Nnanna
My sabbatical is over. Glad to be with you again. But the title of this article has nothing to do with the said sabbatical. It has to do with us and the new coronavirus pandemic. Why did it hit us so hard? How have we coped? What should we be doing now? And what should Nigeria take away from this experience?
It is said we should choose our enemies carefully since they are always choosing us, anyway. Coronavirus unilaterally declared war on us and announced itself our enemy; an invisible, deadly and unknown enemy. An enemy strong enough to chase mankind indoors, close the skies to commercial air travel and silence most factories worldwide.
It is more than a tragic irony that the mighty United States of America, the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation, is the hardest-hit. Look at the numbers. Between January 19, 2020 when the US index case surfaced in Washington State and Thursday, April 30,2020 when I wrote this piece (just three months), the pandemic had taken 61,504 lives on terra firma America! Over 1.06 million people were fighting for their lives from the infection. Even the Vietnam War took less: 58,220 lives in 19 years.
Though the situation is stabilising now, America with its advanced healthcare system was beaten hollow. A country that helps others in need started calling for and accepting help even from traditional adversaries.
COVID-19 also hit us. Though our numbers still remained comparatively insignificant as I wrote this (1,728 confirmed cases with 51 deaths), we face an ominous and uncertain future. We don’t know what’s going to happen to us. We have tested the least number in Africa. Out of over 200 million people only 12,000 had been tested by last Wednesday. South Africa, a country of 58.8 million, had tested 143,570!
My dear, if you cannot test adequately, how the heck are you going to contain a pandemic?
Our healthcare system is a cretinish shamble; abandoned by our leaders who prefer to treat themselves in the cosy hospitals of well-governed overseas countries. This was what the foreign missions of the West such as USA, UK, France, Israel and others saw and flew home their nationals even when we still had two-digit infection figures. They feared an explosion of Armageddon proportion. We pray it does not come because if it does…
Despite the still rapidly-rising numbers, President Muhammadu Buhari last Monday, April 27, 2020 made his third COVID-19 national broadcast. He announced the gradual reopening of Lagos, Abuja and Ogun State which he had invoked our ancient Quarantine Law to place on lockdown for five weeks.
He had listened to his fellow politicians (the governors) with one ear. They told him to please reopen the economy. With the other ear he listened to the health professionals. They told him to extend the lockdown. The President went with his fellow politicians.
And rightly so. After five to seven weeks of lockdown across the states the situation of hunger, poverty, inertia and growing depression was driving people to desperation. The corrupt and shoddy deployment of palliatives did not help matters. Even those who were helping the poorest among us started to lack.
If Buhari did not assert prudence and flexibility the situation could boil over any moment. The law-enforcement agencies could be overwhelmed by disobedient citizens. Anarchy would hand us over to the underworld. Every “big man” trapped behind his walls would become a target.
From today Monday, May 4, 2020, we are coming in from the cold. Offices will partially and increasingly reopen, so will markets and factories. We have a heavy burden of responsibility on our shoulders if we are to get the best of this reopening in the thick of this pandemic. We must continue to maintain social distancing in our offices, boardrooms, malls, markets, buses, everywhere.
We must wear our masks, frequently wash our hands with soap under running water and go everywhere with our hand sanitisers. (But watch out: pickpockets are now after your sanitisers). We must cooperate with the government and law enforcement agencies. They are working hard, and for our common good. We must continue to share with others.
Governments must ramp testing and case management. An improved version of the palliatives distribution must continue. Government must map out strategies for re-floating the economy. Many sectors will require bailouts. Certainly, the Media sector, which has served selflessly with heavy loss of revenue, deserves a stimulus package or many jobs will be lost. It is a legitimate expectation.
Every war produces change or should. This is because wars create shortages. Necessity drags people out of their old comfort zones. Wars nudge people to innovate. It did to defunct Nazi Germany. It did to defunct Biafra. This COVID-19 war should produce positive changes in Nigeria.
Gone should be the foreign dependence syndrome. With our oil becoming increasingly irrelevant to the economy, we must begin to create our national wealth from the abundance of our land. We must look inwards.
We looked inward for the frontline health workers to fight this virus. We looked inward for the masks, hand sanitisers and personal protective equipment. We have increased our testing labs from five to 16 within two months without needing foreign hands.
Many scientists, like Prof. Maurice Iwu and Dr. Ben Amodu, have announced cures for this virus. Let’s emulate Madagascar and Senegal. Let’s check out every claim in our locality. I am convinced we can beat this virus by ourselves. Let us not depend totally on Western medicine. It does not provide cures. It keeps you dependent to drain your pocket and enrich theirs.
As you welcome me back I say welcome back. #Stay Safe.