July 10, 2020

COVID-19 AND BEYOND: The new normal and the norm in Nigeria

COVID-19 AND BEYOND: The new normal and the norm in Nigeria

By Feyi Ijimakinwa

In response to the threats and dangers of Covid-19, wearing protective nose masks has now become a part of our dressing. Nigeria is part of this new human development.

In many cities and towns across the country nose masks are freely sold on the streets, and even in traffic. It has become a very common item of trade. However, that is as good as it can be, concerning Nigeria.

If the ubiquitousness of masks and other face protection is taken as a measure of our compliance with necessary precautionary measures against Covid-19, you may have another thing coming.

It is a bit better in the city of Lagos where ‘masking’ as a necessity is gradually settling in upon the people, especially with the fairly strong government’s regulation on it.

However, the same cannot be said of many other states in Nigeria. Instead, it is more of a ‘pretentious necessity’ with a lot of people, as masks and other facial coverings are taken as ‘just fulfilling all righteousness’.

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In public places across the country, including Lagos, it is not uncommon to see people wear the mask but dropped to under the chin. Some even wear the protective masks but it’s dropped down to expose the nose and covering only the mouth. For some people, they just prefer to hold it and show it off, that they have it when demanded.

And, the face screen or shield is the new fad. It is preferred mostly for its aesthetic value beyond its protective capacity. People now wear it as an adaptive fashion accessory, with little consideration for its protectiveness against the microorganisms of Covid-19.

Ideally, shield face should be complemented with the nose mask as the Coronavirus can go behind the mask and be inhaled by a wearer. The shield is supposed to be a screen against involuntary touching of the face.

In Ibadan, the third-largest city in the country, and Oyo State capital, many still dismiss the Covid-19 as an elitist affliction, if at all they believe it exists. It is still business as usual in this densely-populated city of over five million people. The markets still brim with people without any consideration or thought to Covid-19. This is typical of many places across the country.

Most taxi cabs in Ibadan are the ‘small and compact’ Micra cars. Without any harassment or caution from law enforcement officers, six people (including three on the back seat, two on the front passenger seat and the driver) ride in taxi cabs in Ibadan, and the nose mask or covering is a rarity.

Social distancing protocols do not exist in Ibadan, as with many other places in Nigeria, and we wonder why the figures of infected people are rising.

Kano holds the unenviable position as the epicentre of Covid-19 in the Northern part of Nigeria and despite the initial lackadaisical attitude of the state government, especially its politicisation of the crisis, the citizens are still the worse for it.

The government has resorted to a knee-jerk position of denial and falsehood and blaming the fatalities on every other person but itself and its mishandling and unpreparedness. It is not any better in Kogi State where the government has buried its head in the sand like the proverbial ostrich, even as the rest of the world looks at its bare behind.

Even with Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia contracting Coronavirus, one would expect that this will bring home the seriousness of the pandemic. It is interesting that nothing seems to be further from the truth. Whether in Kaduna, Ebonyi, Edo, Ondo, Katsina, Akwa Ibom, Yobe, or Benue states the story is the same — the people find it difficult to believe that Covid-19 is real because they have learned not to trust their leaders.

They are used to their leaders lying, and using different gimmicks to cheat and alienate them. To most of the populace, Coronavirus is just another ploy by their leaders to break the social contract between the government and the citizenry and swell their pockets.

Yes, the pandemic presents a very huge challenge to everything normal but the transition to the new normal, and coping with the crisis would have been made easier if leaderships, at all levels, had built public systems’ capacity. Today, our nation and its socio-economic systems are crippled because of the failures of the past, or should I say the inactions of the past.

Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic is a global challenge, and external handouts like grants and aids (that we have been used to and which our leaders have used to cover their brazen aggrandisements and failings) may not come easily as we have been used to.

Other nations and organisations are facing the same crises and only the most resourceful and dogged ones will come out better. For years, we had carried on as if we are impervious to crises and challenges but Covid-19 has come to tell us that what you fail to do will always haunt you (and possibly destroy you).

As motivational speakers will say “if you fail to plan, you have only planned to fail”. We have failed to plan and the results are clear for all to see.

On a social micro level, we must remember that the most basic precautions against the spread and contact of Coronavirus include the washing of hands, social distancing, as well as nose and face covering.

In the face of the limitations or outright absence of our health system, the onus lies with citizens to self-protect, and the government should lead in enforcing the new normal. But, the way it is playing out at present, we don’t seem to recognise that our ‘I-dodon’t-care’ or ‘It-is-well’ attitude cannot help anyone.

As long as this pandemic lasts, and for the good of all concerned, it is important to do everything right in the stand (fight) against Covid-19. The new normal should be the way with us.

The new normal should be responsible and forward-thinking leadership, sound economic planning, security, judicious allocation of resources, effective and resourceful institutions and commitment to the social contract between the government and the people, among other things.

That is the (expected) new normal and that should be the norm in Nigeria.

Ijimakinwa is of the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan.