With the nationwide reopening of schools at all levels, the last hurdle to the return of life to the pre-COVID-19 period seems to have been lifted. Places of religious worship have been opened before now, while most places of government work and businesses have either been fully or almost fully opened weeks ago.
International flight to and from the country is now running at full throttle. Perhaps the only major sector that is yet to begin operation in full is the hospitality sector.
Even the ban on this sector has been eased to some extent in the weeks since the gradual easing of the restriction on movement. It’s now only a matter of time before fun-loving Nigerians give full vent to their pent-up feelings of siege as they find their way back to hotels and full night life in night clubs and other places of fun.
But as the lockdown barriers are rolled back how many Nigerians are actually heaving a sigh of true relief? I don’t think there are many in this category. The disease is still very much with us and with very low testing going on and nobody talking of contact tracing and the likes anymore, we should err on the side of discretion by keeping in place every bit of the protocols emplaced in March. There is yet a lot to be done and we just cannot get to rest on the little we have achieved.
The feeling of complete release and total liberation that should have accompanied the latest announcement of virtual end of the lockdown has been diluted if not totally extinguished by many weeks of calibrated but steady easing of the restrictions that were mostly only observed nominally.Since the lockdown was imposed in March, it has been observed mostly in the breach even at what might be considered the height of the pandemic when the fear of the invisible killer was at its most visceral. It was only the obedient few, fools in the estimation of the smart alecs, who had already found a way to breach the restriction even before it had taken off, remained indoors.
Meanwhile, many Nigerians were travelling the length and breadth of the country as they transformed the period of the lockdown to an opportunity for long desired holidays. It was a harvest of corruption for security operatives who charged travellers huge amounts of money to move from and to different parts of the country, first under the cover of night but shortly after in plain sight of anyone willing to look. Border posts and towns became very busy trading centres and were like trans-national entry points.
The upper and aspirant middle-class upstarts on the island in Lagos spent the first few days of the lockdown to begin a regime of rigorous physical exercise meant to shed excess weight that must have climbed back to the level it was before lockdown. Putting their obese flesh on full display they rolled up and down the relatively vehicle-free bridges of the Island.
Within a day or two of the lockdown, Lagos roads were jammed with vehicles travelling from one point of the city to another. The inner-city folks of Mushin and Egbeda, etc., reprised the Island experience in their own way while younger Lagosians played football on the deserted streets and roads of the ‘city of aquatic splendour’. As in Lagos, so it was in other parts of the country.
In sheer defiance and mockery of the pandemic, the people of Kano named a highly contested tournament after the disease and took to the fields in exuberant mood. It wascomeuppance time a couple of weeks later when the city was suddenly overtaken by mysterious deaths.
That was one of the first scary episodes that brought home the fact that the disease was real, a fact that the likes of Donald Trump of the Great America their America would only learn the hard way seven months down the COVID-19 road. This in spite of America accounting for a fifth of the total number of deaths worldwide.
Nigeria was not short of its own share of irresponsible people who chose to live in denial of the disease, espousing pseudo-science, while playing politics with the lives of their citizens. From Ben Ayade’s Rivers State, through Abdulahi Ganduje’s Kano to Yahaya Bello’s Kogi, it was the season of delusion. Amid growing numbers of COVID-19 casualties across Nigeria and states bordering them, the governors of Rivers, Kano and Kogi continued to insist life was normal on the corridors of the country.
A part of Kogi where the people were so ‘stupid’ to admit they had cases of infection were put under punitive lockdown. It was also during the lockdown period that the smart Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, in charge of the distribution of the lockdown palliative, strangely chose to embark on the school feeding programme.
Only God knows how much of the billions of naira contributed from private and government coffers, including struggling Nigerians were apparently flushed down the drain of private pockets in this misadventure. Abuja puts the figure at just over half a billion naira where Nigerians believe much more was expended.
The cheque books are still burning with figures of naira for the management of the COVID-19 palliatives. It was a time of serial sabotage of government effort by private persons, groups and government officials. Many must be counting their bloody hauls in billions of naira now.
The point of the foregoing narrative is that most Nigerians were never under lockdown as they could neither endure the pain of lockdown nor delay the gratification that should have come with it. But we will be extending both the illusion and delusion of the lockdown period to imagine that now we’ve lifted the gloom of lockdown then the pandemic is over.
This is the time government must continue to insist that Nigerians continue to observe the protocols for keeping the pandemic at bay. God has been so kind to us in the last seven months that the grim statistics of death around the Western world have been absent in Africa despite generally poor or non-existent health infrastructure and resources.
But many parts of the Western world are experiencing a resurgence in the disease and with our airports now open, anything can still happen. It was through the airports that Nigeria’s index case slipped in. Our land and sea ports should be under close and constant vigilance as should other entry points. Above everything else, Nigerians must take responsibility for themselves. This is no time to look to government officials in Abuja and the state capitals as the Moses that would lead us out of the wilderness of this ranging pandemic.