By Muyiwa Adetiba
They say the darkest hour is just before dawn. This saying has come true again. Just as we were celebrating the announcement of three efficacious vaccines by the medical world, a universal spike in COVID 19 shook the rest of the world. With this has come the numbing news that a more contagious mutant which may or may not respond to the vaccines is rapidly finding its way into communities and nations.
The rise in infections is understandable even if it is not excusable. We live in a world of ‘fundamental human rights’ and people will go the extra mile to defend those rights even when some of those rights are injurious to their health.
The fear of COVID 19 has forced many governments across the world to curtail the right to movement and association of their citizens. Many people have fought back, aided in some cases, by populists and right wing leaders. The result is that the world was unable to have a uniform response to the lockdown. And in this age of massive travels within a global village, we are all as strong as our weakest link. There are those who obeyed the lockdown rules but felt the need to get out to clear the cobwebs in their heads.
There are those whose businesses had been on lockdown since the beginning of last year and were desperate to breathe some life into them. Then there is the category of social animals who missed the gaiety of gatherings. Some of them had deferred their weddings and anniversaries till the end of the year hoping the virus would have miraculously disappeared by then. All these have resulted in cross movements and contacts.
While the need for human interactions and the desire of people to have their ‘lives back’ are understandable, the lowering of guards or complete disregard for COVID 19 protocols by some cannot be excused – there are many places in Lagos where those who insist on wearing masks are disdained; there are people – some of them enlightened – who describe those who are still reluctant to embrace social gatherings as being paranoid.
This is not to mention the increasing number of packed gatherings with absolute no thought to the virus. All of these have made us all – and not just the careless -very vulnerable. The infection has come so close to home now that one can literally touch it. Everyday, people I know, people I am close to, people I love, people who are family, are getting infected.
Our government, like most governments across the world, has again decided to tighten restrictions. But what seems inexplicable is that some government agencies are refusing to read the sign of the times and are still ‘doing business as usual’. Ideally, the current situation should mean anything that has to do with people aggregating at a place be discouraged.
A visit to the airport will remind you of how tardy and cumbersome our immigration process and indeed an entire travel experience can be. It is not unusual for passengers to spend two or more hours in the closeted and cluttered environment that is the Lagos Airport. They come out tired only to meet evacuating conditions that are out of tune with modernity and the reality of the current times.
Another example of government agencies not reading the sign of the times is the deadline initially given for the alignment of sim card with National Identification Number (NIN). I don’t know how many people have been captured on NIN. Let’s say it is about half. It would have been a herculean task to capture fifty per cent of 200 million people in two weeks given our ponderous way of doing things. And then you wonder why the rush or even the fuss. As it is, most Nigerians have been captured on BVN, Driving Licences and International Passports.
The personal details in these instruments are virtually the same. I am sure there are more seamless ways of getting these details merged with phone sims without people having to camp out at the designated offices for NIN or service providers during these virus infested times. I am sure we the people need more enlightenment from our leaders on what is suddenly so urgent about the alignment that people have to risk their lives at a time prudence and common sense suggest they should be home. I am sure foreigners who live among us will want to know their position. Do they stand the risk of losing their phone numbers because NIN?
What the average Nigerian needs now is help to cope with these dire times; what they need now are palliatives and I am not talking about the ones that were misappropriated or stolen by some officials. I am talking about genuine relief – physical, mental, financial and spiritual – not another aggro to cap an already difficult year.
Speaking of relief, the much touted one is the vaccine which has now been dogged by all kinds of conspiracy theories. It is understandable to be cautious. Especially Africans whose ancestors had been used as medical guinea pigs in the past. But I always ask those who express their fears of vaccines verbally or through posts, what the alternative is to a pandemic that is threatening life in all ramifications. After all, where would the world be without vaccines? Government has a role to play in overcoming the scepticism of its citizens.
There is a characteristic silence on this front. More importantly, government needs its best brains out to handle the logistics of mass vaccination. We have not done well in this regard in the past. It is one thing to purchase the vaccine. It is another thing to get it safely into people’s arms. For example, if America vaccinated a million people per day, it would take the better part of two years to vaccinate all its people with the required two doses. You can then imagine how long it would take Nigeria of 200 million people at the rate we do things! This is quite apart from the challenges of storage and distribution.
This is not something we pass through the usual sloppy channels. It is also not something to assign to political jobbers. Or to our kinsmen. There are Nigerians here and in the diaspora who are quite knowledgeable about epidemics. We should find them unless we want toxic vaccines on our hands. President Biden just employed a Nigerian to his COVID 19 team! If she is good enough for America, she is more than good enough for us. Nigeria needs to sit up and get its acts together concerning COVID 19. We need to read, and follow the signs of the times.