By Dele Sobowale
“Death is here; and death is there/Death is busy everywhere” – PB Shelley, 1792-1822, VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 34.
“Courage is the rarest of human attributes” – Ernest Hemingway, 1898-1961
Anybody reading this article and who is close to Atedo Peterside should tell him that he is my own MAN OF THE YEAR 2021 – irrespective of who else media houses might select. I am older than him by far; but, I doff my cap and bow to him in absentia.
On Wednesday, December 22, 2021, I opened Vanguard and, on page 28, found an article by Atedo Peterside, titled, ‘My COVID experience’. He did nothing more than to declare how he discovered he had tested positive for COVID-19 and had gone into self-isolation. I could infer from the article that he was also co-operating with the health authorities in Lagos State for contact tracing. What he did, in Europe and the US, would have been regarded as ordinary civic duty. But, in Nigeria, and given his social status, was extra-ordinary. Few BIG men in Nigeria would do that. Let me give examples.
Years ago, when HIV-AIDS was the great pandemic, a late close friend, rich and powerful, had caught the dreaded disease on account of his riotous sex life. Only God knows how many people in Nigeria and abroad (he travelled frequently abroad and he had a “never sleep alone” policy) he might have infected who also infected others – before he confided in me and asked me to arrange treatment for him abroad. He knew that I had some experience in that sort of thing while working for New York City’s Department of Health.
Unlike Peterside who came out to announce his experience, he was only interested in getting treatment for his wives, who were also infected, and his special concubine. Incidentally, he was not the only man the concubine was sleeping with. Altogether, it was a top/down tragedy affecting several people who were kept uninformed because I was not allowed to divulge the information. From him, I knew about other rich men also infected and who kept the news under wraps for fear of the social stigma attached to it. It is precisely that fact which made what Atedo did so remarkable. Three days after reading his article, I discovered how close I was (or is it am?) to death by COVID-19.
ON COVID-19 TRUST NOBODY
Like most Lagosians, with a little bit of change, I belong to some private clubs. Invariably, everybody has some favourite club members with whom you sit a lot of times. The outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 met me fighting for my life in a private hospital on account of cancer.
I learnt before being discharged that people like me, with pre-conditions, were particularly vulnerable to fatal COVID-19 attacks. So, my visits to clubs were sharply reduced and I, as much as possible, practised social distancing with face masks in place. But, you can’t drink or eat with face mask on, can you?
Silly as it might appear, I made very little effort to get vaccinated until November 2021 – mostly because the vaccination centres were crowded and the seats were few and my feet got swollen after sitting for hours. Then, it was brought to my attention that a vaccination centre was open in Lagos Island Maternity Hospital and few people knew about it. I received my first jab in late November.
Two and a half weeks after, one of my favourite club members walked in; he had been absent for quite a while; and I asked him why. “I tested positive for COVID”, he announced. “When?” He gave the date. It was six days after my first shot. That was close. I went for the second shot in late December. Three days after, another favourite member walked in; he was also away for a while. “Where have you been?” I asked. “I tested positive for COVID-19 and have been self-isolating”. That was the answer. Then I remembered being sandwiched between the two on our last club function after receiving the first jab and after they went to a party and contracted COVID. They both looked healthy.
Those were the survivors. On December 27, I met another member of another Club; and after the usual seasonal greetings asked if I heard about the deaths of two members – known for their passion for playing cards. They both died of suspected COVID-19. Being Muslims, they were buried quickly without autopsy. I went to pay my respects to their families and received a shock. One had tested positive for COVID, died while self-isolating, visited everyday by the other who was not vaccinated; and the two went in a matter of five days. My suggestion that the deaths be reported elicited a strange response. “Please Dr Sobowale, we don’t want more problems. If people know they died of COVID, they will start to avoid us”. That was not the end; several members were sent to prevail on me to forget the stories.
I was faced with an ethical and social dilemma. Divulging the information would serve a broader social interest. But, it would virtually mark me out as an enemy of a lot of people who have been life-long friends. Atedo Peterside’s courageous revelation gave me an idea. I will write; but keep the names secret.
Three lessons were re-learnt immediately. One, like HIV, COVID does not show on the face of the carrier; a beautiful or handsome face can mask the presence of pandemic. Two, you can never be too sure of the status of the person you sit very close to, hug, kiss on the cheek until it is too late. Three, get vaccinated as soon as you can. Despite that, keep a safe distance from everybody – unless they were vaccinated – and don’t worry about offending people. It is better to be safe than sorry. Given the way people want to avoid informing others of their status, Atedo Peterside is a hero and a unique Nigerian. God bless him.
FROM PANDEMIC TO POLICE
“Who will guard the guards themselves?”
That was the question asked by a sage – thousands of years ago. It is pertinent in Nigeria today. If you think the Nigeria Police is established to guard you, then think again. Despite the documented and undocumented atrocities of SARS, I was still living under the impression that our police are there to protect us. One news report jolted me out of my dream to reality.
Approximately two weeks ago, the Auditor General of the Federation, Adolphus Aghughu Arhontomhenia, AAA, told the whole world an unbelievable story in his report. According to Triple A, various police formations, throughout the whole country, lost 178,459 different types of arms and ammunitions by 2019.
Included among the deadly weapons, which developed wings, were 88,078 AK-47 rifles (favourite weapons of ISWA, Boko Haram, herdsmen, bandits, gunmen of all stripes and kidnappers), 3,907 assorted rifles and pistols. Simply incredible!!
Four important things you need to know about the facts presented are the following. First, ninety per cent of all the member-nations of the United Nations Organisation, UNO, don’t have up to 80,000 rifles in their armory for their army and police. Two, 178,000 weapons, if lost over ten years, mean 17,800 yearly, 1,480 monthly, and about 50 per day or two per hour. So, if you have been wondering where hoodlums got weapons from, you now have a clue. The suppliers are your friendly NPF.
Three, all the complaints by junior officers about lack of weapons have obviously been misdirected at the FG. They should ask their IGP first what happened to 88,000 AK-47s. Four, I expected a swift reaction to the implied charges by Triple A from the Presidency, the National Assembly, the Inspector General of Police and the National Security Adviser. All those officers, even in a Banana Republic, would have felt scandalised by the revelations. So far, there has been a silence of the graveyard variety.
It is easy to understand why the Presidency is in a shock. They now have a huge disaster on their hands which cannot be blamed on previous administrations. The discovery was made in 2019, four years after all the security officers, especially Police, were appointed only from one ethnic group – based on merit of course. Today, Fellow Nigerians are aware that the AK-47 used to wipe out whole communities in Zamfara, Katsina, Kaduna and Niger might have come from police arsenals. Don’t ask me how they vanished. I have my ideas though.
Obviously, those paid to guard us are now trading with those they are employed to guard us against. The war against banditry is already lost. You might be closer to death by AK-47 missing from police arsenals than you think. On the average 2,450 of them are in every state.