Once again, the lockdown in parts of Nigeria as a way of mitigating the coronavirus, aka COVID-19, pandemic, is a step in the right direction. At least, for those who believe, disease pandemics are signs of the end of the age (Matthew 24). That settled, it is obvious that COVID-19 has come to expose the level of Nigeria’s underdevelopment. It has innocently painted a glimmer picture of the poverty in the land which, hitherto, was unknown! Tragically, as at the time of writing this piece, there is nothing on ground to suggest that our leaders are conscious of the grave implications of this malaise, let alone demonstrate the willingness to tackle it head-on.
“Lockdown has immediate ramifications for individuals who live on a hand-to-mouth basis, and for the networks of their dependents. If people cannot eat, they will not obey a lockdown, nor is there any reason, practical or moral, for them to do so.” – Alex Broadbent, ‘Lockdown is wrong for Africa.’
As of today, we don’t have all the facts about coronavirus disease; neither do we have accurate figures of how many people have been infected, nor the capacity to train those who are doing the testing and contact tracing aspects of the healing process. We don’t have the drugs or vaccines for combating the pandemic or factual knowledge about the demography of the locked-down population, which is also key to certain decisions about its management. It is even doubtful if Nigeria has the capacity to process information about the disease with a view to putting out clear directives to the field operatives, medical personnel and frontline workers in the battle against this invisible enemy. Anyway, ‘COVID-20’ may just be around the corner unless concrete steps are taken to contain the ‘reigning’ COVID-19, currently ravaging this ailing country with relentless recklessness.
As the uncertainty in this sometimes lonely world grows, there’s a general feeling that people are getting impatient with the lockdown. We are now in a period of uncertainty when despair is not only setting in, socioeconomics statistics is also not looking good globally. With each passing day, jobs are becoming increasingly at risk and small businesses are facing hard times, even as economies are shutting down. Already, the Federal Reserve Bank has warned that, between April and June, this year, 47 million jobs may be lost in the United States of America, even as ‘God’s own country’ may experience recession. Ditto for many developed nations! Then, one can only imagine the likely fate of a third world country like Nigeria, with a weak economy and a struggling healthcare system, which is apparent, even, to the blind!
Quite frankly, the days that follow the resolution of COVID-19 crisis in Nigeria promise to be as revelatory as they will be tense and troubling! Facts will become the gifts to give: some altruistic, others, self-serving! Some things, we may know; some, shrouded in secrecy, while others may never be revealed. Where necessary, governments will set up probe panels to unravel alleged underhand deals during interventions, but, typical of governments in this part of the world, the Nigerian society runs the risk of being permanently kept in the dark!
While accepting the situation in which our world has now found itself, it remains true, nevertheless, that COVID-19 is here to teach our leaders some lessons in humility and sense of responsibility. If we are a thinking country, going forward, this is the right time for the government to go back to the drawing board, rethink its strategies and redesign our national core values. If the Nigerian State is conscious of its roles, this is the time to start preparing for the next probable pandemic, whether it’s going to happen or not! If our government is serious, all the testing laboratories and Isolation Centres currently in use should be prevented from becoming another Abuja National Stadium Aerodrome, once the current COVID-19 is put to rest. Otherwise, it may be from one tragedy to another!
I have argued elsewhere that the palliative gesture of governments in Nigeria has shown that they have no idea at all how hungry the people are; how many people are indeed poor and the peculiarity of each of the federating states. It is also pathetic that some government functionaries may not have been well initiated and integrated into their constitutionally-, institutionally- and socially-prescribed roles in government, but the politics of grabbing power for pecuniary conveniences. Otherwise, addressing salient-but-seemingly-little challenges in the society won’t be a problem.
What about the importance of food chain and adequate food supply in a locked-down economy? Who says hunger cannot lead to death and aggravate social tension and high-risk crimes? The fact that people are so poor and hungry that they accept two cups of uncooked rice as palliatives from government has not only shown that Nigerians are indeed immiserated, it has also attested to the cracks in our social fabric and how weakened our social formation and ties, which, hitherto, were tightly woven together, has become. For a fact, the safety valve which the society can have is the family. But, once that is strained, then, it becomes a serious problem.
Reacting to one of my previous interventions, entitled, ‘The dynamics of COVID-19 interventions’, a cleric, Samson Akinde wrote: “COVID-19 might be a blessing of a new-born baby, taken out of a woman in painful and agonizing labour. It is like a proverbial ground that swallows both the rich and the slave alike. Maybe the sensitivity of our imposing rulers might be awakened towards doing what is right with the time and resources they control at any given time … COVID-19 is just an alert; the real message is yet to be explored.”Another commentator, Bolade Agbola, even inserted figures to support his assertions: “It ought to dawn on us now that we are a poor nation with over-100 million people living on less than $2 per day. To be above poverty at N360 per dollar, a family of 6 (father, mother and four children) must earn N130,000.00 a month. So, we need N6.5 trillion to cater for the poor for 2 weeks, if UN statistics is right.”
Well, now that the proverbial cleric has removed the masquerade’s mask, will the lessons learnt from this crisis be used to safely initiate a respite protocol towards the scourge of coronavirus disease and cautiously refocus the social re-engineering of Nigeria?
May the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, heal our land!
Abiodun KOMOLAFE writes in from Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State, Nigeria (firstname.lastname@example.org)