It is no longer news that Nigeria was late in responding to the outbreak of COVID-19. The window of opportunity, those few but precious days during which we should have slammed the doors of our borders closed to the outside world while carefully scrutinising both Nigerian and foreign arrivals from abroad, were allowed to go to waste.
With our eyes wide open we looked on as the rest of the world moved to protect their citizens from the onslaught of a disease that would soon grow to become a pandemic.
Abuja obviously bought into the initial myth that Africans were immune to the disease. Even if that has been disproved by the spread of the virus across the country after the February 27 identification of our country’s index case, it is certainly no myth that the disease has a very slow spreading rate in Africa.
Otherwise, and although it may still be early days yet, the dark vision-cum-prophesy of Melinda Gates about dead bodies littering everywhere in Africa would have come to pass given the continent’s rotten infrastructure.
Yes, there is something to be said for the fact that coronavirus has so far had a rather not so successful career in Africa in spite of the continent’s poor infrastructure and lame preparation to responding to and containing the virus. As an aside, I should say that Africa and, perhaps Nigeria more than most countries, has been very lucky in that natural catastrophes like earthquakes, tsunamis, the rage of typhoons and hurricanes are somewhat far from if not alien to our continent.
God has been ever so gracious to us as to ensure that we are spared the violent blows of such disasters that have left some parts of the world prostrate and set them back from civilisation by many decades. Rather than counting our blessings and taking responsibility to conduct ourselves properly in other areas, we have chosen to inflict on ourselves man-made disasters that we foolishly call acts of God.
We thus fill our cities with structurally weak housing that collapse on us at regular intervals while our roads that are constructed as death traps are the cause of thousands of avoidable deaths every year.
Talk of a lucky people and country and it is Nigeria. But our leaders chose to sit on their palms counting the stars as corona virus crawled towards us. And after we finally found ourselves under lockdown, we thought that we were on the way to halting the rapid advancement of the pandemic.
Solemnly we all went into lockdown and hoped for the best. But our leaders who lack the virtue of walking their talk left the enforcement of their quarantine orders to God-knows-who, fully aware that Nigerians are forever one of the most difficult followers in the world and would have to be under constant watch or be forced to observe the lockdown if it is to achieve its purpose.
Soon it was becoming apparent that creative Nigerians had decided to turn the lockdown period into some form of an opportunity to achieve private ends like engaging in recreational sports, exercise to shed excess weight; while others saw the lockdown as an opportunity for long road jaunts, indeed cross-country trips, to visit their homesteads. All of this when interstate travels and movements were supposedly banned.
A presidential task force was set up to monitor the country’s response to the spread of the virus while ministerial committees went about the country distributing so-called palliatives to the worst affected people, even to families of school children that were to be force-fed right under the nose of their parents in their homes.
Just about any trick in the book was executed in order to justify the spending of tens of billions of naira that were donated by alike private individuals, corporate organisations and government agencies.
While efforts are apparently made on the one hand to contain the virus, steps are equally being taken on the other hand to push back whatever gains had been made with the uncoordinated and intermittent lifting of the lockdown under the excuse of allowing Nigerians who were never under any lockdown in the right sense of it to restock their homes with food and groceries.
The usual protocols that were outlined for the treatment and/or prevention of corona virus such as testing and contact tracing were more or less absent or too low to be of any serious guide to policy makers.
While some states made strenuous but largely sabotaged and to some degree vain effort to respond to the pandemic, most engaged in haphazard responses, consisting mostly in the closure and opening of business places and worship centres in accordance to the direction in which the local politics of each state drives it.
A few of the states like Kano, Kogi and Cross River have been complicit in spreading the virus by their refusal to acknowledge the existence of the virus to say nothing of taking steps necessary to contain it.
Two months after the first imposition of lockdown and as the scenarios described above played out, Abuja finally threw up its hand, accepted defeat and turned the fight against the pandemic over to the states. It was a Deja Vu moment of refusal to take responsibility for its initial failure as Abuja kicked the can down the road to the states.
The chaos has only increased since then with each state choosing to go forwards and backwards, taking a decision one moment and reversing itself the next moment. While Lagos, one of two or so states that took the fight against the pandemic seriously, one moment decided to keep worship places under lock and key, the next moment it was reversing itself like crazy as it ordered the worship places open with so-called measures to contain any spreading of the virus emplaced.
With the exception of schools, banks, hotels and different types of service and leisure industries are now allowed to open. The country’s only viable airports are poised to reopen. Isn’t it clear now where Abuja is headed?
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Any fool can see that our leaders are only testing the waters, while leaving a safe corridor of retreat in case things backfire, before boldly asserting that the lockdown is over. But it’s about time it summons the courage to do what it must soon.
It’s about time the charade called lockdown is lifted in its entirety. In its stead and as a way of keeping us safe in the near and distant future, a few of the protocols for the containment of the pandemic such as increased testing and contact tracing, use of face mask, hand washing and observance of social distancing in some areas of our life should be vigorously enforced.
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