In tow of the global response to the COVID 19 pandemic Nigeria adopted a cocktail of panic driven responses which invariably translated into severe privations on the citizenry. Just like the rest of the world too, the country justified the drastic responses as critical to the first line of defense against the raging pandemic – which were prevention and containment of its spread. Hence measures adopted included the unprecedented enforcement of social distancing, shut down of states and whole communities, markets, business premises, religious places, and any other location or instance of public gathering. Even prayer sessions for divine intervention over COVID 19 just as well as funerals of the dead. To lend official endorsement to the country’s response to the pandemic, President Muhamadu Buhari last week made a nationwide broadcast March 29 2020, during which he launched a complement of remediation measures including March the shutdown of the FCT as well as Lagos and Ogun States – three areas of strategic relevance to the raging plague. This he followed up next day Monday March 30 2020 with the signing of the Covid-19 Regulations 2020, which declare Covid-19 as a “dangerous infectious disease.”
A statement from the presidency noted that Buhari had signed the regulations “in exercise of the powers conferred on him by Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Quarantine Act (CAP Q2 LFN 2004), and all other powers enabling him in that behalf.” Accordingly, the regulations, “also gave legal backing to the various measures outlined in the President’s National Broadcast on March 29, 2020, such as Restriction/Cessation of Movement in the FCT, as well as Lagos and Ogun States, towards containing the spread of the pandemic in the country”. Fortunately, by the terms of the lockdown rules, Nigerians can still perform on-line banking transactions and use ATMs during these restrictions, as “exemption is granted financial system and money markets to allow very skeletal operations in order to keep the system in light operations during the pendency of these regulations”. In the same vein several state governments had also launched similar restrictive measures – all aimed at the same target of containment of the spread of the Corona virus.
Now that the measures are technically in their second week of implementation, they are literally and ironically placing the citizenry and the enforcing governments in a ‘Catch 22’ paradoxical situation, (as captured in the 1961 Joseph Heller’s novel by same name), whereby victory over the COVID 19 may be more costly in human consequences as never envisaged, due to the toll of hunger, starvation and other fallouts from restricting an impoverished populace from eking out their daily survival morsels. Already, given the high level of poverty in the country before the arrival of COVID -19, the various restrictions justified as they may be, have nevertheless placed most Nigerians at the breaking point of their survival limit. The question now before the Nigerian authorities is essentially similar to a ‘Catch 22’ paradox which is whether Nigerians should die in mass confinement in order to avoid the selective death from the COVID -19 pandemic? Related to the fore going is whether there is any basis for considering the migration of public concern over COVID 19 from the present national panic induced stampede, to the next level of population-wide remediation, through victim support tendencies, just in case the virus escapes the ongoing preventive and containment measures – tepid as they are?
Put succinctly, what do Nigerians do – if and when they are afflicted with COVID 19? Are there officially approved, commonplace remedies that can be applied at the citizen level, to mitigate the impact of the disease in the case of the widespread absence of hospitals and medical personnel, as the case is for the majority of Nigerians, living in both urban and rural areas across the country?
Even from the grounds of officialdom, there are many factors which puncture the case of total shut down of the country by governments – from the federal to the states. Firstly is the very argument for restriction of movement of the populace. While it is ordinarily intended to slowdown interpersonal contact between persons, the realities of daily living in the country for the masses, have compromised such expectation. While the government had proactively commenced tracking of index cases of the COVID 19 starting with the heroic effort by Dr Amarachukwu Karen Allison, who through clinical vigilance located and confirmed the first index case – an Italian visitor, at the clinic of the Lafarge Cement facility at Ewekoro in Ogun State, many Nigerians take with a pinch of salt, the expectation that several unreported cases of infection have not escaped the prying eyes of monitors, into the wider society.
With the state of urban jungle which most Nigerian cities are, and public life is a rat race in which it is every man or woman for himself or herself, it is just unthinkable for the citizens to live without touching each other even unintentionally. Taking for instance, public transportation which features the ‘Okada’ bike, ‘Keke’ NAPEP tricycles and ‘Danfo’ buses which move Nigerians, within the country and across land borders, can the passengers actually use such without touching each other? Also, talking of the markets with the primitive display of foodstuff, haggling techniques and characteristic poor hygiene of the locations, can COVID 19 be prevented from thriving in such places.
Hence while the Corona virus may have come from the world outside (China – as is widely claimed), traditional Nigerian public space offers it a haven for settlement and breeding. And unless there is a guarantee of 100% percent tracking of the contacts of infected persons, Nigerians should be sensitized to live with the reality of stray vectors of COVID 19 in their midst. This is the reality that should drive public sensitisation in the next dispensation which is painfully now.
A positive angle to this new direction is the reality that COVID 19 is no more a death penalty. While several countries with more robust health care systems than Nigeria had fallen victim at the earlier stages of the pandemic with unprecedented rates of daily casualties, the fact that survivors have emerged with same countries recording no fresh cases should provide a lead for Nigeria to scale down its panic mode and rather focus more on putting its house in order with respect to revamping in real terms its dilapidated health care system.
COVID 19 may in reality, not be the last exigency that will put our resolve to live, to the test. And as has been demonstrated by COVID 19, prevention is always better than cure.