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Hard C or soft C?

An aerial view shows empty streets in Lagos on March 31, 2020. - Lagos was deserted on March 31, 2020, after Nigeria locked down its economic hub and shuttered its capital Abuja, in the continent's latest effort to brake the juggernaut of COVID-19 coronavirus. Businesses were closed, markets abandoned and streets empty as the usually chaotic megacity of 20 million, along with the capital Abuja, shuddered to a halt on the first full day of a two-week shutdown. (Photo by Pierre FAVENNEC / AFP)

The first time that I saw the word Coronavirus mentioned in a story, I briefly wondered what its correct pronunciation was. Was it “Koro” with a hard C or “Choro” with a soft C?

English is a funny language, as we learnt long ago in the 1970s British tv sitcom Mind Your Language.

The teacher Jeremy Brown once asked his Pakistani student Ali Nadim to mention a word starting with the letter “K”. Ali said, “Kemist!” Mr. Brown said no, chemist starts with the letter C.

So Ali said, “Oh blimey! I have been wrong all along, saying sandwich. I didn’t know it is pronounced as sandwik!” Mr. Brown’s face flushed with embarrassment and he said, “There are no hard and fast rules in English pronunciation.”

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It was not only the episode in Mind Your Language that the raging COVID-19 pandemic reminded me of.

There was the story told in Anthony Sampson’s 1973 book The Sovereign State of ITT.

In 1959, management guru Harold Geneen arrived at the stodgy telecom company International Telephone and Telegraph [ITT] to assume duty as its new President/CEO.

Two things troubled ITT’s workers about him.

First, they were not sure what his mission was.

Secondly, they were not sure how his name was pronounced.

So at a reception party in honour of the new boss, someone stood up and asked, “Is the G in your name hard, as in God, or is it soft, as in Jesus?”

The hidden message was, are you coming here as the lord or are you here as the messiah?

We never did a reception party for Koro when it entered the world but hopefully when it is leaving, we will do a sendoff party.

Someone must stand up and ask it whether its mission here was killing or salvation.

“Aunty Koro, the C in your name, was it hard as in Killer or was it soft as in Charity?”

Koro has been both a charity and a killer since it debuted in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

Let us begin with its charity element.

All over the world, employers who are very reluctant to grant a worker even a few days’ compassionate leave, deductible from his annual leave, have now granted all their workers an open-ended paid leave without date of return.

In the civil service rules of Nigeria, right from the days of the colonial-era General Order [GO], three days’ absence from work is punishable with dismissal.

Due to Choronian charity however, the President threw those rules out of the window and told all workers in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun to remain at home for two weeks.

Which Staff Officer or Perm Sec will issue anyone with a query and ask a civil servant why he was absent from work for more than three days?

Nigerian headmasters and school principals are very fussy about late coming.

Many schools close their gates at 7.30am and punish any student who is late for the early morning assembly. Well, not anymore.

Every single school in Nigeria, nursery, primary, secondary, commercial, vocational, special, tertiary, technical, integrated, public, private, religious, secular, day, boarding, local or foreign is now closed for an indefinite period.

There is nothing students in Nigeria like quite like a holiday. Nigerian students’ most popular song is, “Holiday is coming!”

Nigerian students have never had it so good, thanks to Choroan charity.

The nearest thing to this kind of holiday that I ever heard of was in the 1980s, when NTA Sokoto interviewed the Igbo community leader in Sokoto State, Chief Ogbunugafor.

He said his elder brother brought him to Sokoto in 1935 and enrolled him into a primary school, but that in 1936, there was a CSM epidemic and all the schools in Sokoto Province were closed for one year. Talk about a holiday.

One of the biggest complaints of wives world-wide is that husbands don’t stay at home.

Wives always complain that their husbands prioritise work over family, and that they often use work as a cover to go spend time with girlfriends.

Well, for the first time in living memory, wives are having more than enough of their husbands. Hundreds of millions of husbands are now home 24/7 due to Choroan charity.

But there is the harder side of Koro.

For one it has made over a million people sick worldwide, with dry coughs, high fever and breathing difficulties.

It has killed 60,000 people worldwide, has cost national economies billions of man hours, has grounded tens of thousands of planes and trains, has wrecked stock markets, has driven oil prices to their lowest level in decades, and is almost certain to plunge the world into a deep recession, if not depression.

Two years ago, when Nigeria had four days of public holidays in one week, economists said our economy lost N1.7 trillion. After this lockdown, who can calculate how many trillions we have lost?

Many wives who once complained about the scarcity of their husbands’ time seem to be having second thoughts.

There was this New York Post story last Friday saying, “Coronavirus is making couples sick–of each other.”

Divorce lawyers in New York City say they have received a rash of phone calls from wives asking them to file divorce proceedings against their husbands, which the lawyers can’t do because the courts too are on lockdown.

Given the grim and gruff mien of most Nigerian judges and the cold manner in which they pronounce even a death sentence, I will not be surprised if their wives are praying for the courts to reopen.

Social visits are frozen due to Koro.

Koro has not allowed relatives to do a decent funeral for their loved ones.

In a long, serious but hilarious speech that Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni made at the start of this pandemic, he said the traditional Ugandan funeral which is attended by all kinsmen, neighbours and all church members must be cut down to a few people.

In fact, he said, if your loved one dies of Koro, you don’t even have to attend because government will bury him.

Even here, when Jigawa State Governor Badaru Abubakar married off his daughter in Kano last Saturday, only seven people attended, including the Imam. The guests sat far away from one another.

For the first time in 170 years, the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Holy Prophet’s mosque in Medina are closed to pilgrims.

That is a huge psychological blow to King Salman, whose grand official title is Guardian of the Two Holy Mosques.

In Nigeria too, mosques in many states were closed first to Friday prayers, then to the five daily prayers.

It has never happened in living memory.

The lockdown also shut down churches, which probably never happened since the days of Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther.

Which force on earth, apart from Koro, ever achieved this feat?

Until two short months ago, travelling abroad was the ultimate status symbol in Nigeria. Not anymore.

A local Hausa singer, who did a song about Koro, gloated that where once people arriving from abroad were held in awe and were seen as having “arrived,” they are now promptly taken into isolation and tested for COVID.

In fact, some folks returning from abroad told their friends that they only went to Lagos and never stepped out of the country! Foreigners, especially Europeans, once treated like eggs in this country, are now feared like snakes.

People took to their heels in Lagos when a sneezing white man was said to be an Italian.

Koro has dealt a severe blow to Nigerian love affairs.

Up to one third of the vehicles that you see plying Lagos and Abuja city streets in the evening are on some kind of love mission.

Clubs, hotels, shopping malls, beauty salons, film theatres and suya spots profited hugely from romantic escapades.

Koro may have snuffed out only 60,000 lives worldwide but it sure snuffed out a billion dates in Nigeria alone.

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