We have never had anything like this in living memory.The COVID-19 pandemic has already resulted in wholesale closure of schools, offices and worship centers across the country. Only yesterday, Federal Ministry of Health confirmed tennew cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria.Three of the new cases were in the Federal Capital Territory [FCT] and seven cases were in Lagos State, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in Nigeria to twenty-two.
Four days ago, governors of seven Northwestern states–Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Kaduna, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi–plus those of Niger and Kwara met in Kaduna and announced a shutdown of all schools in their states in order to stop the spread of coronavirus. Their proactive example quickly caught on. The Federal Capital Territory [FCT], Abuja and several more states across the country followed suit. On Thursday evening, the Federal Ministry of Education ordered the closure of all schools in the country, including tertiary institutions.
National Youth Service Corps [NYSC] cut short its orientation camps and sent the corpers post-haste to their places of primary assignment. West African Examinations Council [WAEC] announced a postponement of its examinations. The Federal Government had earlier imposed restrictions on travel to 13 foreign nations including Italy, UK, USA and China. It subsequently banned public officials from all but the most essential foreign travel. It then closed down all but two airports to foreign flights; yesterday, it closed the remaining two airports, Abuja and Lagos. Nigeria Railway Corporation also announced yesterday the suspension of all rail traffic from tomorrow, Monday.
Some states took other drastic steps. Kaduna State stopped congregational Juma’at prayers and large Sunday church services. Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi gave civil servants a compulsory holiday. Seminars and ceremonial gatherings are being cancelled all over the country. President Buhari also approved suspension of the National Sports Festival, which was about to start in Benin.
Religious bodies soon followed suit. Ansar-Ud-deen Society stopped prayers in congregation, while Redeemed Christian Church of God [RCCG] restricted services of more than 50 people in its churches.The two top religious organisations in the country, Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs [NSCIA] and Christian Association of Nigeria [CAN] responded to the crisis by taking very sensible positions. SCIA’s statement, signed by its Deputy Secretary General Prof Salisu Shehu, reiterated the Islamic position that where there is a pandemic, public safety comes above all else and worship in congregations could be stopped until the worst is over. It urged Muslims to respect all public health directives issued by the authorities.
CAN’s statement, signed on behalf of its president Samson Ayokunle, directed churches in the country to conduct services online or use house cell-based service. It also asked the churches to observe March 22 and March 29 as days of prayers against the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria and globally. The statement advised all churches to follow the guidelines for combating COVID-19 in all gatherings.The world-wide effect of COVID-19 has severely impacted international oil prices, which have fallen from $60 per barrel to as low as $26. Governments are already slashing their 2020 budgets and citizens have been warned to prepare for hard times.
Things could get much worse for us before they get better. Mercifully, COVID-19 has not ravaged Africa as much as it did China and Italy. Still, we must at this stage take the World Health Organisation’s [WHO] warning to Africa very seriously. WHO’s Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said last Wednesday that 233 cases have been confirmed in Africa, which makes it the least-affected continent. Africa must however wake up, he said, because there could be many unreported cases. Also because, when infections reach a certain tipping point, they greatly accelerate, so we must take preventive measures now.
Painful though it is for all citizens, we urge Federal, state and local governments and all major social organisations to take stiffer measures in order to curtail COVID-19’s spread. Europeans and Asians have much better health care facilities than we have here, so our best response to this terrible world-wide pandemic is to curtail it at this stage. Finally, government should step forward and shut up those who are denying the pandemic’s reality and spinning baseless conspiracy theories.