It is no longer news that our nation, just like the rest of the world, is on its knees over the impact of the deadly COVID-19. The disease which originated from a suspected wildlife in Wuhan, China late last year has as at today killed no fewer than 900,000 across the globe, even as the figure geometrically skyrockets. Life and livelihood has come under serious threat.
Spreading like a wildfire, nearly all nations of the earth have had their fair share of the respiratory-related disease. Our dear country recorded its index case on February 27, 2020 when an Italian man made his way to Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital. Since then the number of confirmed cases has witnessed an astronomical increase by the day. Interestingly, it does not have regard for social status as the young and old are being caught in the web. The high and mighty at the corridor of power is not exempted. Some Nigerians have described the disease as a humbler. Its universal presence may be attributed to why there is no mass movement of elite along with their families to relatively safer lands. It may as well be the reset button we need as a nation to have a critical look at our depleting public health system, to checkmate the culture of oversea health tourism that has become a status symbol among our leaders.
By the reason of divine intervention, our nation has not recorded as much death as we hear of other countries. Spain has recorded about 8,189 deaths while US fatality rate stands at about 3,000. Netherlands has about 2,039 deaths. Italy was at a time said to have recorded over 900 deaths in just 24 hours from the COVID-19. Russia with a less scarier fatality rate has about 8 deaths while confirmed cases is about 2,337 as at the moment of this piece. Our dear country at this period has 2 fatalities. Expectedly, countries around the world have on daily basis continued to take tighter steps to curtail the spread of the disease. The government of Nigeria though belatedly has also made practical moves to ensure that citizens are protected from COVID-19. If the actions currently being brought to fore had come a bit earlier when the spread of the virus was first reported in other parts of the world, no doubt the enormousity of the challenge staring at us today would have been put under control.
President Muhammadu Buhari during his nationwide broadcast on Sunday, March 29, 2020 pronounced a total lockdown on Lagos, the epicenter of the disease in Nigeria, Abuja and Ogun. Other federating units that have not recorded any outbreak are also making moves to ensure COVID-19 is not imported into their domains while those who have recorded index cases are leaving no stone unturned at ensuring that additional workload is not brought to their doorsteps. Some of the steps include closure of borders, ban on the gathering of people exceeding 20 or 50 as the case may be, shutting down of markets, schools, public and private institutions.
These are undoubtedly without their grave economic implications on the citizenry especially those whose means of livelihood depend on subsistence basis. Our economy is largely driven by the informal sector. Category of Nigerians whose bread and water are predicated on mobility each day will be worse hit by the lockdown across the country. An airport taxi driver, fruit seller, petty trader, food vendor, wheelbarrow pusher, park loader (agbero) and millions who fall in this category are high risks to the compliance order to stay-at-home. It is said that a hungry man does not sing hallelujah. Will an empty tummy hear the language of patriotism? These are times we must in whatever way we can support the government in protecting ourselves and neighbours from the virus through total adherence to government orders as it relates to taming the spread of COVID-19. One of which is to stay at home.
Cheeringly, kind-hearted Nigerians, corporate entities, officials of the government, international donors and those touched by the plight of our country have donated bountifully in the fight against coronavirus. There are no better ways to deploy these funds if not to positively touch the lives of our people whose income flow will be affected by this restriction in movement. The Presidential Task Force (PTF) for the curtailment of COVID-19 can identify citizens in this cycle and make provision for relief materials and cash transfers through various identification channels such as the Bank Verification Number (BVN) and other means currently at the disposal of the government. This will not only engender confidence but spur potential donors to action. The directive by President Muhammadu Buhari on the continuation of school feeding programme without compromising social distancing, even while the academic institutions are under lock and key was not received without a pinch of skepticism among Nigerians. Nigerians are looking for workable actions that will aid efforts of keeping the virus under control and not just political rhetoric. Other states must take a cue from Lagos state government that has been at the forefront of providing food items to citizens who are experiencing a devastating effect of the curfew imposed on the state.
Commendably, our media workers have been at their very best in the dissemination of accurate and factual information especially around the number of confirmed cases, fatality rate and recoveries. There is absolutely no room for scare-mongering at a time like when our citizens are already gripped in fear of uncertainty. Experts, analysts and feature writers must also engage in fact-checking before making any information available for public consumption.
The agony of our citizens at this time has been fueled by the dearth of infrastructure across the country, particularly electricity, water and housing. The discomfort of staying at home (for those who have) without these amenities at a time like this is sickening and better imagined. This again raises question of perennial failure of government despite humongous amount that has over the years been expended at revitalising these sectors. The housing deficit has consistently witnessed a widening gap in the midst of thousands of unoccupied units in Lagos, Abuja and other cities.
Beyond adopting the American style of total lockdown at combating this pandemic, the federal government must bear in mind that the environmental factors that have aided the success story of the US are visibly lacking here. US lawmakers approved as stimulus package the sum of $1,200 for each citizen who earns less than $75,000 annually. At the risk of sounding pessimistic, a very minimal success is likely to be achieved in the equitable distribution of palliatives trickling in from concerned Nigerians. It is only patriotic that the government reciprocates, at worse appreciates the sacrifices being made by our citizens in the fight against COVID-19. There is never a better time to show the citizens care than now.
Enemanna is an Abuja-based journalist