Nigeria and COVID-19 Lessons By Bola Bolawole

 

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Here, COVID-19 has come and gone – or so it seems! – but the world will not forget it in a hurry. The scare it brought, the havoc it wreaked, and the destruction it left in its wake has left permanent scars, even on those who survived it. All over the world, the fear of COVID-19 became the beginning of wisdom as the virus proved a leveller – subduing the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, bringing everyone alike to the same abject level. The powerlessness of the rich and powerful in the face of COVID-19 will go into the Guinness Book of Records as one of the most astounding spectacles of our time.

As we speak, the virus has no known or universally accepted cure. All manner of vaccines and herbal mixtures have been applied to manage or deal with the various symptoms of a virus that killed hundreds of thousands all over the world. Amazingly, the Western world with their state-of-the-art medical facilities and personnel had been the hardest hit. The poor dishevelled Third World with poor facilities; whacked by poverty, where virtually nothing works, and where, therefore, COVID-19 was expected to wreak the greatest havoc, has escaped with the least figures of fatalities.

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Various unsubstantiated reasons have been advanced for this: The (superior?) genes of the African, especially the Black man’s; Africa’s hot weather, its blistering sun especially; and, of course, the munificence and beneficence of God. Is it not said that God drives fleas for a cow that has no tail? And God, the Ancient of Ages, is the God of the weak and powerless! Little wonder, then, that throughout the period that the evil “East wind” of COVID-19 blew, one of the most prayed passages of scriptures was Numbers 31:49 which says after the war, the Israelites came to Moses and said unto him…we counted and no one was missing!

When church re-opened on Sunday, August 9, 2020, we, too, counted in my parish and no one was missing! That is not to say, however, that a thousand did not fall by our side and ten thousand at our right hand (Psalm 91:7), another popular scripture during the pandemic. A friend and his entire household were carted into an isolation centre after his wife was declared the index case in their locality. Coming closer home, my father-in-law and mother-in-law travelled from Lagos to Modakeke-Ife; COVID-19 lockdown caught up with them there. Grandma could not get his exact drugs there. After lockdown and their return to Lagos, some damage had been done. Grandma fought bravely but, in the early hours of Saturday, September 26, 2020, she joyfully put her hand in Jesus’ and triumphantly flew home at 74 years. Burial comes up on Friday, 30th and Saturday, 31st October, 2020 at her residence: 22/23 Awori Street, Akinogun Bus stop along Ipaja Road, Lagos. Be my guest!

While we may say that only a fool would not have learnt useful lessons from COVID-19, it is appropriate to note that humanity would have fared better had we acted more on lessons learnt from previous pandemics that had occurred many times in the past at the regular interval of 100 years. George Santayana posits that if history teaches any lesson at all, it is that man seldom learns from history. Many predictions also foretold of COVID-19, some of them – including Nostradamus’ – with uncanny precision; yet…

As we speak, many Nigerians have returned to their old ways of life: No face masks; physical distancing is ridiculed while hand-washing is neglected. The authorities themselves break the COVID-19 protocols with an audacity and impunity that sends the wrong signal to the polity. This rampant but dangerous attitude is not helped by the pervasive belief that COVID-19 is the rich man’s disease because most of the known cases of fatalities have been of VIPs! Now that the foretold second wave of the virus is said to have already arrived in some foreign countries, the response of our people remains “God is still on His throne!” The merciful God who saved us from COVID-19 in its full blast is able – and willing – to also save us from any second or whatever wave! So much for the Religion economy as opposed to the Knowledge economy!

The Federal Government was tardy in responding to the outbreak of COVID-19, thereby leaving our shores open until the index case was recorded in Lagos on February, 27th 2020, whereas the virus’ outbreak in Wuhan, China was officially announced in January and rumours of it had been on since December 2019. Nigeria’s airspace was closed only on or after 21st March, 2020!

COVID-19 revealed the parlous state of the country’s healthcare system – both public and private. Available facilities were nowhere near “able to cope” with the exigencies of the pandemic. Government’s response was knee-jerk and fire brigade. As usual, we looked up to, relied on, and even went on bended knees for foreign assistance. Corruption and inefficiency, the twin-evils this country is famous for, reared their ugly heads in the humongous amounts purportedly spent on COVID-19 but whose impact the populace did not feel; in the palliative measures that were diverted; in security agents receiving bribes to compromise the lockdown; in healthcare workers leveraging on their privileged position to take advantage; and in the citizens themselves sabotaging measures put in place to contain the virus. Nepotism, which has been the major plank of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, shone like a million stars in the mouth-watering palliatives he gave to the North and the contaminated rice he gave to the South-west.

Lagos where I live and work was expectedly the epicentre of COVID-19, being the country’s most populous state as well as its commercial nerve centre. Kudos to the State government for its yeoman’s efforts but it is yet to publish its financial statement on COVID-19. It should! The blight on its activities, though, was the palliatives that did not get to the populace but ended up in the pockets of fat cats. I am also proud of my native Ondo State’s response. Unlike Buhari’s FG, the Ondo State Government was proactive in that it took appropriate steps before the index case showed up in the state. Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu empanelled the State’s Ondo State COVID-19 Response Fund Committee on April 1st; the first recorded case of COVID-19 surfaced on April 3rd. As our people will say, “O nbo, o nbo, awon l’a n dee dee”, literally meaning, “it is coming, it is coming; you must get ready for it”. To be forewarned…

When the State named its COVID-19 fund-raising committee – just eight members – I was somehow disappointed. Other states had named 50-member, 100-member committees made up of ex-this, ex-that, General Overseer this, Archbishop that. But, as they say, the taste of the pudding is in the eating and, to again quote our people, “wontiti wontiti ko l’eyin” Few sharp and effective teeth in the mouth that can do justice to the matter are to be preferred to a multitude of teeth lacking efficacy. That the Ondo State COVID-19 Fund Response committee raised more funds (N700 Million in cash and kind) than the other States, coming second only after Lagos State, is no mean achievement. Kudos!

It is heart-warming also to note that the committee has openly rendered its statement of account in response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request. As a journalist, I know it is much easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for organisations to comply with the FoI.

Ondo state’s healthcare system pre-COVID-19 was not in the best of forms, which is the same unfortunate situation all over the country. When I saw the list of “no this” “no that” facilities, equipment, and manpower that the Ondo State COVID-19 committee had to contend with, I marvelled. To think that this is the same State governed by a medical doctor for eight unbroken years! What, then, with all the media hype, propaganda, and ‘arrangee’ awards given to that man!

The impressive job done within so short a time and under the stultifying and inclement weather of coronavirus pandemic by the Ondo State COVID-19 committee in building and equipping facilities, procuring equipment and edibles, and in training and improving the quality of manpower will remain a lasting legacy not only in responding to coronavirus but also in the treatment of other infectious diseases, especially Lassa fever that is much pronounced in the State.

Public-spirited citizens, especially those in the private sector, working pro bono and lifting up hapless citizens, must be encouraged to do so, especially where the Pull Him Down (PHD) syndrome is so pervasive as in our pervert political system ever willing to kill such public spirit to serve selfish and parochial interests.

Members of the Ondo State COVID-19 fund-raising committee have done well. The records speak for them. They, therefore, deserve accolades and the gratitude of all of us from the Sunshine State!

LAST WORD: Judgment in the case of the four-year-old daughter of my niece, who was allegedly defiled by one Oyelakin Oluwatosin on January 15th, 2019 at Osogbo, comes up today at the Osun State High Court 4, Oke-fia, Osogbo. May justice be served!

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