Two brothers who were worried about the trajectory of their lives went to see a prophet to enquire about their future, so the story goes. The prophet told the twins Taye would become rich and famous while Kehinde would die in penury. Taye went back home claiming the prophecy, celebrating and throwing parties. Kehinde, though devastated, doubled his efforts at his business working himself to the bones to ward off the negative prophecy. It turned out Taye died broke while Kehinde lived the rest of his life in luxury.
This story comes to mind with the recent COVID-19 pandemic happenings. Melinda Gates, who is co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, was quoted as saying, “Look at what is happening in Ecuador, they are putting bodies out on the streets, you are going to see that in countries in Africa.” This comment immediately attracted a barrage of criticisms in the media. Nigerians rained abuses on Melinda, wife of the US billionaire, Bill Gates. They tasked, snapped their fingers above their heads and said, “We reject it!” “God forbid!” Of note was Femi Fani- Kayode’s numerous tweets castigating Melinda. But we have forgotten that burying your head in the sand is not a risk management strategy. Not long after that, the Nigeria COVID-19 cases began to spike.
Suspicious deaths, which were later traced to COVID-19, were recorded in Kano and neighbouring states. Right now the prognosis of COVID-19 in Nigeria is grim. Melinda’s prediction and worry seem to be coming to pass. Here is the scorecard from Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) as at the 11th of May: Number of Cases – 4,641. Number of Recoveries – 902. Number of Deaths – 150. The number of tests as at 10th May is 27, 078. Even then, the NCDC report is not a true representation of the dreadful situation on ground as enough tests are not being done.
The situation is far, far worse. Lagos and Kano, if care is not taken, would soon become epicentres of the disease. Where did we go wrong? Melinda’s utterance was not a curse but a warning. But did we heed the warning? No. We (the government and the people) should have rolled up our sleeves, like Kehinde in the story, get to work and take personal responsibilities. For Melinda’s prediction not to come to pass, we must do the work. Work in itself is prayer. I believe the government and most of us are not giving this infection all the seriousness it requires.
Most people do not seem to appreciate what we are up against. Or how do you explain the way people behaved, or rather, misbehaved after the partial lifting of lockdown in Lagos. The crowds at bank entrances, the jostling to board public transports, the thronging in marketplaces with no regard whatsoever for social distancing. So many conspiracy theories flying all over the place about the culpability of 5G and Bill Gates in the spread of the pandemic.
Sadly, some highly placed opinion leaders, including revered pastors and imams, are in the bandwagon. They have earned the appellation “Covidiots.” Some of our religious leaders have now been demystified as not deep in thoughts and lacking empathy. This is a situation like no other we have faced before.
Many are tired of staying at home and want their usual life to resume as soon as possible – pastors and imams want to get back to their congregation, business owners want to get back to work, students want to get back to school. People are beginning to throw tantrums. But we must all be patient and let commonsense prevail.
The NCDC needs to ramp up testing and tracing. Our test so far is below that of Ghana which has a lesser population than us. There are stories of a thriving trade in sales of Rapid. Diagnostic Test kits. People resorted to buying them after developing COVID-19 symptoms and the NCDC officials were slow in turning up. They needed to allay or confirm their fears quickly. Despite the NCDC warning that these expensive kits have a high risk of false results, the sales are souring. The only solution is for the NCDC to increase testing and reduce response time to calls. Special attention needs to be given to the states with Almajirai. We need to build more isolation centres.
The Lagos State Governor has already cried out that the state has run out of bed spaces at the centres. There are abandoned state and federal government properties all over the place that can be converted to isolation centres. And what about properties recovered by the EFCC from treasury looters? Treating patients at home and in private health facilities would be disastrous. It is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength and self-confidence, to ask for help. There is nothing wrong in asking for help -expertise, materials and funds – from the international community. Other countries are doing it. It is no secret that our health system is already overwhelmed especially in the area of health workers. And it is getting worse with health workers testing positive to the virus. Let the government ask for additional hands from other countries. We must place human lives above the economy. Easing of lockdown must be gradual and well thought through.
In my years in one of the organisations I once worked for, my email signature signoff was “Let’s Make It Happen!” This was a reflection of my belief in getting things done. Then, even people in the upcountry of the organisation who had never met me face-to-face, but had received emails from me, knew me as Let’s Make It Happen! In the early days of the disease, there were the cynical international media who turned up their nose wondering why the pandemic was not ravaging Africa like it was in their countries. I had hoped that Africa, especially Nigeria, would shame them this once. But it is not too late to prove them wrong. Let’s make it happen!
– Ekhalume is a public affairs analyst