The COVID-19 pandemic has indeed proved to be a hard nut to crack, but it has proved all the more difficult for the Nigerian government to manage as the people who are supposed to collaborate with the government in nipping the pandemic in the bud, have apparently showed apathy towards helping in the fight against the scourge. CHIKA MEFOR-NWACHUKWU takes a look at this ugly trend and writes.
M oving around the city of Abuja in recent times, one would clearly observe that non-adherence to the directives issued by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) for the prevention of the spread of COVID-19, has become the order of the day – a trend that was the reverse situation only a couple of weeks ago.
People were seen all over town a few weeks ago in their face masks, and commercial cab drivers observed the social distance rule by carrying only three passengers at a time in their vehicle. People also adjusted to exchanging pleasantries by jamming either their elbows or knuckles, while some others resorted to the ‘leg-shake’ as against the regular handshake which was considered unsafe and unhygienic.
Everybody seemed to be very conscious of their health, and precaution got in the way of friendly bantering as people opted to stay far apart and quit all forms of physical contact. It was clear that everyone feared for their lives and wanted to stay absolutely safe. But few more weeks later, people have returned to their old ways of living, and resumed their normal businesses without giving a hoot whether COVID -19 still exists or not.
People are now everywhere shaking hands, sharing physical closeness and the cab drivers have returned to carrying four passengers at the back seat and two at the front seat, and virtually all the rules that were been adhered to earlier have been abandoned. This poor attitude of Nigerians to the pandemic was investigated, and a number of factors were found to have been responsible for this negative trend.
At the centre of the non-adherence to NCDC’s directives against the spread of COVID-19 is the widespread notion that the pandemic, as is being reported in Nigeria, is a scam and that all the figures been reeled out by the NCDC on a daily basis are false and unverifiable. A couple of Nigerians have aired their views on whether or not the pandemic is real, and they have surprisingly expressed deep doubts about the realness of the disease in Nigeria, even though they tend to believe that the pandemic is real in other climes.
They have shown strong scepticism on the fact of the pandemic spreading as much as the NCDC is claiming. One Mallam Musa Ahmed who teaches and takes care of Almajirai, was unequivocal in his assertion that the pandemic was non-existent and that government was only cashing in on the unfortunate situation to collect relief funds and materials from the international community and donor agencies. He was also quick to state that he didn’t care if the pandemic was real as he claimed strongly that he had a cure to the disease and any other disease that could spring up.
Mallam Musa’s sentiment is shared by a large fraction of the Nigerian population, and it is, according to Dr Dimgba Okafor, a clinical psychologist, “a major setback to whatever progress that has so far been made in the fight against COVID-19.” Okafor further posited that “it is actually the attitude of Nigerians towards this pandemic that can make the difference, not necessarily the huge effort being put in by government.”
Okafor added that government may not be able to totally salvage the situation as people’s non-adherence to the social distancing directives cannot be checked and controlled by government. “We have seen how the government is doing its best to salvage the situation, but this will not yield much result if the people are unwilling to play their own part in helping the situation. I think that as it stands now, government has resigned to fate so that anyone who survives, survives, and anyone who does not survive is on his own.”
Now, going forward, there are yet those who are of the opinion that government’s refusal to disclose the identity of those who have been treated of the disease and those who have died from it, is suspicious. They have averred that government could actually inspire more trust in the people and get them to believe in the realness of the disease by publishing the identity of the treated and dead patients, since there is a deep sense of doubt and distrust among the people about the reports being circulated on the media.
Some sceptical opinion-holders have compared Nigeria’s handling of the pandemic to that of other countries, especially the western countries, and concluded that the government was shying away from the truth by refusing to add pictures and names to their reports. One Michael Orishane who shared his views with listeners at a bank in Abuja had this to say;
“This their COVID-19 thing is a scam joor. How can they keep telling us that hundreds of people have tested positive to the virus, and hundreds more have recovered without showing us any evidence? They want us to believe their cock and bull story, yet they can’t convince us. “If they want us to believe their stories, they should show us the faces of those who have recovered from the disease. They should interview them and show us on television so that we can believe them. After all, Italy published the faces of their citizens who died from the pandemic, especially the Catholic priests and other religious persons.” There is certainly no doubt that many Nigerians share the same view as Orishane, and many more have gone on the negative mission of doing the opposite of what they ought to be doing which is spreading rumours and vocalizing doubtful comments about the realness of the pandemic. Opinion holders have claimed that many of the ordinary people who live in the slums and suburbs of the FCT do not share in the belief that COVID-19 is real because their friends and families have indoctrinated them with strong comments that express doubts and scepticism about the pandemic. Alhassan Dikko, a motorcycle repairer, expressed strong doubt about the realness of the COVID-19 pandemic by asking why had none of the people he knew, been diagnosed or come down with the disease? Speaking in Hausa, he said; “I sincerely do not believe that such a disease exists, if not, why has none of my friends or relatives contracted the disease and come down with it. We go about our normal hustle every day, and still not even a single one of us has ever complained about the symptoms of the disease. Why then should I believe that the disease exists?” Asked if he knew what the symptoms of COVID-19 are, he surprisingly replied in the affirmative and even listed some of
them. Then, there are those who find the mask-wearing and hand-washing routine very monotonous and disturbing. Orishane who was earlier mentioned, said that he was never comfortable wearing the nose mask and gave the reason that the mask prevented him from breathing well. He added that hand washing too was not an easy task as there isn’t water everywhere. His listeners apparently concurred with his points of thought as they nodded in affirmation.
Now, taking a look at the possible issues that could be precipitated by the reopening of worship centres, one could clearly see that there will be a multiplication of COVID-19 cases as over-enthusiastic worshippers who have greatly missed their culture of congregating in worship centres, would throw caution to the wind and attend church services and religious meetings without wearing nose masks and observing social distancing.
It is the hope of government that the directives issued in line with the reopening of worship centres would be strictly adhered to. In conclusion, it must be emphasised that the people have as much role to play in the fighting off of the COVID-19 pandemic as the government. It is only the collaborative effort of the people that can complement the effort of government in bringing the COVID-19 scourge to a quick death, and as Dr Okafor has rightly observed, “It is not in the place of government to compel the people to adhere to the directives issued for the prevention of the spread of the pandemic. The people must do their bit as the government shoulders the bulk of the responsibility.”
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