Covid-19 R-Factor and Weak Links in Nigeria -by Oseloka H. Obaze

A chain is as strong as its weakest link. That cliché underlines certain assumptions,
oftentimes, dangerous and egregious. As a public figure and member of the Nigeria’s attentive public, I took some measures, personal and otherwise, to protect my family, staff and myself
from Covid-19. I shut my office well before FGN announced a nationwide lockdown in 2020.
Thereafter, my office had zero tolerance for casual visitors; non-mask wearing guests and
guests not attuned to social distancing rules. I trained my staff in preventive measures. Such
measures, I knew, entailed some financial burdens. I assumed them and it all seemed to work.
Personally, I wrote and commented publicly on the limitations of FGN and State governments’
Covid-19 preventive measures and our lack of a national resiliency strategy. I tried to
influence proactive and preemptive policies. All these were borne out of experience from a
pandemic simulation exercise I was involved in many years back at the UN. On 16 December
2020, I closed my office after a rather rough business year, bypassing the usual Christmas
party. Rather, my staff and I met for 30 minutes. I wished them well, shared pies, cookies, drinks and presents and sent them away for three weeks holidays with vehement cautions to
stay safe and avoid large holiday’s gatherings and Covid-19. On 22 December, I underwent a
routine pre-travel Covid-19 test. The next day, 23 December, 2020 my result indicated I had
tested positive for Covid-19. It was a rude shock. By any measure, I was an unlikely Covid-19
candidate. Yet all my efforts had come to naught.
In reality, neither FGN nor the 36 State governments can say categorically the number of
Nigerians infected with COVID-19. As per Nigeria’s R-Factor (Infection Risk Factor), NCDCs
extant national figures of 97,478 confirmed cases; 17,584 active cases; 78,552 discharged
cases and 1,342 deaths are gross and grotesque underestimation of reality. They represent an
outlier. These prevalent estimates are way off base, buttressed by ambivalence, skepticism and
flawed public policy responses and implementation. These numbers are also not in tandem
with global Covid-19 demographics. Because Nigerians are not being broadly tested, it is
assumed that the national rate of infection is low – a faux premise and narrative. Of those
tested, contract tracing is at best abysmal. Meanwhile, Nigerians are being infected daily in
hundreds of thousands, if not millions. Many continue to die, most deaths hardly ever
documented. Indeed, for every prominent Nigerian who has succumbed fatally to Covid-19,
there are thousands of unknown Nigerians befallen by such fate. Hence, the high Covid 19
infection rate in Nigeria is perhaps the best kept national secret. Meanwhile, COVID-19
related ameliorative efforts remain essentially transaction-driven.
So here I was. I had joined the global league of 89.7 million COVID-19 afflicted. It was not a
badge of honour. Yet as a matter of obligation, I took personal measures to make my infection
public. My constituents and people close to me had the right to know. I personally did the
contact tracing- reaching over seventy-five people to forewarn them of my status as I went into
isolation and consulted my personal physicians in Nigeria and the U.S. And then of course, my
wife, an Emergency Room Attending Physician in the U.S. who had been in the COVID-19
frontline from March to November 2020 at Hackensack University Hospital in New Jersey, was
on hand to do the needful. Interestingly, never for once, did I consider going into any Federal
or State hospital or isolation centre. My confidence in them was short, if not totally lacking.
Because, I was asymptomatic, I naturally worried about my spouse. As per her possible
exposure, we assumed the worst-case-scenario. After consulting our physicians, she went into
isolation and commenced aggressive prophylactic measures. On her return to Nigeria in early
December 2020, she had tested negative. When we did our pre-travel test 3 weeks later, she was also negative. Yet, she tested positive eventually and like me, remain in strict isolation, as I write

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Covid-19 is real and brutal. It is festering in Nigeria. As I struggled with acute and bruising
challenges of Covid 19, and tried to manage anxieties amongst family, kith and kin, friends
and well-wishers, the policy wonk in me analyzed the possible weak link in the chain. Where
was the chink in my protective amour; the index case, from whence I contracted the virus? It
could have been any source; public, church, office and less so, family. My home was almost
impregnable. But then, there were statistical realities. How many Nigerians, political associates,
friends, acquaintances and relatives do I interface with daily, that were Covid infected
unbeknown to me?
As a nation, despite our best intention and efforts, Nigeria had done poorly in her per capita
testing capacity and social orientation. In the South-east and Anambra State where I reside, the
pervasive cavalier mentality remains benumbing. Anambra Governorship aspirants and their
cohorts seemed to care less. Indeed, one governorship aspirant and I had met up close at an
event two days before I tested positive. When I did, I contacted him personally by SMS to
forewarn him to take precautionary measures; he ignored my communication and went about
his public events, even though he knew full well he had possible exposure. And such a person
wants to be the next State Governor? Go figure!
Naturally, I did a mapping of my possible index case. I had narrowed it to a newly appointed
staff, who tended to treat Covid-19 with benign levity and youthful exuberance; and possibly,
a domestic staff. I ordered my entire staff tested, at my expense. My new staff and one other
staff member tested positive. I immediately placed them in isolation and under a managed
medical regime. But there was the weak link. For every unsuspecting principal, like me, it
could be a domestic, a driver, security staff or an office staff. So long as you don’t control their
after-office-hours activities, they pose the weak link in your protective chain. Untested, they
pose grave danger to you, your family and community. In an unguarded moment, an
unwashed hand, a sneeze, cough or whisper in close proximity without masking up, could
prove lethal. But here is the upshot: Many Nigerians are unaware of their Covid-19 status. Testing is very
limited and testing costs ranging from presumably free, to N15,000, N37,000 and N50,000
and millions of Naira for hospitalization are prohibitive. If most Nigerians are not testing, it’s
because they can’t afford to. On 6 January 2021, when the bulk of my staff went to UNTH,
Utuku, Enugu to be tested, thirty-two other Nigerians were tested. Twenty-two or so, I reliably
gathered, tested positive on that single day. The positivity rate is well over 75 percentile. We
can extrapolate those numbers into weeks, months and years. If someone were to suggest that
50 to 70% of Nigerians were Covid-19 positive without being aware, such analysis would be
considered tendentious and alarmist. But that probability is plausible.
If FGN plans to leapfrog a shaky COVID-19 response foundation to invest N400 billion to
vaccinate 70% of Nigeria’s 200 million people, the result, will be equally dismal as were the
Covid-19 unused isolation centers, hoarded palliatives, and the lackluster testing regime. The
first time around, in 2020, Nigeria dodged the Covid-19 bullet. In 2021 and beyond, she
might not be so lucky. There’s still time to turn back the hand of the clock, even if it means
another lockdown. For now, two scenarios seem plausible; either that FGN is in utter denial or
has surreptitiously opted for the herd immunity approach. ——- Obaze, MD/CEO Selonnes Consult, Awka, is a public policy expert and the 2017 PDP
governorship Candidate in Anambra State.

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