Covidoubts and Nigeria’s COVID-19 challenge – By Joel Nwokeoma

covid-19

Coronavirus

It is worrisome that even with the rising cases of infections and excruciating fatalities from the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, notable among whom included the President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, the immediate past Governor of Oyo State, Abiola Ajimobi, and earlier this week, the Ondo State Commissioner for Health, Wahab Adegbenro, there are still many Nigerians who live in denial of the devastating reality of this merciless and classless virus. So far, more than five state governors (Abia, Bauchi, Delta, Kaduna, Ondo and Oyo) have tested positive for the virus while the Imo State House of Assembly had to be shut down for two weeks after about 13 lawmakers were infected.

The Ebonyi State Government House suffered a similar fate in June when some state executive council members tested positive. This week alone, after his daughter tested positive, the Delta State governor and his wife were infected just as the wife of the Ondo State governor was infected after her husband earlier tested positive. The wife of the Ondo State Commissioner for Health has gone into isolation after testing positive following her husband’s death from the virus. This by no means shows that other unmentioned victims are less important.

Yet, to some folks, these rapidly unfolding scary developments are at best distant fairy tales, what some dismissively refer to as “big man wahala”. They are what has been derisively referred to as covidoubts. You see them everywhere in Nigeria, especially in the country’s rural areas. Each time some of my close relatives call me from the village and I ask them how they are adhering to the protocols and public health measures to stave off the virus, they laugh me to scorn. The irony is too striking. However, that doesn’t in anyway deter me from warning them of the cataclysmic nature of the pandemic. So, if you want to know why Nigeria has been garnering disturbing statistics of infections and deaths from coronavirus, look no farther; the covidoubts are partly to blame. The community transmission we are in now is accentuated by spreaders who don’t believe in the pandemic.

Sadly, as was gleaned from a survey report presented at a webinar organised for journalists on Thursday by the Africa Centre for Disease Control, themed, Journalism and COVID-19: Public health and social measures in Africa, the wave will soon hit the rural areas more than it has hit the urban areas where it is now more evident. Incidentally, it’s in the rural areas that the living in denial and cynicism about the virus are rampant. I am too scared to contemplate what could happen to my village in Imo State, for instance, in the event of anyone contracting or importing the virus given the lack of a functional dispensary in sight even though it is a richly oil and gas endowed area.

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On Wednesday, a visibly agitated Deputy Governor of Imo State, Prof Placid Njoku, at an event at the state capital, Owerri, lamented that some residents of the state “still do not take the virus seriously.” He reiterated that the “coronavirus pandemic is a very serious challenge to the entire world of which Imo is not an exemption.” Not surprisingly, the state got 20 new cases on Wednesday (taking its total figures to 352) when the country recorded its daily biggest haul of 790 cases.

For the purpose of definition, a covidoubt, is “Someone who ignores the warnings regarding public health or safetyA sceptic, doubting Thomas, so to say . Such a person acts irresponsibly during the COVID-19 pandemic, ignoring common sense, decency, science, and professional advice leading to the further spread of the virus and needless deaths of thousands.

There is no better way of describing the attitude of not a few Nigerians in the face of this pandemic than this definition. This should worry everyone. And as the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire, said on Thursday, the rising cases of the virus in the country are “a sign that COVID-19 is actually expanding faster than our health systems are handling it”.

Earlier on Tuesday evening, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, out of desperation, said it was contemplating collaborating with state governments to see how “18 high-burden” local government areas in the country could be locked down to contain the spread of the virus. Eleven of the 18 LGAs are located in Lagos. They are, Mushin, Eti-Osa, Alimosho, Kosofe, Ikeja, Oshodi/Isolo, Apapa, Amuwo Odofin, Lagos Island and Surulere. The PTF said, “The reason for the precision lockdown is to place specific measures that will be administered by state governments and local authorities. It is not for the Federal Government, it’s the responsibilities of states and local authorities.”

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If you factor the fact that Lagos State has 20 LGAs, and is unarguably the most populous state in Nigeria, you will appreciate the more why it is the epicentre of the pandemic in the country, accounting for 10,630 active cases out of the national figure of 26,484 as of Wednesday, July 1. The national death figure was 603, out of which Lagos alone accounted for 129. Globally, there were 10,935,964 cases and 519,818 deaths.

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It therefore depresses to know that the above scary realities notwithstanding, there is a growing population of covidiots, cutting across sex, status and standing in the country. Two state governors stand out like a sore toe leaving their states at great danger.

Last Saturday, I met two such raging covidoubts in my estate in Lagos. A middle-aged man and a young lady to boot. At different times and locations. But they were united in their shared idiocy in not believing that coronavirus is real.

First, earlier in the day, I had taken a walk to the end of my street to loosen up, as is my routine. I was fully masked up as I walked past passersby. Then, I encountered this fellow I became acquainted with one day I sent my car to a carwash. That day, we struck up animated discussions that lasted the whole period the car was given a thorough wash.

But this Saturday, as I saw him, I gave him a friendly wave more so because he wasn’t masked or observing any protocols where he stood in a group. Apparently peeved, he asked me, “Is this how we used to greet? So, you believe this whole story of a scam they call coronavirus?”

To me, those were no questions deserving of my dignifying response. I left him to his cherished ignorance.

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Later in the evening, at a carwash, the attendant came towards me for documentation, unmasked and I wondered why she wasn’t masked up. Her response left me distressed for a girl her age. “Show me anybody who’s been diagnosed with and treated with coronavirus in this country. All those people government shows us already have sicknesses that kill them and not Covid. Why can’t we see the patients in the hospitals here the way we see them in overseas hospitals? Abeg don’t tell me about Ajimobi because it’s not coro that killed him. I don’t need masks because coronavirus isn’t in Nigeria,” she concluded. I gave up and left her to drown inside her pool of ignorance.

I recall that a cleric had called me from Imo State at the outset of the pandemic and I asked to know how he was coping. He replied to the effect that “coronavirus is a big business the Nigerian government concocted to collect ready funds from the World Health Organisation.” The disease of the Egyptians isn’t our portion, he sermonised.

Like in many African countries, experts opine that the fight against the pandemic is defined by a dearth of trust in government, lack of open communication and poor critical multi-stakeholder engagement. In Nigeria, for instance, aside from the flurry of activities at the federal and state levels, not much is done at the local and community levels. It’s this gap that has given birth to a growing population of Covidoubts which is making the fight against the pandemic inefficacious leading to the spread.

The best efforts of government in Nigeria at testing, tracing and treating infected patients are hamstrung by a combination of challenged health care systems and inadequate capacity. This leaves the individual with the best response mechanism to manage the pandemic. It’s therefore imperative that everyone should take personal responsibility to push back the raging scourge of humanity. Let no one wait until one becomes a statistic before taking action. It may be too late. Adhere strictly to the social measures and outlined health protocols wherever and whenever.

Don’t be scammed to death by ignorant folks, dear. Coronavirus is real.

What are your thoughts?