What Covid-19 Taught Nigeria

By Richard Odu
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It was not the first time in history that the world was facing a global plague which threatened the very existence of mankind. What was novel about COVID-19 pandemic was that this particular kind of coronavirus attacking humanity today had not been known ever before, has no known cure yet and had never been experienced by the present generation of human beings.

As a matter of fact, rapid globalisation and ease of movement around the world had fanned the embers of the pandemic that swept across countries and continents like a storm, killing people on its trail, closing businesses and causing job losses.

Borders were closed, aeroplanes grounded, bubbling cities locked down as the world stood still, just because of the rascality of a tiny entity invisible to the naked eyes.

At first, it sounded alien to Nigerians who merely heard the news at the beginning of the year 2020 that a strange disease was ravaging China where people are known to eat dreadful animals alive. Shortly after, an Italian “imported” it into the country. Then, in a surging sequence, other “importers”, mostly Nigerians who travelled abroad, returned from the United Kingdom, China, Germany, USA and began earnest distribution of the lethal virus, much to the consternation of the federal government which immediately set up a taskforce to fight its spread. Despite spirited efforts of this taskforce, Nigeria is today counting more than 4,000 cases, though with a good number of recoveries and a couple of deaths as well.

The pandemic, as unexpected as it was, exposed a couple of inadequacies in the country, some of which had been bandied around in the past without the government paying attention to them. One is the shambolic state of affairs in our health sector where vital equipment is grossly lacking in hospitals and staff members are ill-motivated. Now that the pandemic has caught up with us, the nation is left to grabble with inadequate quantities of simple requirements such as personal protective equipment for medical personnel let alone ventilators or other essentials.

Rather than fix the problem, our political leaders chose to travel abroad even for minor ailments. They continued to allocate less than five per cent of the national budget to health. Today, COVID-19 has taught the nation that east or west home is the best. In the present situation, the high and might can no longer run to foreign lands for treatment, and this has brought out the stark reality of one of grandma’s sayings, that “as you make your bed, so will you lie on it”.

An ensuing lockdown of major states of the federation meant to curb the spread of the virus crippled people’s businesses. Teeming daily income earners were kept indoors, creating a need for palliatives, if people were not to die of hunger.

Again, we were confronted with a confused mode of sharing the palliatives. How could we share food or cash among people whom we have no clear records of or where to find them? We are not aware of those in dire need of the palliatives or even a clear record of the citizenry. In the end, we find a haphazard distribution of the so-called palliatives from government and public spirited individuals. No verifiable account of who got what or how much that was spent is today available, a situation which subjected a well-intended government programme to abuse and corruption. In any case, woe betides anyone who decides to make a fraudulent goldmine out of the situation.

Organised countries keep a comprehensive information bank where their citizens’ employment status, their names, how they became nationals, virtually all about them is found. Such a record is long overdue for Nigeria as it would help in the strategic planning of various socio-economic sectors of the nation while leading to enhanced welfare of its citizens.

It must be known that Nigerians have had enough of politics of fake philanthropy where known plunderers of the country’s resources return fractions of their loot to the society for political gains and eventually short-change the people. And this has motivated the politicians into keeping the populace perpetually poor so that they can come begging under a little pressure.

For years the people have continued to clamour for speedy trials and dispensation of justice to keep the prison population low and within capacity. Authorities of the Correctional centres paid deaf ears to this call. At the wake of COVID-19, the Nigeria authorities shivered over the monumental devastation that stirred the country in the face should coronavirus creep into the prisons. Of course, the social distancing and good personal hygiene that are the only answers to the virus are impossible in those prisons.

Are we to talk about the state of housing in the urban areas where families as well as young men and women of working age are cramped into dingy rooms because they can’t afford the ideal apartments?

During the lockdown, the inadequacies of our security operatives called out to enforce it were laid bare. There was flagrant display of unprofessionalism in their handling of hapless Nigerians who, for some pressures of life, were unable to keep to the makeshift rules. The lockdown, in all intents and purposes, was to preserve lives against the pandemic. News reports, however, came tumbling in to the extent that the number of Nigerians allegedly shot dead on the streets in clashes with security men surpassed the official death toll from COVID-19 at a point.

The pandemic pointed out the need for social distancing among the federating units, which is encapsulated in the push for restructuring and true federalism. To say that the nation is too large to be completely controlled from the centre is saying the obvious.

On the part of the economy, COVID-19 told Nigeria again that its total dependence on oil places it on a precarious pedestal. As soon as the oil prices plummeted, national earnings dropped, forcing the nation to review its budget.

A post COVID-19 era that does not comprehensively address these issues and others not mentioned here could mean that Nigeria is far from being serious in nation building. It is true that the pandemic affected a good number of countries. It is also true that some countries girded their loins and were able to contain it through strategic planning. Nigeria must learn to prepare for the rainy day.

Dr. Odu writes from Owerri [email protected].

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