December of 2019 was very normal as Nigerians were giving and receiving gifts, as well as yuletide packages, not knowing that what will forever change their lives and the rest of the world was already brewing up in faraway China. “The deadly package” from Wuhan turned the location from a sleepy town into a name the world may never forget.
Initial reports in the mainstream media spoke of a deadly virus that looks like flu and kills faster than HIV/AIDS. At first, people generally from all nations of the world felt it was being overrated, but the entire world was caught unawares with the speed at which this deadly virus penetrated nations. Everyone started counting their losses. Italy was the first European nation to be badly struck by the virus and the blame game started. Almost immediately, the world started seeing it. Nations began to stop flight from China and other high risk countries. The World Health Organization started doing research to clearly identify the virus
On January 23, 2020, the World Health Organization’s International Health Regulations (IHR) Emergency Committee advised that “all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread of 2019-nCoV infection, and to share full data with WHO.” On January 30, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 to be a public health emergency of international concern.
The story in Nigeria came alive that fateful day in February when the index case was detected in Nigeria. Then, the contact tracing, preventive measures, awareness and other moves to curb the virus started. One of the most early challenges was the contact tracing that should reveal the individuals the Italian had come in contact with before his hospitalization and/or isolation.
To many Nigerians, isolation, quarantine, personal protective equipments and other general words or phrases made popular by this virus only exist in dictionaries, not in their daily lives. Government was quick enough to open the previously built isolation centre which came to be during the Ebola epidemic. Some form of kudos should be given to the Lagos State Government for its timely response, not forgetting the governor, as at that time was still rallying round for support for the victims of the pipeline explosion that occurred at Abule Ado which rendered thousands homeless.
It is said that Nigerians are the most difficult to lead in the world but is this entirely true? Well, to a certain extent.
The people of Nigeria may be difficult to lead as Coronavirus came and it met immediately with the traditional Nigerian disbelief. Many Nigerians blatantly refuse to believe that the virus was real. Many disregarded warnings and asked to see isolation centers where cases are kept. They were ready to go any mile to prove that the Nigerian government is lying about the existence of the virus in Nigeria. When one engages some in conversations surrounding the virus, one will hear all sorts of things like, “it’s a virus for the rich”, “it cannot be contracted by someone who drinks alcohol”, “it cannot survive under Nigeria weather”, etc.
The first responsibility the government has after making provision for isolation centers was to create awareness about the virus, how it operates, its nature, how it can be contracted, how citizens can protect themselves with specific preventive measures. The government, not minding the hostile nature of majority of its citizens towards these policies, made very impressive efforts to enlighten the public on everything they needed to know about the virus, leaving no stone unturned. Creating awareness was not left to the government alone to handle. Media houses and organizations all joined in the campaign.
Many nations had started securing its territories; airports shut down, schools closed, club houses closed, other public places closed, people are told to stay home, companies quickly adopted working from home, only people whose work is classified as “essential” are allowed to step out. All sporting events and activities stopped. Meanwhile in Nigeria, the numbers had started increasing. Safety measures became a national anthem yet most Nigerians defied the warning.
Refusing to adhere to safety measures is not peculiar to Nigeria. Italy was the most struck European nation and the cause is not unknown – the people ignored all warnings and continued with their daily activities even when their government told them to stay home. This was a single mistake that caused Italy a lot in human lives. Nigerians were reading this online, watching it on TV, yet they chose to believe the virus is not in Nigeria.
Using facemask became mandatory in every nation. Most Nigerians saw no reason to wear it often or even at all. Some companies also quickly made arrangements in their organizations by providing soap and water to wash hands, facemasks, sanitizers, and did not hesitate to incorporate COVID-19 safety measures into their work lives. However, many others decided to embrace their disbelief the more.
The number of cases kept increasing, and so was the depth of criticism. Nigerians continued to query the existence of the virus in Nigeria. Some continue to spread the news that it is “the disease of the rich” because lots of prominent figures had started passing from coronavirus related complications. Some just decided to believe the opposite about the existence of the deadly virus. Others believe their God is able to protect them from contracting the virus so they do not need to observe the safety measures.
In order to ensure the safety of its people and reduce the spread, the Nigerian government decided to lock down the nation following the steps of other nations and as usual, Nigerians rejected it. Some defied the order by still going out, until the government made it an offense and empowered the police to enforce the law. People were arrested for disobeying; the police were accused of using it as an opportunity to extort money from people. Citizens, especially the low class started crying for government intervention regarding survival and they wasted no time in comparing the government to other governments and how they give palliatives and funds to their people to cushion the effect of the lockdown. Nigerian government was, at a point confused when it had to deal with the rising cases, general safety of the people and high level of criticism that accompanied all government moves.
The religious houses of course were shut too. All religious activities were stopped and this did not go down well with the religious leaders. Many obeyed but others were quick to align the existence of this virus to spiritual attack against the tenets of their religious belief. Some said it’s the anti-Christ. Some decided to believe the conspiracy theorists who say the virus is caused by the fifth generation network popularly called the 5G installation.
Some pastors quickly switched to meeting their members online for services. Others continued to look for ways to justify the belief that this is a fight against the Church. The Islamic leaders are no different as they continue to hold meetings especially the Friday Ju ma’at prayers. Even when the yearly festival came, against the government advice, they travelled to meet their families to celebrate it. Obviously, government did not enjoy the co-operation of the people in the collective fight against the scourge.
Schools were shut down permanently and after almost a year students are just getting back to the classrooms. Most schools quickly switched to online classes, making sure they continue to deliver education to their pupils/students. The tertiary institutions took the backseat in this regard as they refuse to come up with solutions on how they can collectively deliver education to their students.
Furthermore, the government, after having to deal with the already mentioned challenges, had to tighten security as some young criminals now see this as an opportunity to rob people of their hard earned money. The government, apart from dealing with issues relating directly with coronavirus, had the headache of where to put these arrested criminals without jeopardizing the health of others in the various police stations where they would be kept.
Nigerians weathered the storm. Some got relief funds. Others got palliatives, but most Nigerians claimed they did not get either. The government, considering all option after locking down the nation for close to two months and dealing with other issues that emanated from it, decided to start easing the lock down so that people can start going back to their daily activities. This was not immediate as they started with people providing essential services.
The virus is still here today. There is a new variant already killing more people in some other nations and the Nigerian government is still battling with making the people observe basic safety measures here. There are rumors of another lockdown and the people are already criticizing the move, yet citizens are still disobeying simple laid down protocols for safe existence. How can this be explained? Probably the dose of stubbornness in the average Nigerian is much higher than what other nationalities have in their DNA.
Government has been at forefront of the campaign to protect the general population from the very beginning but the resistance and hostility of most Nigerians to government safety measures and protocols have contributed to the many challenges the country has faced in these trying period.
When COVID-19 vaccines ordered by the government arrive, it would not be surprising if one hear stories that one ethnic group has planted poisons in the vaccine to eliminate another tribe to take over their lands. Surprisingly, a large number of people will believe and even propagate it. There seem to be no boundaries to the stubborn Nigerian spirit.
-by Gideon Tobiloba