The world all over, the biggest conversation is on how to combat the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. In almost 200 countries affected by the outbreak, sedulous efforts are being made to contain the spread while the search for a solution is endless. We are together in fighting a common enemy and being a superpower does not come up in the conversations. Self-isolation, social distancing, quarantine, personal hygiene, proper handwashing are now the buzz words; hand sanitizers, the new allies; face mask, a can’t-do-without accessory; handshakes and hugs, a social taboo. The world as we knew it until a few weeks ago is changed. Our lives, even so, will never remain the same. This situation calls for a renewed reflection on the future we thought we knew and our level of preparedness for the morrow.
Several matters are arising from the global response to the pandemic. In Nigeria, the pandemic has exposed that the issue of future preparedness does not arise. We are not even prepared for today. If there is any lesson from the 2014 Ebola crisis, it’s that we learnt nothing. Nothing. We beat Ebola in record time but the woes in our health sector remained. Life continued as usual. The neglect of the health sector continued as long as the political class could travel to Europe to treat their cold. The majority of Nigerians are left to be cared for by health institutions struggling for breath. Now we are affected by a pandemic. There’s no place to run and that’s why the response to the outbreak has been markedly different. All hands all are on deck to fight the pandemic. I have no doubts we will defeat this.
Like the Ebola case, we are making some progress. Seven of the cases have now tested negative in Lagos, including the index case, after weeks of isolation and intensive care. But like that episode, we have once again resorted to the unmatched resilience of the Nigerian spirit to always find a way out of every dire situation. This is the unfortunate context within which we have had to deal with the crisis on our hands. The Nigerian type of resilience has since become our albatross. It is the type that copes with insufferable conditions rather than challenge those in charge of state affairs to do better. It is the ‘one-day-e-go-better’ spirit that stupefies us to hope that the living conditions of the masses of Nigerians will improve while the political leaders continually insulate themselves from the buffetings Nigerians are daily exposed to.
While no one knows when the expected miracle would come, one thing is clear: things will never be the same. This is indeed a revolutionary moment; our push moment and I don’t think my confidence is misplaced. My confidence is bolstered by the submission of Newton’s First Law that “an object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force.” We have remained too long in a state of ‘rest’ and I believe this is the external force needed to cause us to rethink every bit of our national life, going forward. If we had equipped our hospitals and primary health centres to be life-saving havens, the widespread panic would not be the case. If Research, Development, and Innovation had been adequately funded, the world would probably be looking to Nigeria for the solution.
As part of the strategies to contain the spread of the virus, we are being asked to stay at home. While a considerable few can afford to stay and even work from home for a long enough period, the majority of Nigerians cannot afford it. Millions of Nigerians cannot afford the day’s meal until they have been rewarded for the day’s hustle. And yes, staying at home is good but at what cost? Many Nigerians are not empowered with the necessities needed to make a house a home. The stark reality hits us: the rich are ensconced within the four walls of a house that is powered by a generator that does not go off and the not so privileged are exposed to the harsh realities of the real Nigerian situation where every man is for himself.
In a post-coronavirus Nigeria, the plight of ordinary Nigerians would be exacerbated by several factors largely outside the immediate control of the government but there will be better days. The President, more than ever, will be required to provide the visionary leadership that will usher Nigeria and Nigerians into the glorious future that is ours for the taking when we do that which is convincingly the right thing to do. That Nigeria must also be one that the education, health, security and collective prosperity of every Nigerian is the priority of government at all levels. That Nigeria must also be one that elevates the public discourse from current sordid interparty and interethnic tiff to one of sound deliberations on people-centric and progressive policies. It must be one where the youth take the lead.
Let me use this opportunity to thank our medical professionals for putting their lives on the line to manage the situation. They are our heroes; doing the best with the available resources. The Lagos State government has also done remarkably with the quick upscaling of medical facilities, the economic stimulus package, and in-touch leadership of the governor. Ogun, Ekiti, Benue, Kaduna and a number of other states have put some initiatives in place. I am aware of the Digiclass programme for pupils in Ogun. Lagos has a similar programme for SS3 pupils. The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) must also be commended for the great work done. I also thank individuals and private sector players for the generous donations and support in the fight against COVID-19. We are in this together and we shall overcome.
…Still remembering victims of the Abule Ado Incident
My heart still goes out to the victims of the Abule Ado explosion which occurred two weeks ago. In a March 21 tweet posted via my handle @SamuelAkinnuga, I encouraged everyone to kindly consider donating at least one per cent (1%) of their salary to any of the Emergency Relief Accounts opened by the Lagos State. I have made my contribution and also dedicate this column to the memory of those we lost in the tragic incident. In addition, I am calling for a stricter adherence to safety standards in order to avoid this unfortunate incident in the future.
May God bless Nigeria.