COVID-19 IN NIGERIA: MYTHS, FACTS AND UNTOLD STORIES
By Ernest Ogezi
The Covid-19 pandemic was undoubtedly one global contagion that took the world by storm. In this feature, Chidi Matthew Nwachukwu takes a look at the chequered events that played out in Nigeria.
The wave generated by the incursion of the Covid-19 pandemic may have attenuated, but the traces of its aftermath will certainly not vanish in a short while. The coronavirus pandemic, just like the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Ebola, threw the world into pandemonium that literally destabilized everyone, including those who hitherto thought they had been prepared for the worst kinds of natural and man-induced disturbances.
The world was shut down, and the human community was forced into hibernation, to at least give room for proper management of the crisis. Advanced health technologies were quickly applied to the situation to try to quell it, and all hands came on deck to fight the raging scourge which seemed hell-bent on wiping out the human population. In Europe, America, Asia and Australia, the impact of the pandemic was far more threatening than it was in Africa, a fact that many attributed to the temperate nature of those regions.
As is the norm, Nigerians advanced all kinds of theories about the pandemic even as international health organizations continued with their ad-nauseam sensitization campaigns on the facts and nature of the pestilence. And as the scourge raged, Nigerians became even more indifferent to the disturbing and threatening developments and were not bothered about the debilitating impact of the pandemic.
There was widespread doubt about the severity of the plague, and many Nigerians who gave their opinion on the matter insinuated that the issue was merely a ploy by the western world to spread fear amongst people. A commercial cyclist once asked rhetorically why none of his distant or close relatives ever succumbed to the pandemic, despite their not adhering to the Covid-19 rules of physical distancing, washing of hands and wearing of masks.
Mildred Ozokwor, a thorough-bred clinical psychologist, studied the behaviour of Nigerians during the Covid pandemic and made this observation: “Fact is, there are certain peculiarities about Nigerians that define them in very intricate terms. They just have their ways of perceiving things which is not common with people from other climes. They could decide to believe a certain theory (whether it is proven or not), and jettison another (even if everyone else believes it), and that was what determined their reactions to the developments that chequered the Covid period.”
And in utter dismay over how Nigerians flouted the stay-at-home order of the federal government, Andy Chikwe, a public affairs analyst, expressed his thoughts thus: “During last year’s Covid scourge, the federal government of Nigeria issued a stay-at-home order mandating everyone to stay indoors while measures were being put in place to curb the Covid menace, but many Nigerians surprisingly didn’t comply with the instruction as they went about their normal businesses.
“During that period, both the young and the old went on exercise sprees as they occupied the less-busy tarred roads and even the highways working out. In Lagos State, a task force was set up to apprehend defaulters of the ‘stay-at-home’ order, which was a move that was also replicated in the Federal Capital Territory and a few other states. That was an expedient decision that the authorities had to take to ensure that the pandemic didn’t escalate beyond proportion.”
But from a contrasting perspective, Arthur Rex-Fabiyi, a public affairs analyst, argued that there was no sense in compelling the people to stay at home when provisions were not made for them to obediently adhere to such a tall order. For him, the government of Nigeria did not have to replicate the measures being adopted by the other countries that have been able to set up stable systems that could support such expediencies.
He opined that the government ought to have looked inwards to find home-spun solutions to the country’s peculiar needs at that time. He maintained that the daily-earners who make up a large chunk of the country’s working population were the worst hit by the stay-at-home order. He then concluded by suggesting that the government ought to have ensured that the palliatives which were only handed to a select few were evenly distributed.
Now, many other opinion-holders have attributed Nigerians’ nonchalance to the issues of the Corona Virus disease to several reasons of which misinformation was primary. They opined that a large chunk of the information that dominated public space during the heat of the pandemic was erroneous and that the people were not disposed to verifying them before accepting them as true. For instance, rumours went around at that time that consuming highly-ethanoic beverages could prevent and even cure the Corona Virus disease, and many people believed it and then went on to binge on brandies, whiskies and some other strong alcohols without verifying the information. Some believed that consuming certain herbal and traditional condiments could prevent and cure the Corona Virus disease even after the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had issued stern warnings against such actions.
Then, there were the religious communities that admonished their members not to fear and believe in the existence of the Corona Virus disease. They kicked strongly against the stay-at-home order since it prevented their members and adherents from gathering in large numbers, as was the practice before the advent of the pandemic. They found themselves almost going over the edge in rebelling against a federal order, but yet managed to get hold of their emotions and adhere to the big fiat for obvious reasons.
And part of the twists and turns that chequered the Covid period was the blatant refusal of some Nigerians to wear a facemask for several unimaginable reasons. For instance, a great percentage of those who went shopping at the local markets during the pandemic never wore facemasks. They only wore it when they knew that there would be penalties for not wearing it. Some claimed that facemasks prevented them from breathing well, while others outrightly didn’t subscribe to wearing a mask as they held the opinion that the pandemic was a scam and non-existent.
Those who contemplated the veracity of the pandemic were further emboldened when some of the predictions made about the anticipated fatality and mortality rates for Africa did not eventually follow through. It would be recalled that Melinda Gates, ex-wife of US billionaire, Bill Gates, predicted last year that Africa would be so hard hit by the pandemic that people would die in their numbers as their corpses would litter the streets, but that prediction did not exactly roll out as was expected. The fatality rate that ended up hitting Africa was not even up to a quarter of the deaths that ravaged Europe, America, Asia and elsewhere.
Those were some of the vagaries that chequered the Covid period in Nigeria.
And as the heat of the pandemic has attenuated to the point where human activities have resumed across the globe, there are still concerns that the pandemic may resurface if proper checks and balances are not put in place. Many countries that foreclosed the possibility of a resurgence of the pandemic paid dearly for their folly and short-sightedness. India and China, for instance, did not envisage the reappearing of the pandemic on their soils, and thus ended up with another bout of casualties even while other countries made actual progress in their management of the pandemic.
Then, a major highlight of the Covid-19 story was the production of vaccines which happened very promptly as the situation warranted. But then, there still came up so many conspiracy theories about the vaccines and what they were meant for. Some rather chose to believe that the vaccines were hurriedly synthesized to be used as a means to introduce certain catalytic and toxic substances into the body of humans so that in the end, human lives would be truncated rather than elongated. And for the above-stated reason, many unsuspecting people jettisoned the life-saving vaccine and chose rather die than get the jabs.
Added to the population of gullible people are those who for the sake of their faith, refused to get vaccinated. It was on account of these developments that stakeholders in the sector entered into a partnership with the media to sensitize the people and give them a reorientation about the vaccines. This remedial measure had to involve the traditional institutions under which many of those who rejected vaccination fall.
The Covid-19 story will not be complete with the inclusion of the role played by the international community in helping the African continent manage the pandemic more effectively. Perhaps the scourge would have had a worse toll on Africa if the western world and other humanitarian organizations had not intervened in the swift manner they did. Lots of vaccines were donated by several international health organizations, and financial supports (grants and soft loans) were also doled out to African nations according to the peculiarity of their needs.