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Before we are awakened to a new world reshaped by coronavirus

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That no one was prescient enough to properly predict or discern the fatal consequences of a scourge the extent of the pandemic coronavirus otherwise stylishly referred to as COVID-19 is irrefutable evidence of the downside of science, of the giddy or unreliable nature of prophecies spewed out by men of God at the turn of every year and, more damning, of the rickshaw structure of the palanquins we self-gratifyingly refer to as governments or governance.

Most revealingly, it is affirmation that some un-knowable but ubiquitous super force is truly in charge of affairs and events concerning our world. Some oblique or incoherent references to “upcoming” natural disasters within the year have been vain-gloriously suggested to be the warning echoes from persons who claim privilege to peep into God’s crystal balls to inform us of impending events or dangers.

Not to be dubbed apocalyptic, one of them has ruefully informed a bewildered nation that he securely kept the divine message for the people to himself. No one, however, has been found to be clear or direct in speech or carriage regarding an impending fiercely contagious pandemic coronavirus, by whatever name called. Even the unprecedented rapid succession of epidemics within this century alone, namely Sars in 2002, Mers in 2012 and Ebola in 2014, has failed to fire our imagination or inspire our technology in the direction of the avoidance of COVID-19. Some have opined that our up-turned ingenuity in technology may have produced or manufactured the contagion. What is visible for us to see however are desolation, breakdown in relationships, deserted cities, devastated landscapes, a wide-ranging recessed economy and a disheveled, frustrated or visibly harassed hordes of humanity.

For us, in Nigeria, the dramatic global impact of the coronavirus has overshadowed our local political discussions concerning crass mis-governance or the ineptitude of those in charge of our public affairs. Our vocational participation in the affairs of state by way of insightful commentaries, etc which are positioned to inspire a new and purposeful direction has been restrained these four or so months as we all look aghast at strange fevers, alarmed at un-informed or Madam Malaprop’s prescriptions as effective curative medicines, at un-ending weeks of illness, putative recovery, avoidable deaths and at feverish, intermittent or spasmodic lockdowns. An eerie day-by-day tardy or ill-prepared official responses to the shock and virulent spread of the virus has ironically charted for us a new course. Even as World War 1 might have continued indefinitely but for the pandemic outbreak of influenza, some outstanding fall-outs from the COVID-19 in Nigeria may well be the opportunity for interrogating our processes-educational, health care, social welfare, governance, official responsibility to the vulnerable in society, etc – so we may truly appropriate the gains of our social contract paradigm. The coronavirus as it affects Nigeria may turn out to be the watershed opportunity for terminating or ending errant misrule, desultoriness, official thieving, irredentism and oligarchy. The pandemic and its attendant economic down turn will of necessity channel energies and resources only in the direction of efficient management away from the benumbing profligacy of the pre-pandemic era.

Year-to-Year, financial allocations are made to the health sector as recurrent expenditure and for infrastructural development. COVID-19 has however afforded a new lease of life to the requirement to question the appropriateness of the allocations and of their efficient management or otherwise. Nigerian doctors who are excitedly sought after in other lands have been made to flee their fatherland as a consequence of the scant regard or poor recognition accorded their skills and persons. They have been run out of town with salaries and emoluments that are inconsistent with their primacy of place in our health care delivery system. The official smug indifference to their welfare, the inexplicable delay or non-payment of statutory professional allowances, etc are some of the summaries of their angst.

The primary health care regime, the lowest but most relevant level in the hierarchy of our health care delivery system, has been impoverished with lack of requisite attention and care so much that it has collapsed nationwide. Nurses who, by their calling, are the sympathetic or emotional face of the hospital mandate for recovery from ill health, are in this clime rudely ignored and officially debased. Pharmacists, physiotherapists, laboratory technologists, etc fare no better. The hospital physical environment itself does not bear evidence of a serious national heritage. Dilapidated and ill-equipped, our hospitals wear the features of dis-used, adhoc fixtures or contraptions. For instance, the famous Infectious Diseases Hospital (IDH), Yaba built by the colonial government at the outbreak of the flu epidemic that ensued but which peremptorily ended the world war of 1914-1918, was at the outbreak of COVID-19 our sole national recourse for isolating and treating the victims of the coronavirus infection. Since Nigeria’s flag independence, tepid or inconsequential additions in terms of infrastructure and equipment have been made to this national facility. Frenzied, incoherent efforts are now being put together to upgrade or improve the capacity of the beleaguered national asset in the face of the unsparing coronavirus pandemic.

For the Nigerian public, nothing has proved more dis-appointing in thisCOVID-19 perplexity than the official indifference or the smug neglect of people in authority to the plight of the ordinary citizen. The non-provision for the people of succour or of palliatives to the needy, the impunitous performance of instructions by officials of state, the non-laying in store of provisions or of other necessaries to which the people could have been directed to go and live by, etc are altogether a big flaw in the response of government to the pandemic and its fall-outs.

True national spirit can only be fostered or made to flourished in condition of liberty, the cultivation of sensibility, moral earnestness and dedication to the ideal of freedom - freedom from want, lack, poverty and anxiety or insecurity about tomorrow. The people are ardent for freedom and look to its spirit as enshrined in the grundnorm and in the many protocols enacted in statutes and expressed in conventions for its realisation.

Required for cultivation is a Nigerian spirit built on the idealisation of the clear headedness or stark lucidity of “the descendants of those glorious beings whom [even our] imagination almost refuses to figure to itself as belonging to our kind”.

Nepotism, cronyism, hegemony, irredentism, ethnicity, etc. are self-defeating of the ideal of a true national spirit particularly in a situation of objective tension.

In Daniel Defoe’s prescient 1722 A Journal of the Plague Year we find strikingly foreshadowed our present plight. Defoe creatively catalogues the events saying the plague by August is very violent and terrible, by early September, it reaches its worst and by December the contagion is exhausted... and the most that have fallen sick recover and the health of the city begins to return. Defoe imaginatively foresees that the streets are re-populated as people go along the streets giving God thanks for their deliverance. The above stated trajectory will of necessity be our portion in the course of time even as the right lessons may have been taught and learnt. Our streets will be re-populated again; the sick or afflicted will regain their health and freedom; our cities will revamp into their ordained status and there shall be a reign of peace and plenty as businesses receive life to boom again. Our deliverance is nigh even as the coronavirus will become war-weary, exhausted or will just tire itself out leaving our world reshaped with new sensibilities and salutary policies or responsible governance attitudes that are consistent with the requirement for a progressive community spirit against dawdling, irresponsible or insensitive officialdom. It is to be noted that the object of our present dire circumstances has been divinely programmed to improve the material, emotional and spiritual condition of our world. Human beings will now be positioned to take their divine mandate for an all-round physical and spiritual well-being of the world more seriously. Nigeria has an opportunity to learn or otherwise allow herself to be consigned to the dunghill of dis-reputable antiquity.

The COVID-19 pandemic may well be the objective pre-condition for a new world perspective.

Rotimi-John, a lawyer and public affairs commentator, wrote from Lagos.


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