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Breaking out of the cage!

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A crowded bank after the COVID-19 lockdown in Lagos

There is nothing like freedom. Last Monday proved to everyone how irrepressible the longing for freedom is. The longing was breathless, the desire to walk the street was pressing—to breathe in fresh air from outside, away from the stuffy room into which you have been restricted. It sometimes comes with the urge to quickly remove the face mask, without the feeling that Big Brother is watching you. It is easy to picture people not having enough roomy abodes in the congestion of Lagos and Kano slums, by which are meant spacious corridors to stretch legs and to stretch the arms. To fuel the desire for freedom was the pangs of unrelieved hunger on the one hand and to yield, on the other hand, to the nature pressure for freedom inherent in all human beings.

The harrowing experiences and the longing to be free of them were brought about by the unavoidable lockdown in the wake of the advent of the rampaging coronavirus which has turned the whole world upside down. There were murmurings in the land. There were loud protests. Some in acute frustration dared to go out. The economy was being severely threatened. The government was at a crossroads. It was faced with electing piecemeal relaxation of restrictions or continuing with the total lockdown, particularly in Lagos, Ogun States and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja. The debate was on among the populace, high or lowly. Some said it was better to be bored than to be under the ventilator.

A great many said it was better to be locked down than to be knocked down. And there was the poser: What do you prefer—to die from hunger or to die from coronavirus? Those who elect to die from coronavirus are reminded that when they give up the ghost, they will not be given befitting burials by their relations, the bodies cannot be claimed by the families and they would end up in mass burials. Those who elect to die from hunger are those who support the lockdown and in the process save other lives, and who knows, the death may not even come after all from hunger, depending on the constitution of each person. But this category is also reminded that the lockdown will give rise to an upsurge in crimes. What then do we do?

In the end, the government yielded to pressure, more to prevent the total collapse of the economy which had started limping. Companies were shutting down with the attendant job erazures. The government found it could not be mulish on a matter such as this and so, the restrictions were relaxed. The anxieties and debate were universal. As it was in Ghana, so was it in the United Kingdom. As it was in Nigeria, so was it in the United States of America, in Germany or Spain.

In Nigeria, with the restrictions partially lifted after government had had consultations with the relevant agencies and actors that have bravely pre-occupied themselves with wrestling with Mr. COVID-19, on certain days of the week, movement is allowed so the citizens will be able to do one or two things, to pick one or two things from the market and engage in limited transactions. What happened?

What a release! Freedom is sweet; freedom could be intoxicating; when it breaks out of a cage, it could mow down whatever stands on its way. And this reminds me of an incident in court decades ago when as a reporter I went to cover some cases. There was this young man. He had been framed and he did not expect anything other than being led on a journey to a jail house. But the judge saw through the web of intrigues woven around him, and pronounced him discharged and acquitted. Not believing his ears, before the chorusing “as your Lordship pleases” left the lips of lawyers and litigants, the man, forced by the fire of freedom, jumped out of the cubicle where in arraignment he stood. He prostrated before the judge and, as if possessed, immediately made furiously for the door and started running with all the energy he could muster, seemingly to nowhere in particular! No one dared stand in his way.

On Monday, the streets, banks and bus stops were jam packed. There was struggling at bus stops, there was jostling and elbowing. Ladies and gentlemen, come with me to the banks. There was shoving, there was pushing, there was kicking, blows were exchanged to enter banks. Clothes were torn. Crowds were surging everywhere. You would think people were coming out of the stadium after watching the accustomed fierce tango between the Green Eagles and the Black Stars of Ghana, the ancient rivals. The people were trooping out from every corner and every nook. The security forces would appear not prepared for the crowds in terms of personnel capacity. The security personnel at various gates of the banks were overwhelmed. Social and physical distancing was a mirage. Those who had their face masks put them in their pockets so they could breathe in the throngs besieging buses and the banks.

The impact of coronavirus pandemic cannot as yet be fully assessed either on the economy or the conduct of Nigerians, nay on the conduct of human beings in general. A colleague of mine, Yinka Fabowale, was in Ibadan and he wrote a scintillating, yet sobering report on his Facebook wall captioned “A Big Egungun Festival.” It runs in part as follows:

“Cities and towns across Nigeria roused from about a month-long coma early this morning of May 4 in the Year of our Lord 2020 with a pulse rate able to burst the veins, albeit sporting an unusual face! Everywhere you turn multitudes of eager Nigerians many of whom had stayed indoors in compliance with official advisory to check the spread of the raging COVID-19 trooped to the streets, banks, markets and workplaces to resume their businesses or means in face masks.

“In cars, buses, motorcycles, tricycles, on the road, side street corners they are there, masked up in fabrics of different shades and colours. And with the whole space bustling with masquerades you begin to wonder if Africa’s ancestral spirits had become bored with their home in the ethereal realm and decided to visit or permanently settle with us, their earthly kith and kin! Could the dead really be back to repopulate the world, mingle and transact business with us, earthlings, like they did in D.O. Fagunwa’s fables? It’s also tempting to think we are probably well into the Egungun Festival celebration and that I must have missed out on the cultural calendar fixtures! But the weird spectacle marks a switch in how our physical environment and life outdoor have hitherto looked and may look for some time.

“A fearful phase of living in constant risk of drawing morbid breath in a dubious weather, without a face or nose pad! A curious season. For how long will it last? We pray it ends soon. Why?

“Besides hypoxia, an unconsidered injurious health complication incessant wearing of and breathing into a mask causes, according to Dr. Dennis A. Castro B, one is also bothered that the new dress code or decree to mask up oneself might throw up a crisis whereby people mistake or find recognizing family members, friends and people they may encounter on the way a puzzle unless they knew well beforehand how to identify them.

“Pray, Romeo, his cousin, Benvolio and jovial friend Mercutio, wore face masks to attend, uninvited, his family’s mortal foe, Capulet’s masquerade’s Feast, but the hotheaded Tybalt, Capulet’s kinsman who was always looking for trouble with members of the Montague, his family enemy, still managed to detect them. Given his history and character, an entirely innocent man could well have been victim of Tybalt’s rage and decision to attack Romeo and his friends later for the perceived slight on his family with their attendance of the gig, if such one had shared his resemblance with the young scion of the estranged Montague clan. The encounter at the masquerade party plotted the subsequent tragedy that ended one of the greatest love stories ever told in the world. So, how much confusion, chaos and crises could result from this big national fair!

“Well I have no difficulty at all recognizing friends and colleagues including the Chief Press secretary to the Oyo State Governor, Taiwo Adisa, who I met at Premier FM 93.5 Ibadan, where I had gone to do a recording programme, and Dr. Kayode Olunuga and Olufunke Olunloyo with whom I worked. Even, I surprised a female colleague who is a senior management officer of the popular radio station when in spite of her ‘disguise,’ I called her and greeted her. It, however, took a few seconds of talking and my helping her with a brisk lowering of my own face mask to the jaw for her to recognize it was me.

“Wag his tail or charge? My furry friend, Spark, appears unable to make up his mind who I am—a Ninja, intruder, or the Master of the house he is familiar with, in the photos taken by my son, Michael, when I returned home early in the evening. Imagine the feeling of being before a distrustful immigration officer you must convince to be able to enter your own house.”

Coronavirus is not only changing our outward appearance, it is shaking us to the depths to recognise our smallness. The escapades of Mr. COVID-19 are making mankind to recognise their helplessness, and to know that it is from High Above alone that help can be mediated to us. Arrogant mankind is humbled. Videos are trending showing people falling on their knees just anywhere, supplicating to the Most High. In the UK, an itinerant evangelist parked his vehicle by the roadside, using his amplifier, went down on his knees praying. People peeped through the window; some standing on the veranda; cyclists park their bikes to join him in worship. In Brazil, what a touching spectacle seeing people on their knees in just any open space and with raised hands beseeching the Maker. Forwarded to me is a video that regards coronavirus as an evangelist. And what follows is an address which has been titled “Farewell sermon at send-off for Evangelist Coronavirus.” It reads:

“Dear great Evangelist, you were on the mission field and within few months able to travel through the length and breadth of planet earth, preaching to mankind, even better than do most of the current servants of God.

“You have taught mankind the basics of life and the vanity of our daily pursuit. You have taught us that our focus must be on God and Him alone. All of a sudden: Our earthly possessions are no longer important. Our mansions mean nothing as we are just quarantined in one room. Our private jets are no longer flying. The cathedrals and auditorium we collected so much donations to build so as to service our ego suddenly became empty—just seats, no more human beings. Cars are now useless, at home, nowhere to go! There are no more parties to attend where we lavish our money to show others that we have arrived. The only thing that matters now is just to breathe and all we are simply looking for is life, and nothing more!

“We have now understood that our greatest blessing is life itself and not those things we were holding in high esteem before your visit. Dear Evangelist CORONA, we appreciate your teachings, and promise that after now, we shall live simple lives. We will not speak like God again when we carry microphones. Evangelist Corona, you have shown how little we know about God. Thank you for allowing the earth to rest and be reset from all the unnecessary struggles; for delivering us from being aimlessly busy, for being in a hurry to nowhere and from ghost chasing. You have allowed the earth to heal, we thank our Maker for the lessons we have learnt from you. It is now time for you to return to the place from where you came and never again to come back to planet earth. Goodbye!!!” The author is said to be unknown.

A lady by name Brene Brown believes the world will not go back to normal. “Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal… We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”

A digital publication has reported people are seeking deliverance in a variety of ways in the time of uncertainty brought about by coronavirus. Many embark on pilgrimage to Ireland in search of what they call holy wells which are believed to have healing properties.

We are undoubtedly in the time of perplexities. Escape from the cage through relaxation of restrictions or even release from the lockdown completely can only be an insignificant part of freedom. Freedom does not lie in physical movement alone. One may be able to move about unhindered and still not be free. Total freedom and wellness, however, lie only in abiding by the Divine Laws of the Almighty. It is these laws that bear the Will of God for all eternity, governing and maintaining the whole of Creation. Ignorance of their existence or outworking is neither an excuse nor does it stop them from working to the minutest details, whether it has to do with our health or joy and happiness. The condition of the earth is a harvest of seeds long sown. We are told in higher knowledge available on earth at this time that “Only the man who lives in the Laws of God is free.” The advent of coronavirus is a consequence of the breach of the Laws in question by all mankind. We have fallen short!


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