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Covid-19: Why is Nigeria always different?

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Health workers attend to people during a community COVID-19 coronavirus testing campaign in Abuja on April 15, 2020. The Nigerian government commence search and sample collections of eligible cases as they struggle to contain the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic as cases rise in Nigeria amidst lockdown. Kola-Sulaimon–AFP

Yes, sometimes, you just have to stare at the sky and ask: why is ours always different? What gods framed us so negatively different? It is a puzzling and a rather disturbingly annoying admittance that Nigeria is always different in almost every instance of life. When it comes to negatively being different, no one does it better than this nation. I raise my hands in awe! Forget the regular talks of we being the giant whether sleeping or dead of Africa, we are unique, our ways cannot be like their ways. If ours was that good, many would be copying. Our governance and politics are radically different from other saner climes. Relax as I take you on a short journey on how surprisingly different Nigeria and Nigerians can be.

Sadly, the Covid-19 has revealed a lot too about this negative gap between us and the world. While other world leaders are presenting daily updates of situations and reassurances to its citizen we have ours monitoring the situation from a safe distance, perhaps scared that he may contract it. Many say his age predisposes him to danger at this point. He reluctantly spoke few days ago when things were over heals already. It has always been about him, his health and age. Our President has always been taciturn and very uninspiring, something radically different from contemporary world leaders who could incite their citizens to positive actions. Many world leaders speak in eloquent and convincing manner that could prompt some followers to stand up and applaud like what you see from many zealous followers of Nigerian Pentecostal churches. Our leader is not framed in that way. However, he would have redeemed his name by at least, disappointing the ‘Nay Sayers’ and the ‘wrong gospel preachers’ by being more pragmatic and dynamic with conversations related to the spread of the dreaded virus.

When he finally spoke, it was about lockdown. The lockdown that various State Governors in the absence of a pragmatic leadership at the centre had implemented in their various states. When he finally spoke, it was about school feeding of children that were home already. When he spoke, it was about giving money to ‘the poorest and most vulnerable.’ In a nation without data, how do you know them? Who is not poor in this country even?

While other nations were closing their borders to prevent people from coming and leaving, our leaders initially gathered the international community present in the nation telling them why we would not be closing our doors to them even in the face of crisis. The usual economic considerations took the better part than the health consideration of the Millions of Nigerians. Nigeria’s doors to the world remained opened even when they knew fully we lacked sufficient testing kits and the health structure to handle any plague of any kind. It took real pressure before our leaders in the last few days heeded to the full closure of the airports. However, the deed was already done.

As an aside, this is the only country where a Governor travels on air to present pictures of a tragedy in his state to a President to stare at and perhaps say: ‘did this really happen in this country I lead? It looks strange! Are you sure these are the true pictures?’ And to the humorous part: ‘I hope no cattle was lost to the explosion?’ What stops him from going there? The only answer would be the radical difference in this nation in comparison with others.

Back to the Covid-19 issues which many Nigerian humourists have nick named ‘collidia drive us.’ The humour derived by Nigerians from serious situations which the nation is facing is epic. With the various comic skits, memes and pictures flooding the social media space, nobody does it better than us in the world. We can make jokes out of anything, name it: Ebola, Flooding, Monkey pox, corruption, Boko Haram, Fulani Herdsmen, the list is endless. We are indeed different. Nigeria is gradually shutting down cities and scattering to different places from work places and organizations just like other countries have done or are doing haven been hit with Covid- 19 crisis. At this point, I doubt if you would be shocked that ours is even different.

Many Nigerians are staying indoors with no assurances that there would be electricity as it is in other places. Many Nigerians are shutting down to their houses with no clear plans of what they and their family members will eat during the period not because there is no food to buy but there is no money to do so. In other nations most of the citizens have the money to buy but not much to buy because demand is high. Here, it is the reverse. Governments in Nigeria have not paid many workers and they would likely not send money for welfare as other nations are doing to private citizens. Here, I can bet with so much confidence that most private organizations would not pay their workers because they did not come to work but that it is not how it is outside this environment. Most nations have structures to handle problems like this but ours is different. There is only one centre that can test infectious diseases in the eleven states in the South-South and South Eastern parts of the nation. Hospitals and clinics are grossly inadequate and many Nigerians before the outbreak could not get proper health care.

As the major cities in Nigeria gradually gets shuts down due to the outbreak of the Corona Virus, the Federal Governments and State Governments could in their own radically different style compound the problems by shutting the lives of average Nigerian workers by not paying them salaries and allowances. If we are to emulate how it is done in other climes, power is a constant phenomenon for heat and cold. You cannot keep people in quarantine and isolation without power and food. If they are not provided, the search for them would take people out. Workers need money to buy food and make the lives of their family members comfortable. In Europe and America, individual citizens are being credited as bailouts for the season. Large Co-operations like the Facebook have been giving their workers allowances even as they stay at home. My greatest fear here is that ours would also be different in the negative. We do not emulate the good things outside. Instead, we manufacture the bad ones and say it is Nigeria, we are Nigerians. At the end, we are actually different and even on our own accord. May God help us!

Idegbekwe is a lecturer in the Department of English, University of Africa, Toru-Orua, Bayelsa State.


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