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Who can lock down trouble?

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An aerial view shows empty streets in Lagos on March 31, 2020. Lagos was deserted on March 31, 2020, after Nigeria locked down its economic hub and shuttered its capital Abuja, in the continent’s latest effort to brake the juggernaut of COVID-19 coronavirus. Businesses were closed, markets abandoned and streets empty as the usually chaotic megacity of 20 million, along with the capital Abuja, shuddered to a halt on the first full day of a two-week shutdown. Pierre FAVENNEC / AFP

In the last few days, the COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to dynamic developments from Nigerians. Since the presidential broadcast, more than N20 billion have been donated by wealthy Nigerians to help our country to fight this pandemic. Among the donors were many well-known wealthy Nigerians, including Aliko Dangote, Africa’s biggest industrialist, Tony Elumelu, one of the continent’s best known bankers and Femi Otedola, the oil merchant. It shows clearly that in face of this global challenge, Nigeria is not entirely helpless.

Another dimension was introduced to the philanthropy when it was also announced that the founder of Adeleke University, Ede, Deji Adeleke, donated N500 million to the COVID-19 Fund. He also pledged to distribute food and relief materials worth N500 million to citizens of Osun State. Some other philanthropists may also be donating materials like sanitizers, face masks and gloves as well as hospital equipment. Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former President has already handed over his former residence on Hill-Top, Abeokuta, to the Ogun State Government to be used as a hospital for COVID-19 patients.

The Federal and State governments have also made available special funds to help in the fight. Suddenly we have a war in our hand that is more urgent than the Boko-Haram War. We may already have more than N100 billion in the kitty for this war. More money may still be added. It would be a pity, indeed tragic, if this huge sum is again exported to Europe, the United States and China, to buy materials for the Coronavirus War. It is time we put on our thinking cap; and urgently too.

Nigeria has adopted the lockdown method that is being used in many countries of Europe to fight this pandemic. It has worked in China. It appears to be working in France, Italy and other countries. But our social conditions are different and that is why I am suggesting that we study who we are and devise new methods of combating this aggressive menace. Lockdown alone would only postpone the evil day.

What we need is to stem the possibility of person-to-person transmission. In Singapore, China, Hong-Gong and many Eastern European countries, what is emphasized is that every person must wear face mask and hand gloves. Therefore, I would suggest we deploy young people into our textile factories to produce facemasks and hand gloves in their millions. These are what we need in areas of high conurbation like Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Onitsha, Kano, Kaduna and every state capital and big towns. With this pandemic, we may even kick back into life our textile factories instead of helping the factories of Europe and Asia.

Face masks and hand gloves would go a long way in helping to stem person-to-person transmission. We can also take charge of the production of these materials instead of waiting for foreign factories to produce them for us or expecting China to donate those things. Those who want to be cured of malaria must be ready to prepare their own agbo (local medicine brew) instead of sipping from their neighbour’s cup. China or the United States cannot love us more than we love ourselves.

The lockdown cannot be sustained in our environment. On Tuesday, a day after the lockdown began, youths in some of parts of Lagos protested. They have been accosted by some security men who advised them to leave the street where they were playing footballs. They were people living in the notorious face-me-I-face-you apartments. Some of these apartments have families of six, eight or even ten living in one room. A household of 50 or more shares the same one toilet, bathroom and one kitchen. How can social distancing be enforced in such circumstances? Who is going to enforce the social distancing in the rural areas and small towns or persuade the beggars of Minna or Alimosho?

On Monday, I packed my car on the Mobolaji Bank-Anthony Way, Ikeja, to answer a phone call. Within a minute, a towing van with some of these notorious men inside with a lady in LASMA uniform packed in front of me. I had packed at the lay-bye-near the entrance of the Lagos Country Club. When the LASMA lady came down to accost me, she had no glove and no face mask. Some of our young people earnestly believe that wearing a uniform somehow protect them from the coronavirus! I pleaded with her that I had done the right thing; packed my car to answer a phone call, put on the hazard light and packed outside the flow of traffic. She was persuaded and allowed me to go! I reminded her that she also has a duty to her family and her children to protect herself. She gladly shared in my hand sanitizer.

So the public officers; police, Road Safety Corps, members of the national service, the military and others should be given their masks and gloves immediately if they are expected to remain in the public space. We should realize that CODIV-19 may be with us for the next six months or more, therefore more fundamental change in our lifestyles has to take place beyond the stay at home order. None of these steps should be taken without asking the population to wear masks and gloves.

We should develop our own home-grown strategy to tackle this menace. This must include our determination to build our own capacity within Nigeria. It is whatever we do that other African countries would take a cue from. Who knows, this is an opportunity to rebuild our textile industry that was destroyed in the first instance by cheap importation from China and bend-me-down boutique from Europe and the United States.

Reactions across our country to the lockdown has been varied. In Katsina State, some Muslim faithful, who doubted the COVID 19 story, embarked on a violent demonstration to protest the stay-at-home order by Governor Aminu Masari. One of the protesters was killed. Some of them were later arrested. Some Christian priests were also arrested in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun State for violating the stay at home order. Some churches also joined the bandwagon to donate money and help the country.

Adherent of Yoruba traditional religion in Nigeria and Benin Republic are not keeping quiet about this pandemic. In the old Yoruba country, epidemics and serious diseases are said to be the instrument of chastisement from the Supreme Being, Olodumare. He is the creator of Obaluwaye, the deity in charge of pestilence who works hand-in-hand with Iku, (the deity of death), the only orisa that has no shrine nor temple and certainly no priest. Olodumare too has no priest nor temple but all the orisas are his messengers. When Orunmila, the deity of divination, carried the petition of human to Olodumare, complaining about the exploits of Obaluwaye and Iku, Orunmila was told that without these two powerful deities, humans would soon be equating themselves to the deities.

Those who believe in the traditional religions are making their own prescriptions, but no one has come out that it has any scientific validation. It is good however that with this pandemic, more people are talking of the power of God. They see the pandemic as a confirmation of the futility of human ambition to contest with the Divine. It is also clear that our people, especially the religionists, have now accepted that before the Divine, there is only one humanity. The coronavirus has humbled us. Now it is time that Nigerians, especially our scholars and scientists, should join hands with the rest of humanity to find a solution to this problem. It is not enough to complain, we must be part of the solution. We may lockdown for one month or more, but that would not save us from trouble. We have to decide to help ourselves. We are really not totally helpless.


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