Coronavirus: Between Buhari and Trump

I queried a friend who was in church on Sunday. What happened to all the lessons in social and physical distancing, events and congregate settings avoidance? A senior media person who knew the implications of mingling with crowds in a contagious pandemic, yet, he danced, threw his body left, right and centre and shared handshakes of ‘peace and love’ with everyone around him. You know his reason for going to church?”

“What?”

“He said he would be called an ‘atheist’ if he didn’t. And I asked him if it is now wisdom to choose leprosy because of the shame of labeling and stereotyping?”

“Good, so what was his response ?”

“He kept quiet.”

“These are really perilous times. We should all be careful and keep to informed instructions. Coronavirus is real. It killed more than one person per hour in New York at the weekend. Reports say between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Friday, 14 people in New York City died from the virus.”

“This is worse than war. I monitor reports about New York City, US’s coronavirus epicenter. I read one which is applicable to any of our careless cities here: ‘The latest figures reflect only the tip of an iceberg. Keep in mind that estimates suggest each infected person transmits the virus to another two to three people, who in turn can transmit to others, and you begin to grasp the magnitude of the problem.’ That summary of the New York situation is from Theodora Hatziioannou, an associate professor in virology at the Rockefeller University in Manhattan. The auguries are very bad but the American government is standing up to it.”

“Very scary. Imagine just a million people testing positive in Nigeria. Which hospital would take them? And things may really get that pretty bad. If they do, where shall we escape to? To whom shall we run for help?”

“A world war is raging with a viral, unseen, lethal enemy. Everyone, including so-called super powers, is lying prostrate, desperate, helpless. Our governors are, so far, doing well, taking charge as they should. But where is our president, the commander-in-chief? He doesn’t talk to us. He is too distant in all matters of state. I don’t want to say he is arrogant and self-important – and incapable. If others didn’t have a president, we would have said, well…that is the way a president behaves. Trump is there, updating his people daily on this coronavirus wahala…”

“Your wahala too much. America is not Nigeria. Trump’s grandfather, Frederick Trump, was killed in a pandemic – a viral ailment exactly as virulent as this reigning scourge. So, that the US president is loud and is breathing heavily daily to the microphone is because he has a personal score to settle with all viruses. Buhari has no such history. So, let him be.”

“I know Trump’s granddad was killed by the Spanish Flu of 1918,  The Daily Beast described how he became one of the first casualties of that pandemic. The man ‘was taking an afternoon stroll with his young son when he suddenly announced that he felt too ill to continue, and needed to retire to his bed. One day later, Frederick died at home.’ That was in May 1918.”

“Just like that?”

“Yes. A lit lamp in a rainstorm.”

“And you know what? Despite the early fatalities, the world, just as now, did not believe it had an emergency on its hands until it was too late. The population of the world as of that time was a little above 1.5billion. Out of that figure, an estimated 500 million people – or one-third of the world’s population –  were infected by the virus. Again, out of the figure, over 50 million died  — 454,988 of the dead were from Nigeria, North and South; 675,000 died in the US.”

“The devastation was global, a historic calamity. Casket makers were tired of making money. And, you would think we would learn from the tragic tardiness of that past. No.”

“Not at all. We are all guilty. We never believed COVID-19 was happening until it slithered so deadly into our pillows. Trump was also dismissive of this health emergency. He didn’t believe it was real at the beginning. Was he not the one who said coronavirus victims could get better ‘by going to work’? Now, he is up and doing – shuttering spaces, addressing the nation, talking to his people almost everyday. I wish we had a presidential president too. I have seen the Ghanaian president, the South African president, the president of Kenya, all addressing this matter, personally. But Buhari, where is he?

“Real Generals don’t lead from the frontline, that is what he was taught at military school. Hannibal, who was the last General to do that, what happened to his country? Buhari is maintaining a safe social (and physical) distance, far from the sickening sick crowd. Or are you saying that keeping social distance and self-isolation are no longer the recommended non-pharmaceutical prescriptions we are told to observe? The reason for the closure of schools, churches, mosques?”

“Is that also why our president made a lawyer the head of his coronavirus management team?”

“A lawyer?”

“Yes, a lawyer. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation….”

“Trump did almost the same thing. He made his deputy, Mike Pence, the head of his team.”

“Not exactly. The team coordinator is Deborah Birx, United States global AIDS coordinator. She has been on that beat since the Obama administration. There is also grand old Anthony Fauci, top infectious disease expert since President Ronald Reagan. There are others….”

“And who says Buhari does not have such persons in his team too..?”

“Mention them. You know our president must first smell the name and ethnicity of someone for juicy appointments before the person’s competence is considered. It is a shame.”

“Haba! So, fighting a pandemic is now a juicy job?”

“Yes. A lot of money is involved. You don’t give such a job to someone you don’t know personally. Remember the president, before the last elections, said he would give top jobs only to persons he knew personally.”

“Interesting. But why can’t he learn from Trump and think Nigeria first? At least until this coronavirus enemy burns itself out.”

“You are praising the same Trump who dismissed the problem at the beginning as his enemies’ ‘new hoax’ which would ‘go away…like a miracle’ with the winds of winter. Is Buhari’s silence not better than such stupid, uninformed presidential statement?”

“Was Trump entirely wrong. Scientists have said heat kills – or at least, incapacitates coronavirus. Otherwise, why has it not killed as many on poor African soil as it has done with the so-called developed world? By Sunday morning, the world had recorded 12,950 deaths, less than 60 were from Africa. Can you explain that?”

“You amaze me. Who told you the official African figures represent the reality of the situation here? Anyway, the man in charge of health care in Boston during the 1918 flu had the same conviction about heat and viruses 102 years ago. He said ‘a half hour’s sunbath means death to the germs.’ The people believed him. He was wrong. The flu didn’t go away. It came in three deadly waves and killed both young and old, male and female. On September 25, 1918, Boston authorities reported 105 deaths; on September 28, they reported 152; two days later, 171; in the first days of October, there were 202,191 and 183 death totals. The city lost thousands to the scourge.”

“That shall not be our portion. Amen. But, I am scared. Coronavirus hit the White House at the weekend. Vice President Mike Pence and wife had to be tested for the disease.”

NIGERIAN TRIBUNE

“Yes. The US (just like the virus) has no respect for power. The White House should have been a no-go area for anyone looking for victims of a contagious disease. Can you imagine anyone asking our president or even a governor here to come for a test just because one of his aides is positive. The world would have come to an end for whoever suggested that.”

“Viruses are no respecter of statuses. President Woodrow Wilson of the US was maimed by the 1918 flu. He was lucky he didn’t go with it. General Louis Botha, first Prime Minister of Union of South Africa, was not lucky. He died. King Alfonso XIII of Spain was gravely ill, no thanks to the irreverent flu. The then king of Saudi Arabia lost his eldest son, Turki. This coronavirus demon that moved out of Asia, and now crisscrossing oceans and deserts, has maintained that lethal reputation. Ask the Iranians. They have lost ranking members of their ruling caste to this strange enemy from irreligious China. In the West, the viral rain is pouring. Even the First Lady of Canada tested positive after visiting the United Kingdom…”

“And our own leaders think their immunity covers this?”

“Leave them with their morbid arrogance. It is the nature of power. It gives a false sense of invincibility until the world comes to an end, suddenly, for the powerful.”

“Sadly, even the people are as disobedient as Satan. There continues to be crowds in mosques and churches.”

“Like my church-going friend who voted for danger because he did not want to be tagged an ex-Christian. Very foolhardy people. Saudi was the first to shut its most priced space, the Kaaba (al-Kaʿbah al-Musharrafah). The Archbishop of Canterbury on Saturday posted a message signed by leaders of all faiths in the UK. They asked communities not to ‘gather physically in groups’ because ‘it puts lives at risk.’ They asked their people to ’pray at home, and connect online…’ The Vatican did its own but my people are more catholic than the pope. They must congregate and distribute this mass death.”

If that happens, deaths will come more from hunger and starvation than from this affliction.

“There is a saying about stiff-necked people risking sudden destruction.”

“Yes. It is in the Bible, but they won’t read that.  I pray we know that a disease that is eating up the hearts of America and China would blow unmanageable death elsewhere. But we are too cynical to obey simple rules of engagement with this creepy enemy.”

“But, look. If you ask people not to go to church and mosque and they take a detour to crowded marketplaces…”

“Which is what is happening now. Marketplaces and malls continue their bustling businesses; public buses and cabs are cramped with people in search of daily bread; fully loaded local flights run their courses; government secretariats are busy as usual – doing nothing. Our president and governors continue to receive idle visitors and are hosting and attending social and political events. Some governors were in Lagos on Saturday inspecting a disaster site with crowds of aides. And they are the ones preaching caution, safe-distancing. Why are they like this?”

“They have immunity. And, you know the meaning? It is the ability to resist infections.”

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