Covid-19 and the Nigerian State

If there is an award for the most fastidious arm of the Nigerian bureaucracy, it should go to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Since the first cases of the new coronavirus were reported in February 2020, it has issued a weekly epidemiological report in which it has collated and shared data on the number of confirmed cases, recoveries, fatalities, testing, and so on. It is one thing to attempt to collect rolling data on a pandemic on which the state of medical knowledge was acutely unstable, it is another thing to do so in a Nigerian environment in which reliable data are typically hard to come by or preserve. That the NCDC has stood up to be counted amid the usual paucity of resources is one of the few points of light in an otherwise benighted bureaucratic landscape.

That is what makes the discordance between the punctiliousness of the NCDC and the lackadaisical attitude of the rest of the Nigerian society all the more jarring. How serious is the Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria? The answer, if you consider the NCDC general fact sheet is, very serious. More and more people are succumbing to the virus, a situation which becomes more grim when you add anecdotal evidence about individuals whose deaths were probably Covid 19-related, but who cannot be added to the official total because they were not tested.

Yet, even as the official numbers have risen, and despite the obvious threat posed by a new, and reportedly more deadly, variant of the coronavirus, Nigerians have gone about their daily routines in complete disregard of the danger. As we write, fewer and fewer people now bother to wear a protective mask as they go about their daily activities, and the few who do tend to be ridiculed by the majority who do not. To the extent that anyone tried to implement or comply with a regime of social distancing in the early days of the pandemic, that pretence is now effectively over. Ebullient if nothing else, Nigerians are gathering again in lavish parties and other social occasions. For many, Covid-19 is now, for all practical purposes, a thing of the past.

Worse still, the conduct of many state authorities has not helped; the most egregious example is the rough treatment that Nigerian travellers are getting at various international airports where the test for Covid-19 has basically been turned into an official racket. Travellers arriving in the country are apparently being held at ransom and induced to cough up large sums of money even after tendering proper proof that they have tested negative for the virus. Some are dispatched to non-existent addresses for non-existent tests. In one word, Covid-19 testing has become an official scam.

The situation is not irreversible. While we are not advocating a lockdown, it is important that authorities at all levels ramp up an awareness campaign to educate Nigerians about the continued threat that Covid-19 poses. Wearing a mask while observing social distancing is the least anyone can do to prevent the transmission of the virus pending the time when a vaccine becomes widely available.We all should help the NCDC do its job.



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