Covid-19: Easing the lockdown

Very recently, I was privileged to read a post sent to my WhatsApp, said to be a publication in the New York Times, about the state of the economy of Nigeria. It is so scary that it takes faith to discard it and to pray that it doesn’t come to pass. Even at that, the reality we face presently is that there will be serious global economic hardship, post Covid-19 and Nigeria being part of the global economy, it will be impacted one way or the other. In another piece said to have been penned by former US envoy John Campbell, it is said that the Nigerian currency is getting weaker and weaker amongst major international currencies and the demand for the dollar is taking its toll on the economy. This is due to the fall in the price of oil and also the general effects of the coronavirus pandemic on trade and commerce. Since Lagos State reported its index case on February 27, 2020, the commercial life of Nigeria has been on a downward turn, spiraling to other parts of the nation. Like the President said during one of his broadcasts, it is a matter of life and death, either to go out and confront hunger and Covid-19, or stay indoors to battle insecurity, stagnation and a sedentary lifestyle.

Oyo State has a reasonable population, but it has continued with life since Covid-19 and the statistics there has not been too alarming. Two reasons may have accounted for this, although there may be more. First, two prominent residents of that State, the Governor himself and the Group Medical Director of University College Hospital, UCH, both battled Covid-19 and defeated it. They gracefully narrated their survival experiences of black seed oil, carrots, vitamin C, hydroxychloroquine, etc, which, to all intent and purposes, have helped to boost the confidence of the people to brace up to fight the virus. Second, it is becoming clearer by the day, that the predictions of dead bodies littering the streets of Africa, of millions of infections and the like, may not come to pass after all. Nigerians from all walks of life have discovered and developed all manner of local remedies and strategies to defeat the virus. I got to know this when I raised an SOS for a friend recently. I received several communications, suggesting one remedy or the other, to defeat the deadly virus. The lesson from all the messages that I received is that Nigerians have decided to fight Covid-19 the same way they have fought and are still fighting other issues of life like bad governance, corruption, insecurity, lassa fever, maternal mortality, polio, incessant blackouts, etc.

Next come the example and testimony of the Bauchi State Governor, who is also a Covid-19 survivor. In his own case, he became emboldened by the potency of his own experience that he openly announced and commended it for his people. He confronted all authorities and challenged anyone to disprove his claims. The Governor of Kaduna State followed suit, with the amazing story of his survival. The icing on this is the personal testimony of former presidential spokesman, Dr. Doyin Okupe, a medical doctor. He opened up to all on his treatment and even listed the names and dosages of his medications. We also have videos and posts of other individual survivors here and there. What this has done is to strengthen the faith of people in combating the virus. This of course is not to discountenance the great efforts of the government and the front line workers, in the campaigns, enlightenment and gallant sacrifices so far put in to contain the spread of the pandemic and flatten the curve. But we cannot afford to resign to it as we seem to be doing currently.

As no vaccine has yet been discovered for the virus, it will be difficult to sustain the nationwide lockdown beyond the month of May. Even though I am aware that the Presidential broadcast did not impose the lockdown upon all States of the federation, the two key functional locations are Lagos and Abuja, the former as the commercial nerve centre of the nation and the latter as the political capital. Whatever happens in Lagos and Abuja will invariably affect all other parts of Nigeria, such that a lockdown in these two zones would invariably lead to a lull in other parts of the nation. This is the reality that we must face, as it is simply unsustainable. People are hungry and suffering. I have received various cases of job losses, painful deaths, salary cuts and other misfortunes, all arising from the Covid-19 measures. Let us open up the economy and encourage people to take personal responsibility.

Lagos State Government is presently conducting an online poll to gauge the mind of the people in order to decide its next line of action. At the initial stage, the Governor had said that only the President could determine the duration or extent of the lockdown, whereas in Ogun State, the Governor is directly in charge of the lockdown measures. As I have said on many occasions, Governor Sanwo-Olu and his team, especially the Commissioner for Health, have proved themselves worthy of our votes and support, given the sacrifices and commitments that they have all shown during this crisis. It got so close that ten out of the Governor’s team were infected by the virus and they had to go into isolation, but thank God for their recovery. But life must go on, people must fend for themselves and survive, which is why we cannot keep extending the lockdown.

Lawyers want to go back to business, engineers, accountants, market men and women, construction workers, students, farmers, factories, the airlines and the small scale businesses are all smarting for action. The strategy should be to continue the campaigns on social distancing and personal hygiene, the compulsory use of face masks and hand sanitizers. You should only go out when it is absolutely necessary. The banks should encourage their customers to embrace online banking, while online delivery service providers should up their game. Even though I don’t fully support their actions, Kogi and Cross-River States have not been part of the Covid-19 rituals till date and their people are coping. Madagascar has insisted on proceeding with its own local remedy for the treatment and cure of the virus and it seem to be working for them. Presently in Nigeria, the reality is that people have developed various strategies to beat the virus, ranging from herbal remedies, application of faith, appropriate nutrition and collective solidarity, amongst others. If it is working for us, as I suppose it is, then we should improve on it and not follow other nations sheepishly.

One of the reasons why the virus is novel is that it took the world by surprise, without any known remedy to immediately contain it. It has defied science so far, which is why higher mortality rates occur in the western regions. Rather than discourage people from drawing from the experiences and testimonies of survivors, government should open up to all, especially the health experts, on the mode of treatment and care for those who are daily being discharged from the treatment centres across the nation. Treatment for Covid-19 should not be mystified, as if there is some desire for it to continue to fester. This is part of the factors fueling the conspiracy theories, as if some persons are actually benefiting from this global calamity. There is no doubt that we have the problem of capacity, given the stories that we have heard from those who have waited hours on end for the NCDC team, others who have had their samples taken for days without any result, while yet others don’t get any response at all. This has become a global problem, as all nations of the world also seek the same materials like the testing kits and other reagents.

The tension across the land generated from the coronavirus is suffocating and it should be lessened by all means possible. In many cases some of the governors have become lords unto their people, with bogus executive declarations which circumscribe established constitutional rights. In some cases, the assets of the people are destroyed, while yet in some others their movements are restricted. The decision of the governors of the Northern States on the expulsion of Almajiris is most unfortunate, as it threatens the corporate existence and unity of the country. The constitution permits all citizens to live and reside in any part of Nigeria without the threat of expulsion. If the reason for this action is for fear of Covid-19, then their expulsion has only worsened that fear, given that they are moving from the known to the unknown. The insecurity problem across the country is still as potent as ever, with rising cases of attacks by bandits, ethnic warlords, herdsmen and farmers, kidnappers and armed robbers, all gradually finding courage to execute their nefarious activities.

The rainy season is here already, with the threat of flood, especially in the rural coastline areas. The danger of a lockdown in a flooded area can best be imagined. People will be forced to squat with others and no reasonable policy of social distancing can be embraced by those who just want to survive. In such scenario, dirt, and dangerous wastes are washed ashore to the very living apartments of the rural dwellers, with other infectious diseases following. We cannot afford to combine that with Covid-19, so it is urgent for the lockdown to be relaxed for people to find resources to prepare them for the times ahead. The Courts have been closed since March; cases are suffering unavoidable delay and slowing down the progress of many. The annual vacation of the courts is approaching, whereas lawyers and judges have been rendered jobless. Hotels, restaurants and the tourism industry are all locked down and wasting away just like the other sectors of the economy. The correctional centres are filled up with inmates such that the Comptroller-General had to issue a directive for non admission of defendants awaiting trial, yet suspects are arrested by the police and other law enforcement agencies on a daily basis.

I do not seek to place all the blame upon the government but I think at the stage we are now, government must partner with the people to agree to restore normalcy. The sacrifices and sufferings attending the haphazard method of enforcement of the lockdown make our predicament worse than the coronavirus itself. The government is broke and cannot afford to take care of those who are forced to stay at home, the security of lives and property cannot be guaranteed and there is a huge gap in the information chain between those managing the Covid-19 pandemic on behalf of the government and the people. There is no way we can sustain the extension of the lockdown beyond what Nigerians have already endured. Let us get Nigeria moving again.



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