Covid-19 in Nigeria: A postmortem
By Ime Johnson
IT is barely seven months ago (April, 2020) since the entire country experienced a lockdown which was occasioned by the outbreak of a pandemic (Corona Virus Disease). It is not as though the virus has been contained, but it is very worrisome that most Nigerians behave as though the battle against the disease has been won. This is glaring as people no longer adhere to the preventive measures put in place to contain the spread of the virus. A visit to public places like schools, worship centers, markets, shopping malls and the likes shows an almost total neglect of the preventive protocols. Now that there is a second wave of the virus in most part of America and Europe with countries like Germany who witnessed a surge of 23,399 new cases within two days interval, others are Netherlands, France, Belgium and particularly Greece who are on a three week nationwide lockdown, the second lockdown in 2020. It is heart cheering to note that Pfizer, a pharmaceutical giant has announced the discovery of vaccines to fight the virus, the production capacity to serve the entire world might be slow and little wonder if poor nations like ours can afford it even as it was an herculean task getting testing kits at the first instance of the pandemic.
This paper is a clarion call for sober reflection on the sorry state we found ourselves during the lockdown and the government utter failure or incapacitation in providing palliatives to the teaming populace. It is to reawaken our consciousness towards the preventive measures put in place to forestall another lockdown in Nigeria. Suffice to say that the #ENDSARS protest and eventual hijack and looting of warehouses was occasioned by the government’s ill preparedness for the people. Coronavirus (COVID-19) has dealt a devastating blow on almost every segment of the Nigeria society. Worst hit is the very foundation of the socio-religious life of the people. Humans are created to relate, but the pandemic nature of the virus has severely affected the various agencies of socialization. Most important is the social distancing rules introduced to contain the spread of the virus which reduces the level of human interaction. The W.H.O posited that COVID-19 spreads primarily through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
There are no specific vaccines or treatment for COVID-19 but many ongoing clinical trials that may stand as potential treatment. This is the reason why several precautionary measures are introduced to contain the spread of the virus. The measures include practicing respiratory etiquette like coughing and sneezing into ones bent elbow, frequent washing of hands with soap and running water, use of alcohol based hand sanitizers, wearing of face mask in public, avoiding crowded or social gathering, maintaining of social distancing of about six meters apart from other person(s) etc. Of all the measures introduced to curb the spread of the virus, the social distancing rule is the most challenging. It has not only reduced the level of human interaction but grossly impacted negatively on the socio-religious life of the people which is the basis of human existence. Dittimiya (1995), postulate that all humans are social products of the society and lived together as members of a society doing certain things mostly as a result of the influence of the various social institution.
These institutions include family, school, community and religion. Before the pandemic occasioned by COVID-19, humans enjoyed high level of interaction and inter relationships. There was family cohesion and synergy amongst the people be it nuclear, extended, tribal or inter tribal. The educational sector was at the beehive of its activities as pupils, students and teachers mingled and interact with one another to enhance learning outcomes. The economic life of the people was at its peak., the government as well as private individuals introduced several measures especially in agriculture to revamp the economy with stimulus packages to the citizenry. Religious institutions were not left out of her cooperate social responsibilities to their host communities. In fact, inter religious dialogue greatly enhanced religious tolerance among the three basic religions in Nigeria (Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religion). The fundamental human right of the people which include freedom of movement, association, worship etc was at its peak but nosedived at the outbreak of COVID-19. The reverse became the case as the socio religious life of the people dwindled occasioned by the phobia of COVID-19.
Like the popular saying by Chinua Achebe “Things fall apart the center cannot hold, the falcon cannot hear the falconer”. The family which is the primary social group suffered the worst effect of COVID-19. Parents and children were restricted to the confines of their homes. This was as a result of the lockdown imposed by the state to contain the spread of the virus. Nigeria economy is based primarily on informal sector were most people are artisans and depend mostly on daily income. Ogunaike (2020) writes that majority of our population in Nigeria are on daily incomes. They go out in the morning in search for daily bread for their families, however little. This means that if they don’t go out in a day, there will be nothing to feed on. He maintained that the government distribution of palliatives was marred with inefficiency and corruption that the poor and vulnerable that were the target of the governments were not reached. There was an outcry that ‘hunger virus’ was more dangerous than corona virus. Some who could not cope with the prolonged lockdown took to arms. Akoni (2020) reported that some hoodlums in Agege area of Lagos state took advantage of the stay at home order to vandalize and loot some shops. This was rampant in several parts of the country. There was extreme food shortage resulting to an astronomical rise on the prizes of food items. Anguish was everywhere as most families have depleted their little savings and was ready to defy the lockdown in search for daily bread.
Schools from the kindergarten to the university were shut down. Only that the Federal Government had directed that students in exit classes be allowed to resume prior to their final examinations. Though some states made interventions by introducing online teaching via Radio and Television, the coverage was counterproductive owing to poor epileptic power supply. Those in the riverine/rural communities that are not connected to the national grid could not access the online teaching. Pupils who need continuous instructions to sharpen their intellect have been at home for about five months running. The after effects can be better imagined. Ogundipe et al (2020) notes that critical stakeholders in the health and education sector have called on the federal and state government to exercise restraint in reopening of schools. They cited what happened in South Korea and Brazil where schools were hurriedly opened and shut almost immediately due to the rate of infection. The outbreak of COVID-19 also revealed the level of fallen standard of our educational sector. This is very glaring in terms of infrastructure decay and human capital. Most public schools in Nigeria have overcrowded classes with most pupils and students sitting on the floor.
Toilet facilities is lacking with no pipe borne water The classes are under staffed and the idea of running morning and afternoon sessions to depopulate the classes in order to pave way for social distancing calls for serious questioning. It was Vegetius of antiquity who said “In time of peace prepare for war.” All the efforts of our education stakeholders to get the government to revamp the educational sector had proved abortive. These are the ghost that is starring at the government today.
The communities which played host to social infrastructures like companies, industries, banks, housing etc also suffered greatly arising from the harsh economic downturn occasioned by COVID-19. Most workers have lost their jobs as employers made frantic efforts to cope with the economic realities of the day. Some companies have also closed down owing to dwindling financial burdens. Almost every sector of the society have cried out to the government for one stimulus package or the other to cushion the effects of the pandemic. The government itself is overburdened with debts and frantic efforts still on to borrow from the International Monetary Fund (I.M.F), Islamic Development Bank and African Development Bank (AfDB). This was the line of thought expressed by Ujah et al (2020), “Worried by the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government were eagle eyed looking for funds from many quarters, both local and foreign, to fight the scourge as the central government announced N500 Billion naira stimulus package.
Religious institutions also suffered the effects of COVID-19. The Churches and Mosque were shut down and thereafter allowed to open but with limited number of worshipers. Eyoboka and Latona (2020) notes that Lagos state governor, Babajide Sanwo Olu announced the lifting of the ban on religious gathering but with stringent condition that persons below 15years and above 65years of age should be excused from the places of worship. Lagos State Safety Commission further asked religious centers to register with the commission before opening. These measures did not go down well with the clerics.
During the pandemic, most religious bodies resorted to ministering to their subjects online. As they preached some clerics asked their members to pay their tithes through online apps they created. This decision to collect tithes online caused both negative and positive reactions from the clerics as well as the populace. Amaize, et al (2020) reported that some clerics in the South-South have come hard on their fellow ministers for creating online platforms to collect tithes and offerings during a COVID-19 pandemic from their members. In the report, Bishop Isong who is the National publicity secretary of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (P.F.N) noted that it is right for Churches to create applications for tithes and offerings during COVID-19 hinting that whatever line of service, be it spiritual or professional is not free during COVID-19, that giving of tithes and offerings is part of Christian responsibility. Contrarily, Bishop Okokporo of Promise Kingdom Ministry, Sapele said that ministers who arrange online apps for payment of tithes and offering during a pandemic are not true men of God. He emphasized that at this time of the pandemic, ministers ought to give back to the people and not continue to take from them. Following this line of thought, Eyoboka (2020) hinted that Catholic Archbishop Emeritus of Lagos Archdiocese, Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie said that COVID-19 has also revealed to us the false prophets living among us. Rather than join the government in providing palliative measures, some pastors have been asking their members to pay tithes even when those members are unable to venture out to earn their daily bread.
Abdulazeez (2020), a renowned Islamic scholar and Professor of Communication and Language Arts opined that COVID-19 pandemic is a spiritual punishment from Allah. He stated “Allah may be angry with the world, especially the religious leaders, for their conspiratorial silence when the world is engrossed in global advocacy, applaud and involve in Fasad especially sodomy and Zina.” He urged the world to repent and go back to God almighty for forgiveness. Balogun (2020) writes that Cardinal Onaiyekan Foundation for Peace Initiative (FPI) charged Nigerians to recognize that God through this pandemic is teaching the citizenry some lessons. In a communiqué issued at the end of an event lamented that Faith communities are not represented in the Presidential Task Force of COVID-19 and urged the government to recognize Faith and Inter faith communities as development partners in the fight against COVID-19. The church as an institution offering or rendering essential services to humanity must have their say on the global pandemic (COVID-19).
In conclusion, let us be reminded that the fight against COVID-19 is a collective responsibility. All hands must therefore be on deck to forestall another lockdown.
- Reverend Johnson is National Secretary General, Christ Gospel Church of Nigeria Inc, Ugbokodo-Warri, Delta State.
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