COVID-19: Nigerians take precautions, but threats seem far away
People in Nigeria are becoming less concerned about coronavirus pandemic than other social problems in the country.
Nigeria is largely dependent on oil revenues to keep its budget stable. With stock markets worldwide highly volatile, oil prices are plunging. Nigerians seem less bothered about taming the spread of the virus, and more about how its economic impact will trickle down to them.
How will it affect what people here will be able to afford in a few weeks or months? What is the faith of a worker’s employment status? With about half of Nigeria’s population of over 200 million living in extreme poverty, most people have no money to stock up on food? And those who could, aren’t buying more than usual yet.
Despite efforts by the Nigerian government to stay ahead of the narrative, publicizing its preparation plans even before its first confirmed case and sensitizing the public through official press releases and social media sensitisations, so that the government can take out all opportunities for speculation by providing all possible information
on, in other to let people know more about the virus, many Nigerians gloat that COVID-19 is mainly targeting the country’s elite, particularly politicians, despite warnings that the life-threatening respiratory illness could hit the poor as well. With much surprise, many Nigerians have continued to defy the state directives as some churches and mosques opened their doors for worship, fun-lovers continued with their normal parties and clubbed like nothing was happening around them.
According to many, the refusal to follow precautionary measures was that many perceive the virus to be an attempt by political elites to create an emergency and siphon public funds. They opined that no individual has the virus in the country…there is no trace for the so-called confirmed cases…it is an opportunity to steal our money etcetera.
Another major distrusting reaction to the deadly viral disease is further fuelled by false assumptions about the perceived immunity of Nigerians to the disease. According to a recent nationally representative survey NOIPolls, 30 per cent of the Nigerian population believe that they are genetically immune to the disease. This is because respondents felt the disease did not originate from either Nigeria or Africa.
While many Nigerians still believed that COVID 19 is only for the rich or the political elites which many are fond of saying Coronavirus is not for poor people forgotten that Covid-19 could spread more rapidly beyond the elites, who could pass it on to their servants, drivers, cooks, nannies and security guards, among others who in turn could infect their families and neighbours in slums found in every major city as added to the increasing numbers of Covid_19 cases in the country.
Despite the numbers of cases recorded by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control of more than 4000 cases, with notable people that have died from Covid-19 such as President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief of staff, notable politicians, heads of government agencies, former ambassadors and their aides or relatives, fear still grip the government as many still see the recorded figures as a joke and a fabricated one and that Covid-19 cases in Nigeria are not true or probably not as deadly as purported due to many reasons, of which an essential part is the Religion Factor: Religion intersects with distrust in determining how Nigerian citizens have responded to COVID-19.
Globally, Nigerians are renowned for their religiosity; Many religious leaders have not been helping so far in the fight against Coronavirus, to some, there is nothing like Coronavirus in Nigeria and while to many the reason for the continuous spread is ascribed to the closure of religion services where according to many you sit down and you are healed.
While many of us might keep wondering why Coronavirus threat is far away in Nigeria is because many have provided a justifiable reason to be sceptical about the government’s approach. Our past experiences with nationwide threats provide enough reasons. For example, in 2015, the country got to know that most of the money meant to fight insurgency about $2 billion in north-eastern Nigeria was actually pocketed by a few individuals.
Another major reason is a couple with the distrust in Buhari Led Administration so far by many Nigerians has made Covid-19 rising numbers unbelievable to many Nigerians due to the messiah hope in General Muhammad in fighting corruption whose major campaign promises was to kill corruption before it kills Nigeria.
However, in the last five years, since General Buhari emerged as president, the reverse has been the case. Corruption continues like before. Arguably, many Nigerians are of the view that the government’s war against corruption is highly selective; close associates of the president allegedly involved in many corruption scandals remain untouched, while people in the opposition have been targets of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Considering all these challenges and low trust issue of Nigerians towards how many perceived the fight against Coronavirus as false, the implication is that the country may encounter serious challenges in convincing citizens about the existential threat of the novel COVID-19 as it is currently happening in many parts of the country.
Unfortunately, this low trust may lead to a humanitarian disaster.
To forestall the imminent danger, greater levels of transparency are essential from the government in the present fight against the pandemic.
Many have questioned the daily graphical representation of the numbers of COVID-19 cases often released by NCDC as fake and fabricated as there is need to back it with pictorial pieces of evidence of those that have contacted the virus, how they are tested, the issue of contact tracing, where they are been taken to rather than the daily graphic designs that are always been received by Nigerians as updates.
There is also a need for the government to provide more details about the available COVID-19 isolation and testing centres in Nigeria and how these centres can be accessed by the public. Authorities also need to clarify insinuations that testing for the deadly virus is currently limited to only big men in the country. In addition, the public need more information about the capacity gaps that Nigeria is facing in fighting and containing COVID-19; as well as more regular updates about the amount of money that has been spent on fighting the spread of COVID-19.
Isa Abass Usman is a Political Communicator Strategist and writes in via firstname.lastname@example.org