CASES of epidemics or pandemics are not new to human societies down the ages. They come and eventually disappear, although not without mowing down a lot of innocent people belonging to a wide range of racial, cultural, ethnic, religious and educational backgrounds. Infectious diseases of this magnitude do not respect statuses of humans. However, a deep understanding and knowledge of how such health issues were managed in the past are critical to the handling of Covid-19 pandemic today. The common symptoms of this deadly virus are fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath. The Spanish flu which originated from New York in the US lasted between 1918 and 1920. It wreaked havoc on humanity. Different estimates of deaths have been given by scholars. But it seems that not less than 18 million humans lost their lives to this dreadful monster which unlike Covid-19, targeted younger people between 20 and 30 years of age. The huge numbers of victims of the Spanish flu pandemic have been traced to the easing of lockdown restrictions during the period. Most people were complaining bitterly about the lockdown policies which increased their social and economic hardships. Consequently, various governments decided to open the gates to freedom and the people paid the supreme sacrifice.
The Asian flu(1957-1958) consumed between 1.5 and 4 million people. The same thing applied to the Russian flu(1977-1978) with about 700,000 deaths globally. Today, the entirety of the world, is contending with the unwanted visitor christened Covid-19. This monster likes to mow down humans especially the elderly ones often with some underlying health issues or challenges such as asthma, diabetes and hypertension. Most African countries have taken some steps to reduce casualties to the barest minimum. These Covid-19 protocols include regular washing of hands, wearing of masks and social distancing. But the government especially in Nigeria, has some challenges. For instance, most Nigerians cannot survive without going out to do their petty businesses on a daily basis, especially in the face of poor handling of palliative measures by the government. This scenario is at variance to some degree, with what obtains in most parts of Europe, North America, China and Japan among other places. According to WHO Regional Office, over 200,000 cases of Covid-19 have been recorded in Africa with at least 6,000 deaths. Algeria, Nigeria, Egypt, Sudan and South Africa have recorded 70 percent of the deaths in the continent. More and more people from all socio-economic and political strata are being infected daily. Indeed, the World Health Organisation(WHO) warned recently that the spread of the Coronavirus would go on unabated ifprecautionary measures were not strictly adhered to.
Covid-19 is real. But unfortunately, such countries as South Africa(with the highest number of positive cases in the continent), Botswana, Burundi, Zambia and certain states in Nigeria are anxious to re-open their public spaces particularly mosques, churches and schools. This is in addition to other activities like general elections. On the 20th of May, 2020, general elections were held in Burundi by the country’s National Independent Electoral Commission(NIEC) to produce its new president, central parliamentarians and local representatives despite the fact, that the country had 42 confirmed cases including 21 critical ones. But sadly enough, the outgoing Presidents Pierre Nkurunziza, a 55-year old man died a few days ago of Covid-19. His wife and son have also tested positive. Again, the in-coming president and the speaker are currently in the Intensive Care Unit(ICU) in one of the hospitals. Hopefully, the new president will be sworn in by August. Certainly, there is fire on the mountain. We have to put out the fire to save humanity. Benin had at least 340 confirmed cases of coronavirus and yet it went ahead to conduct elections on the 17th May. The actual figure of those who might have been infected is very difficult to know.
As coronavirus(king of death) is walking on all its fours on the global landscape, Botswana has re-opened its public schools on the 17th of June in Gaborone- the capital.Eventually, the government would get more people infected before learning its lessons. This is worrisome. The Botswana’s political authorities had told proprietors of private institutions to make their own arrangements for the re-opening. South Africa has exposed more of its citizens to the pandemic especially when schools were re-opened recently. Zambia is also planning to re-open its borders with Tanzania in an attempt to ease lockdown restrictions.
Nigeria, the rhetorical giant of Africa, is in a mess. There is no sufficient co-ordination of efforts between the state and federal governments. Some governors are giving directives that are at variance with those from Abuja- the engine complex of Nigeria’s socio-economic and political essence. Despite the rising numbers of infected persons on a daily basis involving even some members of the political class, Cross River, Oyo and Kano States are desperately planning to re-open schools. I suspect, that the governors in the affected states, are doing so, from the perspective of populism, which is enshrined in the sphere of prostituted politics. Lives of the citizens of Nigeria should matter to the leaders. It is very ridiculous that Kano State which has lost a huge number of people including some professors, is now anxious to re-open schools and even sports viewing centres. Nigeria needs to learn from their neighbours in order to avoid unprecedented calamities. The Oyo State Covid-19 Task Force under the direction of the governor, Mr. Seyi Makinde, met a couple of days ago and decided to reopen mosques and churches in the state. They are to be operating at 25 per cent capacity until further notice.
The Task Force advised that Covid-19 protocols should be respected. These include washing of hands and wearing of masks. Quite frankly, are we really ready for this re-opening? Have the various locations been fumigated? Has the government worked on the logistics? Definitely, this re-opening presents huge logistical problems particularly in our contemporary Nigerian world defined and ruled by all kinds of economic and financial infractions. The affected governors need more patience and greater understanding in order to save humanity from the claws of that dreadful monster called Covid-19, with the capacity to humble even our charismatic Christian and Muslim clerics.
- Professor Ogundele is of the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology,University of Ibadan,
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