Tracking passengers aboard plane with Italian victim of COVID-19

The Lafarge Africa Plc’s Italian contractor through whom the country recorded the first index of COVID-19 exposed the underbelly of the country in many respects.  His case drew attention to the customary official tardiness and lackadaisical fashion with which public issues are handled in this clime. One, the Italian slipped through screening, if any, undetected at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, a major gateway to Nigeria, and travelled to the neighbouring Ogun State. That was most unfortunate because as of February 24 when he arrived in Nigeria, Italy was already known to be the worst-hit country in Europe by the outbreak of the Coronavirus.  In a saner clime, that fact would have necessitated more intensive scrutiny of passengers arriving from the European country.  Two, the detection and confirmation that the Italian had contracted the disease was essentially fortuitous; it was not until he fell ill and was taken to a private hospital in Ogun that he was diagnosed with the disease. Again, and more importantly, while many of the persons the first index had contact with in Lagos and Ogun states have reportedly been officially contacted, isolated and quarantined, the same cannot be said of the other passengers aboard the plane of the Turkish  Airlines with whom he had a few hours’ flight from Istanbul to Lagos.

To be sure, the Federal Government and the relevant authorities have pointedly said that they are finding it difficult to track the passengers aboard the plane that brought the Italian victim to Nigeria. The main challenge has a lot to do with the official sloppiness at record keeping. Most Nigerian officials seldom keep records even when they are expressly required to do so; it is a national problem that has perpetually kept the country at the mercy of providence. For instance, it is customary to hear students and experienced researchers in the country alluding to the inadequacy of data/record as a major constraint to virtually every research work, especially in the socioeconomic province, but no one seems to pay attention. It has more or less become the norm. Clearly, this phenomenon is a subset in the universal set of the ignoble culture of impunity, subversion of due process and general disorder. Specifically what that means in the instant case is that unless and until all those passengers are tracked and isolated, they constitute potential risks to the country. Some of them may have contracted the lethal disease and may easily spread it; Nigeria is a country whose response to medical emergencies is suspect. That is most unacceptable.

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There are global standards concerning flights. Certainly, the affected airline could not have done more than releasing the manifest of the passengers and others onboard the said plane. It is the duty of the local authorities to fish them out from their various destinations across Nigeria. But since records are hardly valued and everyone does what he likes with impunity, it would have been astonishing, albeit pleasantly,  if the officials had no difficulty tracking the concerned persons. For instance, the entire world saw diligence and efficiency by the authorities several months ago when an Ethiopian plane crashed and killed all those on board, but such efficiency and sensitivity were rarities in similar airline tragedies in Nigeria over the years. This has been one of the major factors militating against proper planning and the crafting of effective strategies to resolve the challenges besetting the country in different sectors. And the trend might persist unless those in authority change their attitudes to the handling of emergencies.

While many societies keep records dating back to centuries, that is seldom done in this country and even sometimes, which is really sad, documents and records are deliberately destroyed for immediate pecuniary gains, even though such practice endangers everybody. Since the case at issue is a matter of life and death, we enjoin the relevant authorities to go the extra mile, having failed to do the needful ab initio, and ensure that the other passengers on the plane are tracked and tested. For the long haul, it has become imperative for the Federal Government and other authorities to create structures, embark on public enlightenments on the importance of keeping records, and sensitise the public to appreciate that the lack of such a culture endangers everyone.



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