By Achike Chude
It is often the case that certain issues assume much more significant interests when the very rich and influential are involved. Perhaps it can be said that an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar aptly captures this phenomenon.
“Cowards die many times before their death
The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes”
It could be argued that the heightened initial frenzy over the Covid-19 pandemic was as a result of the involvement of some very influential people in the infection circle. That certainly seems to have been the case in Nigeria.
A high-profile death
This announcement served to increase the palpable fear and anxiety among many Nigerians about this disease that no one seemed to know so much about. Not even the Europeans and Americans with their famed advances in medical research and treatment seemed able to demystify this novel virus.
Events, however, were to come to a head a few weeks later when the media space – social and traditional — were inundated with news of the demise of Abba Kyari.
The circumstances of his rumored affliction, the eventual announcement of his illness and the controversy of his place of treatment (it was speculated that he was taken to Cuba while the government position was that he was somewhere in Lagos) all added to the controversy over the actual place and date of his death. Still, the government acknowledged place and date of death being Lagos and the 17 April seems the most plausible and credible.
Elites above the law
Meanwhile, the media space and social media were awash with stories of the spread of Covid 19 among the political elites and the high and mighty. The death of Abba Kyari and of a few other prominent government functionaries from the disease within the same period lent credence to the growing general belief that the virus was imported into the country by the elites.
It was said, and there were plenty of pictorial and video evidences that some of these elites had defied the threat of the pandemic and travelled to the United Kingdom where the virus was already spreading rapidly, for a party at the London Hilton on Park Lane on the 10th of March, 2020. It was only then natural, reasoned the populace that the highly infectious and deadly virus would spread within their class.
There was fear everywhere among the high, the mighty, the middle class and the ordinary citizens. Social media, traditional media, all were daily inundating the people about this new menace that had suddenly, without warning, disrupted their social and economic spaces.
There were warnings everywhere about what needed to be done. Masks were to be worn. So the citizens went into the shops and super markets to buy them aplenty. In a matter of days, the truth dawned on everybody that the country had run out of masks, no thanks to the outsourcing of manufacturing in Nigeria to China. Even before the shops and shelves were empty of the surgical masks and hand sanitizers, the prices had gone up astronomically (from about #50:00/piece to #300:00 per piece, a six hundred percent increase).
The Nigerian spirit
In a country that is said to have about ninety million people living on less than a dollar a day, where were they going to get the money for face masks when food survival was a bigger priority? But then, it is at moments like this that the true, die-hard spirits of Nigerians shine forth. Within a matter of days make shift and improvised masks were springing up everywhere, worn by all manners of people across social lines. Hand sanitizers followed suit within a matter of days. Water, an essential ingredient in the battle against Covid-19 was as sine qua non.
“Wash your hand for at least 20 seconds”, various messages screamed at the people and pleaded with them at the same time. Most of these messages were paid for by governments across the country. But there was a major problem with these messages: there was no water! And there still is no pipe-borne water in most of the major cities in the country, talk less of water access in the rural areas. Governments had over the years been unable to ensure that public taps ran. Now the chicken had come home to roost.
A palliative that never was
Meanwhile, everywhere there was talk about the need for palliatives. Nigerians were urging their governments, both state and federal, to borrow a leaf from what other countries, especially the developed countries were doing for their own citizens.
Corporate Nigeria stood up to be counted as different organizations and the rich began to make massive donations to fight Covid-19. On their parts, the various state governments, including the Federal Government rolled out their palliatives programmers. Following an initial pronouncement from the Federal Government, a further palliative was issued on 13 May, giving an update on the containment of the disease and additional measures that had been put in place.
This included an extension of the lockdown orders on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and Lagos and Ogun States. The president also affirmed the sustenance of the palliative measures that had been issued by the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) in the COVID-19 Regulation 2020 in the form of moratoriums for (a) TraderMoni, MarketMoni, and FarmerMoni loans (government’s social transformative programs) and (b) FGN funded loans issued by the Bank of Industry (BoI), Bank of Agriculture (BaA) and the Nigeria Export Import Bank (NEXIM).
Achike Chude is a writer, novelist and civil society activist
This report, the first of two parts, is made possible with the support of Google’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund (JERF)