While the rest of the world is experiencing a deadly turn at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic, we in Nigeria seem distant from this global anxiety. We are complacent, living in cloying bliss, expecting deliverance from an outsourced ‘invisible hand’ if COVID-19 finally hits us the way it is crowding on the others with a threat to wipe them out. The nations of the Americas, Europe, Australasia, and a few here in Africa are panicking, resorting to wild and extreme ploys to outwit the disease. Even during World War II, Europe wasn’t so mortally frenzied, and didn’t reach for the uttermost ends that its nations are aiming for at the moment.
They sense danger. It’s universal insecurity, communist and ‘rogue’ countries like Cuba and North Korea and Iran, were not able to unleash on mankind at their apogee. Military allies have broken pacts and all are becoming recluse, shutting their borders. Mexico, which resisted U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to build a wall against migrants, has been captured comically, in a cartoon pleading with the American leader to hasten work on the project! So mankind has cause to be disturbed. The big economic and industrial players on the world scene are helpless as COVID-19 marches into their backyards, into their streets, into their stadia, into their offices and schools, and finally into their closets, where their leaders and spouses are cornered and infected. COVID-19 is fearless, no respecter of hallowed grounds and home of dreaded nukes, which mankind has always been afraid of.
But some cynics say the scourge will meet its match in Nigeria, the giant of Africa. That’s what we all seem to be saying when deep into the month of March we have not rolled out measures that would represent strong signals that we want to shield our people from the coronavirus disease. Nothing we did until lately suggested that we are part of the agitated world community. At a point, the central government shocked its citizens with the statement that it was “not considering a travel ban on countries with active spread of the virus.” That was after the epicentre of COVID-19 had relocated from China to nearby Italy in Europe, a flight duration of only five hours away. The government also said last week that it wasn’t yet time for the president to address the nation on the disease.
If we are so close to the home and carrier of the disaster, how come we and our leaders have remained indifferent, standing still, when everybody is fleeing from the flea of death?
Why? The answer of Nigerians is that nothing can fall us again after the battering we have received over the decades from the state. We’ve been through so many tempests in this country that we now say confidently that nature is yet to conjure greater winds of adversity. We have seen more destructive afflictions and human plagues than COVID-19, we appear to say. We’re in the mud already; can we sink any lower?
Interpretation: Is there any condition more humiliating than the state beneath the soil? Than the finality of death, which the poverty and deprivation we go through give us perennially?
John Bunyan, the great allegorist who lived in the 17th Century wrote: “He that is down need fear no fall; He that is low, no pride.” Nigerians are already on a low level, and therefore cannot be drawn into any fear of being dragged down by a plague.
The forecast is that things are going to get worse in the days ahead as global oil prices continue to drop in reaction to low demand caused by the impact of COVID-19 on the world economy. A laid-back oil-spoilt Nigeria is receiving the lash because our 2020 budget is premised on the sale of crude oil at $57 per barrel, but this has now fallen to below $30 per barrel. The outbreak of coronavirus has pushed the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which oversees our oil business, to “urge Nigerians to prepare for more tough time in few months.” Days after, the National Bureau of Statistics, revealed its findings: Inflation has gotten to a record level. It says that food inflation has soared to 14.9 per cent. This isn’t good news for a society whose people are still in the “state of nature”, where, denied the basic and decent needs of a human being by the policies of the state, most are forced to take the law into their hands as they seek to make ends meet. How to feed and meet other fundamental needs are so critical that you don’t mind if you fleece the state to death and exploit your fellow man to get what you want. It’s a dog-eat-dog situation.
We have battered the state, and the state has pummeled its neglected and disempowered citizens. It’s a puzzle how the country is still standing after waves and waves of plunder of its treasury by the authorities and the people. A military leader took so much that more than two decades after his death, his grave can no longer accommodate his gargantuan loot. Hence, seasonally the earth erupts for the man’s coffin to spew out sizeable amounts to the land of the living. Every government after that maximum ruler has benefited from his posthumous generosity. It is certain that we haven’t seen the last of his largesse.
This isn’t a society that COVID-19 would frighten. It has witnessed worse scourges. Do poor Nigerians have anything to lose if coronavirus should stage a big landfall? Those in the other parts of the world fleeing the wrath of the pandemic must run away for dear life, so they can live to enjoy the basic requirements and some luxury that the state has provided for them. The state has initiated welfare programmes from the cradle to the grave for them. For majority of their people, there are no serious concerns for food, shelter, health, jobs, education for their children, etc.
In Europe, Asia and the U.S., the citizens are being paid by the government to stay at home in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus. In France, armed security personnel are patrolling the streets to ensure compliance. Can we also see to the preservation and protection of the masses in Nigeria? Can we ask our people, largely artisans, traders, daily-paid workers etc. to stay away from work for a week to deal with COVID-19? Unless we support them like the others in Europe are doing, it would be suicidal for them not to work even for half a day, since they live from hand to mouth. That’s the impecunious point we have pushed our people to.
The question the Nigerian in the street is asking, therefore, is: What greater harm would a legion of coronavirus inflict which the people haven’t experienced from their corrupt and uncaring leaders? Why would they fear what they perceive a lesser peril than what they have been exposed to over the years by their own governments? Could this be the reason there appears to be some apathy on the part of our people at the mention of COVID-19? Could this also be why our government was slow to bring on measures like the others are doing worldwide? When the government introduced only a few of these measures, they came after an embarrassing silence and charges that Nigeria’s “political elite prize their UK visas (and UK trips via BA of course) over… (the) citizen’s life.”
Banji Ojewale writes from Ota, Ogun State.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Nigerian Diary