I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing. It came with news from my childhood friend, Appollos Nzeogu. He called to say his mum had passed away. She had been ill for 10 years. A long and painful journey which had included diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke.
She had been taken to the hospital for what used to be a regular treatment when her sugar level rose. But this time, the local hospital had run out of insulin, the roads were empty, the pharmacy shelf was scanty, and a lot of hospital staff had stayed at home. Nigeria was in a lock-down — afraid of an increase in the COVID-19 virus.
This one phone call shook me to my core. It was like being alive inside of a film. Mrs. Nzeogu was also a neighbor, living a few minutes of walk from our home in Kubwa, where I and my family had lived for the last twenty-six years. This problem was now in my front. The death of Mrs. Nzeogu made me realize that in some way, the COVID, is similar to HIV — it does not target the host directly — it cripples systems that could have helped.
In truth, COVID isn’t crippling something that was functional before. Healthcare services have always been a problem in Nigeria — the survival cocktail has always been a mixture of prescriptions from pharmacists, parents, friends in the diaspora, roadside herbalists, and your personal man-of-God — but the virus is stopping daily life, and daily life is the only cure for the madness of living in Nigeria.
I called a bus driver friend on the morning of Saturday. His words were no different from beer parlor conversations weeks into the lock-down: “I am angry. But what can we do? It is not even about the virus, I work daily for my feeding money. Even with all my savings, it will take roughly three weeks, and then the government will no longer be able to contain all of us. Unemployment has created a high number of restless people on the streets, what this virus will do is increase that number. People will start bursting shops to eat very soon.”
To which I replied: “Yes, after they burst the shops and eat all the loots in say three weeks, then what? Shoprite like many other of these outlets will not restock. Does this mean cannibalism?”
I felt the need to counter that narrative, more for my own fears of safety than the rightness of my argument. We were both on the same page. We cannot stay in a lock-down. It will not solve any problem. When President Muhammadu Buhari finally announced that Nigeria would go into a nationwide lock-down at the end of March, every Nigerian knew that our world will no longer be the same again.
A world in Isolation… Photo credit: Tahiru Sherriff
And the world stopped, finally. For all of us here in Nigeria. Schools have been closed, music concerts and art tours suspended, restaurants markets and eateries have been shut down, and worshippers in churches and mosques have been dispersed.
On the international front, public gatherings have been prohibited, airline flights have canceled, national borders and embassies have been closed. People have been told by their governments to stay at home, to refrain from going close to each other, to avoid touching each other, to avoid touching every: surface, doorknob, railing, and human hand unless it had been wiped clean with toxic disinfectant. For the first time ever we all stopped everything we were doing and went indoors. To rest, to connect with family, to reset.
But we cannot reset. We don’t want to. Most of us, in our late twenties to mid-thirties drift towards Twitter — an electronic community of restless souls. We go there to get our daily dose of worry and fear. We stay online to read about the pandemics’ daily body counts. We learn from each post, each tweet, each newsletter how the virus is rapidly changing the world. Everything is the other way round: united we fall, divided we survive.
On our mobile screens and digital satellite televisions, more things are happening — the economic, social, political, spiritual and physical nature of our world is changing. And what we know about Jobs, Europe, America, Migration, Global Politics, Africa, and the Media is collapsing in an echo of endless voices and chants, as though the wailing of those going around the walls of biblical Jericho. The United States is taking the hardest hit. CNN is using videos and interviews coming out of NY to wage a war against Trump. FOX is fanning the embers of anger against China and the European Union’s move of abandoning Italy in its COVID-19 struggle is showing how Europe is becoming increasingly fragmented in their fight against the virus. In Nigeria, Social Media is swamped with attacks on the Federal Government and President Muhammadu Buhari on the way it is managing the epidemic. In a nutshell, there is more outrage than solutions on the internet.
One knowledge thread is mutual. The world no longer trusts politicians to get things right. We cannot keep high expectations on the same people that we’re unable to avert this crisis in the first place. But the decisions of strong countries that have emerged as global players, in the coming weeks/months, will help shape what the world will look like tomorrow. Asia is taking a very strong footing. China is simultaneously attempting to curb the virus while sending help abroad. Cuban doctors moved en masse to the United States, and Putin can be seen on the streets in a Hazmat suit.
Each society will not be the same after the crisis, the world will be different. In Africa, the old population is the prudential bearers of tradition, memory, and wisdom — if many of this generation fades away, we will be left with a restless, fierce, and driven population. And also, a generation with an unregulated morality compass when compared to its predecessor.
What big changes will take place?
A lot of the world is trying to go on as normal. Hoping that after the pandemic, everything will resume as normal. People are pandering the Work-From-Home narratives to even developing countries where power and the internet are more of luxuries. The last pandemic of this magnitude was the Spanish Flu, at the end of the Flu, over one-third of the world population had fallen sick, and over 50million people were killed by the virus. The truth is more on the opposite: many things will change post-COVID. Life as we know it, will not be the same anymore. Many constructs will collapse.
The first will be beliefs. Faith in anything that was meant to keep the world safe will be the first to go. For the first in the world, the Vatican city is empty, the Prophets Mosque [Masjid al Nabawi] has suspended prayers, an event which had not happened for 1400years. In Nigeria, one of the most religious countries of the world — security operatives are moving through churches and mosques to disperse worshippers with whips. They argue that public spaces will amplify the spread of the virus. On the other hand, religious people hold that if science, with all its advancements, could not produce a cure for the COVID, in time as precious as this, then everyone should turn to God.
The second is governments: As I write this article, there are now over one million cases of the COVID-19 virus worldwide. By the time I finish writing this article, it is very likely that over 60,000 people will have died across the world. The common denominator of these deaths is that they could have been avoided. Governments across the world are unable to cope with the speed of the pandemic — politicals interest, corruption, inefficiency, partisanship, bureaucracy, and other very normal institutional problems — hinder government departments across the world from catching up to the pace of the epidemic. Even before the COVID-19, a lot of health experts had anticipated one, and few governments responded. There are countless research papers and reports lying idle in the cabinets of government departments across the world. Papers that warned, advised and proposed ways to prevent another epidemic. Global expectations on the mechanisms of governance will have to change.
The third is Jobs. An essential element of what we know as daily life. The idea of paid work as an ethical obligation or an inevitable part of daily life is being called into question, especially in communities where there is little to do in the first place. As the driver I called this morning, more people over here get their income from daily activities. A national shut-down will do more harm than the virus.
For the first time, entire ministries, parastatals, agencies, commissions and private companies that are not producing essential services (virtually all of Nigeria) will go on a long holiday. Today, politicians, top government officials, and the wealthy population will be forced to face the pandemic like everyone, at home in Nigeria. Then after the virus, a time we do not know yet, say 6months, or one year, or more, everyone will resume at their offices without an idea of where to start. This is scary, but it will also be a turning point. If things do no work, if real jobs in the fields of agriculture, transportation, medicine, and engineering are not created, we will all face the consequences of an economic meltdown together.
What is the way forward for Nigeria?
COVID-19 Isolation Centre, Onikan, Lagos State.
We will never find a perfect solution. As long as the virus persists somewhere, or in someone, there’s always a chance that one infected traveler will take it to other communities that didn’t have, or to some that were successfully reducing its impact. This is something we are seeing in some Asian countries that seem to have the virus under control.
We are starting late, and we have a long journey to make. Africa started the COVID journey from questions by health experts on Twitter asking why the cases were low in Sub-saharan Africa, this metamorphosed into initial small pockets of cases that were accommodated with low deaths. At this point, papers were flying around about the viruses’ sensitivity to heat, and that countries in the hot region would not be affected. Today, Nigeria has over 200 cases of the virus, with four deaths.
The first possibility of an end is that every nation manages to slowly reduce the spread of the virus, as with HIV, SARS in 2003, and Ebola. With the current dispersion of cases and approach, this may not be easy.
The second possibility is that the Nigerian government keeps doing what it does of testing and isolating, and over time, with cases and treatments, the virus will produce more survivors, fewer deaths, and some who are immune. This means we may witness a high percentage of healthy carriers, and this will still carry its risks: the transmissible nature of the flu and its fatality rate will have taken too many lives.
The third scenario is that we stay in lock-down and wait for a vaccine form advanced countries of the world, this doesn’t seem very forthcoming. Today, I am in isolation. To write, I transferred myself to the home of a friend where I have access to solar panels, and where we were able to stock up on fuel for generators, water, medicine, and food. But we will run out inevitably if things don’t change. We both know, like many Nigerians out there, that we cannot all continue like this.
Tahiru Sherriff is a freelance journalist, researcher, and columnist, with a focus on social change, inclusive governance, and social change. He writes from Abuja, Nigeria and archives his thoughts on Medium.
The views expressed in this post are those of the author and in no way reflect those of Nigerian Diary