By Ajao Babatunde Hadiyatullah
The clamour for a ‘Nigerian approach’ to the fight against covid-19 is strident among some persons. It is apparent that this agitation is coming from certain people who did not care to explain what exactly they meant by their postulation. So, what does it mean to tackle covid-19 the Nigerian way? Does this mean to jettison all procedures to contain the spread of the virus because they had their origins in China, Europe or prescribed by World Health Organisation? But are lockdown, curfews, isolation, quarantine and fumigation alien to Africans in the fight against infectious diseases?
An appraisal of African traditional medical practices even before colonial times will show that none of these methods are alien to Nigeria and they are not exclusive to foreign lands. The Yoruba saying, ‘ aipe ki omode ma dete bobatile dagbo gbe (a person that is not mindful of contracting leprosy should not be afraid of living in a leper colony in the bush)’, buttresses the fact that isolation is not strange in treating infectious diseases in Nigeria.
Lockdowns and curfews are nothing but an adaptation of isolation and are neither contemporary nor Western. Lockdowns were famous in the Middle East especially in the Arabian Peninsula because Prophet Muhammad had directly prescribed it against epidemics. Isolation and quarantine were mentioned in the Old Testament and the Yorubas used to fumigate by burning herbs just as it is done today.
Perhaps, what the proponents of the ‘Nigerian approach’ meant is the odious usual way of localising mediocrity. For example, there is time and there is ‘African time ‘in Nigeria. The former is universal; sixty minutes make up each and every of its hours. It depicts best practices and doing the right thing at the right time.
‘African time’ is the version of time that many Nigerians have tinkered with. An hour in ‘African time’ may be forty or one hundred minutes depending on the whims and caprices of who says so.
There is also universal leadership and followership and their local variants in Nigeria. Universal leadership is adequate planning, transparency, accountability and good governance while universal followership is mutual cooperation, patriotism and perseverance among the masses.
Nigerian form of leadership is unaccountability, poor planning, ambiguity wrapped and served in dollops of laissez-faire. The Nigerian form of followership is characterised by a cacophony of disparate interests, selfish, impatient and unpatriotic either asking for, in empty posturing, restructuring or secession. This may explain the stance of these people. They are totally averse to the covid-19 containment measures, especially lockdown and that it should be jettisoned without any reasonable merit under the guise that we are Nigerians.
Nigerian government’s handling of the fight against covid-19 had some admirable aspects but with glaring ineptitude which can be attributed to the ‘Nigerian approach’. So far, steps taken by the federal government of Nigeria and many of the state governments have been grossly inadequate and sometimes inappropriate. Borders were not closed in time; lockdown was restricted to just two states and Abuja and poorly conducted instead of the whole country while palliatives were such that could not induce the citizens to stay at home. Few states imposed lockdown, others put in place curfew, and majority did nothing while social distancing is practically not imposed in any of them.
It was only when the incidence rose that the governors met and decided to implement a nationwide interstate shut down. Too late!
The disease is already in 24 states of the federation with Lagos as the epicentre of the epidemic. Nonetheless, Kano with more than 640 suspicious deaths within two weeks is fast becoming the next perhaps more devastating one.
Testing facilities and isolation centres took forever to come up and are still not enough. Personal protective gears including sanitizers, gloves and face masks are already in short supplies even as front liners fighting against the disease were contacting the virus.
Amidst all these, when the disease show no signs of abating with more people being infected than discharged, the Federal Government, not ready to go the whole hog especially in the area of provision of palliatives, eases the lockdown where it was imposed and leaves the states to do whatsoever they choose to do. Is this approach not Nigerian enough as it is?
Though government is dangerously doing catch-up with the pandemic, it will be untrue to conclude that government interventions have no merit and bring no benefit at all. However, the citizens are acting true to type and are actively ensuring that all the anti-covid-19 measures, inefficient and deficient as they are, are made more useless.
Markets are filled to the brim while congregations are still meeting at some places of worship with no social distancing whatsoever. Sanitizers are almost nonexistent and the practice of hand washing is yet to be embraced massively to curtail the contagion.
Many people are denigrating the government as ‘copy cats’ in reference to the lockdown measures believed to have being copied from abroad without the accompanying palliatives, many choose to wilfully believe in conspiracy theories.
People disbelieve and trivialise the Nigerian Centre Diseases Control Covid-19 index and figures as concocted and demanded for pictures of coronavirus victims to be convinced. It is this mindset that is making people self-medicate on impoverished vaccines, excessive alcohol and concoctions among others to treat covid-19 which are resulting to needless deaths.
The masses’ protest being typically Nigerian refuses to decipher between two evils, the greater evil of infection and the lesser evil of hunger. It is this attitude coupled with government inadequacies that is enabling community transfer of the disease.
Covid-19 is a worldwide disaster and will not be stopped by domiciled apathy and half measures characteristic of a ‘ ‘Nigerian approach”.
It is time we as Nigerians apply the real Nigerian attitude of decisiveness, rationality and perseverance in tackling this virus threatening humanity.
Government should apply curtailment measures firmly and realistically. Lockdowns or curfews should be imposed more coherently without porous boundaries. Markets should be operated in a way that social distancing, hand-washing and use of sanitizers will be easy and extensive.
Now is the time to regulate food delivery systems, even put in place price ceiling to lower the increasingly high food prices. Social distancing should particularly be enforced by security agents professionally without abusing the citizen.
Distribution of palliatives should be more transparent and comprehensive. Provision of testing kits, isolation centres and personal protective equipments including face masks should be sufficient. Many of these equipments could be sourced locally, as a matter of urgency government institutions, notably University of Benin, the Nigerian Armed forces and National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure, which had built and successfully demonstrated locally made ventilators and fumigators should be funded for standardisation and mass production.
In addition, research for the cure of the disease, whether orthodox or alternative should be harmonized and reinforced so that a homegrown remedy will be available as soon as possible.
However, the war on covid-19 cannot be won without the support of ordinary Nigerians. Hence, aggressive enlightenment campaigns should be intensified to educate the citizens to appreciate the dire realities of the present circumstances in order to facilitate their cooperation.
It is time the masses realise that they have to deliberately avoid contacting the diseases in spite of the provision of palliatives or not. Palliatives can and will not go around as a matter of fact and people must not base their survival on its availability. Retailers and wholesalers should ease the suffering of their fellow citizens by avoiding hiking prices of food items and essential commodities. The people have the right to be angry with government inadequacies but should remember that it is when they are alive that they can wish a comeuppance, perhaps in the next polls.
Unfounded theories and fictions should therefore be discarded and the reality that coranavirus is ravaging the world and killing whites and blacks in all places of the world should dawn on all and sundry.
Time to embrace worship and prayer in isolation and shed the pretence that congregation is a prerequisite of connecting with God is now.
The correct devotion is that which is practised in seclusion as prescribed by any reasonable religion under this condition. People have to stop colluding with security agents to subvert restrictions put in place for their own good. It is common knowledge that there are no enough facilities to combat the pandemic and the rich and powerful will be taken care of first before considering the poor masses in case of affliction.
The people should be aware that the common but insalubrious ‘Nigerian approach’ will not do against this pandemic. Now is the time to apply the genuine Nigerian common sense and endure at all cost in order to survive.
Ajao Babatunde Hadiyatullah (PhD) writes from Iwo, Osun State, Nigeria.