It does not matter what you did or refused to do. The fact is that the dreaded Coronavirus is in Nigeria and has now claimed its first casualty. Who knows what the figures will read in the next one week, one month or in the next quarter? According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), there are 35 confirmed cases of the crisis in Nigeria. While two are said to have recovered, 32 others are still in isolation centres and as reported today on several media outlets, Suleiman Achimugu, the former managing Director of Pipeline Product Marketing Company (PPMC) is the first victim of the virus in the country.
Last night, frontline politician and former vice president Atiku Abubakar announced that one of his sons had contracted the virus and had been taken to a medical facility in Gwagwalada where he is under the watch of the doctors. The son of the former vice president is believed to have returned from Switzerland and has been in Nigeria for a while, attending to social, political and religious functions. Who knows how many people he may have come in contact with? Those he shook hands with, those he hugged or had some other forms of personal contacts with are all at risk.
Happily, the Bauchi State governor, Isa Yuguda has told everyone that he will be self-isolating after coming in contact with the former vice president’s son. Will others open up and do the needful? That will remain only a matter of speculation. The bigger problem for many commentators, however, is not the number of people the unnamed son of Atiku came in contact with directly; it is about those who came in contact with those people, their families, the kids’ playmates and school mates, those they met in the streets, at religious centres, shopping malls, restaurants and in several other places. How do we even begin to track these individuals?
Over the weekend, it was confirmed that an FIRS staff who flew into the country on British Airway flight from Heathrow on March 13 had tested positive to the virus. In most FIRS offices in Abuja, there are digital attendance terminals where staff are required to clock-in (thumbprint) on arrival, clock-out if they are going for a break or leaving at the end of the day. On the average, a staff is expected to use the terminal, usually positioned at the entrance to each office at least thrice a day. From what I gathered, the least number of staff you find in each FIRS office in the FCT is 100. While it is true that there may be several terminals across the offices and departments, staff are mostly allowed to log in from whichever access point is mostly convenient to them. A single terminal may have more than a hundred staff touching the sensor every single workday and each of them come from various places. Some in the course of their official duties are required to interact with several categories of people in the society- market women, civil servants, employees of private organizations and any subset of the society where the people therein are required to pay one form of federal tax or the other.
One can estimate that from the FIRS staff alone, at least a thousand persons within Abuja can contract the virus. Do not get scared, take time and do the maths- how many people will these 1, 000 persons who had direct and indirect contact with the assumed index patient affect? Now think about the five other identified cases in Abuja. The late Achimugu, for example, was an important and wealthy person in his lifetime. Think about the family members, relatives, associates, former colleagues and friends he came in contact with in the last one week. Does the CDC possess the machinery to track even 10% of these people? Many would answer in the negative.
The truth is that everyone is at risk and it does not matter where you live or what you do or which political party you identify with or the religion you profess. We live in a largely interconnected society. Many people who work in Abuja travel to Kaduna, Nasarawa and several other parts of the country every week. Matter of fact- some work in Abuja but live in other states – Niger and Nassarawa are easy examples.
The “big man” who works in the Villa and drives an SUV still stops at Banex, Dutse Junction or any of the bus stops in the city to buy banana and groundnut. He interacts with the seller and oftentimes, a lot of body contacts happen in between. Abuja’s most powerful men are often found in some of the city’s top-ranking hotels like Transcorp Hilton and Sheraton. The staff of these hotels live in the suburbs and you cannot say who they get in contact with when they leave work each day. Can you see how intricate the entire situation is?
“Big men” may have imported the virus into the country from China, Italy, UK and several other parts of the world where they go for shopping, holidays, conferences, meetings or to see family members. However, the poor man will soon realize that this is no “big man’s disease.” The virus has no respect for anyone and once you come in contact with it, you become a risk to everyone- family, friends and colleagues.
The message here is that we must unite as a people to stay safe. This is not a good opportunity to attack Buhari, APC, PDP, the federal ministry of health or anyone else. Engaging in the blame game will only set us up for tragic failure.
President Buhari failed to act on time to mitigate the crises we know. The hospitals are in poor shape, yes we know. The minister of health appears not to have a full grip of the situation and his subordinates have not been very helpful, again we are aware. CDC is underfunded and there is an apparent cold war between the agency and the ministry, for sure, many people are aware. So what do we do? Panic? Sound the alarm bell? Write our wills? For who exactly? Buy up our family’s burial plot? Who will conduct the burial? Announce the end of the world? To who?
So you see, none of these things will help. A whole lot has gone wrong and we must never sweep them under the carpet. However, we must rise beyond all of these and see how we can collectively fight this deadly virus.
Here are a few things we can do to help ourselves and stay safe:
- Don’t panic: Assure yourself every morning and in the course of the day: this too shall pass. This virus will not wipe us out. We will bounce back and life will return to normal again. All we need is the courage to live through it. We will be fine, mankind will live and we shall tell the story of our survival to our children and those coming after.
- Pay attention to what the public health authorities are saying: Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, use hand sanitisers, practice social distancing, eat fruits and food that boost your immunity and do not travel or leave your house except it is absolutely necessary. You will be fine.
- Ignore the rumour mills: I spoke with my mother earlier today and she shared a “tip” she said cures the virus: eat loads of pepper, eat bitter kola. I probed to know where she got her information and she told me that’s what everyone is doing and that she heard them discussing the efficacy of the items she mentioned at the neighbourhood since last week. My mother retired as a headteacher in a school but her education still does not insulate her from paying attention to neighbourhood rumours. There will be plenty of such this season. Whatever happens, make sure you verify the authenticity of whatever quick-fix solution you are told. Remember the “bath with salt” episode of the Ebola era. We must be mindful of all such rumours this time.
- Support a neighbour or a relative: At a time like this, food is scarce. Money is hard to come by and so many people starve. What can you do? Lend a helping hand. Send money to your relatives, share food items to those in need and when called upon to help by those in critical need, please do not play deaf. This is a time when we must be our neigbour’s keeper. Send toiletries to some, buy hand sanitisers for others and do whatever you can to make sure you do not survive this frightening period alone.
- Plan for the post-coronavirus world: This incidence will change the world as we knew it. You may hold a different view but the fact is that this virus has exposed the vulnerabilities of our present system. We now know that world leaders do not pay as much attention to health emergencies as we thought and that wealthy nations can also be hit. This crisis will affect us in more ways than one. Individuals will begin to pay greater attention to health and sanitation matters, people will learn the value of selflessness and we may begin to recaliberate our value system. Do you still look down on the cleaners, the sanitation workers or those who do menial jobs- dispatch riders and all? Well, the events of the last few weeks have shown us that these guys are as important to our society as the surgeons and most intelligent scientists. Do not miss the lesson.