By Felix Oboagwina
True story: My friend, Bunmi A.F., living in Ire-Akari Estate Lagos had sensations of what he feared related to COVID-19 symptoms and immediately embarked on self-isolation from his wife and two kindergarten kids in a portion of their three-bedroom flat. He dialled the publicised hotline of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), asking for immediate evacuation for testing, quarantine and treatment.
Six weeks of relentless Whatsapp messages, SMSs and voice exchanges, yet no one has shown up. Apologetic voices at the other end keep telling Bunmi to exercise some patience as the institution had no test kits on the ground to test and process new patients.
NCDC short message to phones reads: “If you know someone who has recently met with a COVID-19 patient, please be supportive. Encourage the person to call their state hotline for testing.”
But Bunmi called and the centre failed him. Six weeks running…!
His experience is not dissimilar to that of the COVID19-stricken woman whose persistent calls to the NCDC fell on deaf ears. Finally, she concocted the brilliant idea of presenting herself at the Panti Police Station, Adekunle, Yaba. By the gate there, social-distancing herself from everyone, she hollered out her predicament, following which police officers phoned NCDC whose ambulance eventually came to extract her.
Bottom line? With no epidemic on our hand as at yet, relevant government institutions have demonstrated shameful lack of capacity to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. For a country having about 8,000 cases, authorities here have held up no beacon of hope, nay, nothing that breeds confidence that, in case push should come to shove, relevant professionals have citizens’ back. This fact has stoked the heat of scepticism in a citizenry whose daily lives languish under government ineptitude in every area, from water supply to healthcare to power to employment to traffic management to waste disposal to infrastructure to roads.
Amidst the cloud of scepticism, conspiracy theories fly upwards like smoke from a witch’s cauldron. Social media regales the mind with unbelievable sights and sounds. Like in the US, so it is being peddled here that CMDs of certain public and private hospitals have a quota of phantom COVID-19 patients they must by-force-by-fire report for evacuation to and quarantine in the nearest isolation centres in return for some sort of monetary compensation running from hundreds of thousands into millions. Therefore, any symptom even of common Malaria can be up-scaled into a COVID-19 positive diagnosis. Rumour mongers say this accounts for why the pandemic’s curve in Nigeria is not flattened but skyrocketing. By the way, High Chief Raymond “Raypower” Dokpesi cannot claim the copyright to this fiendish insinuation.
Don’t you just wonder why video clips of inmates in some NCDC isolation centres show so much gusto and energy? Are these really, really sick people or people simply picked off the streets to scale up the country’s COVID19 statistics? How come these supposedly unhealthy inmates have the zest and spirit to sing, dance, play and generally have a ball? As somebody noted: Is Nigerian COVID-19 the variant that gets cured by sumptuous servings of fried chicken and jollof rice?
Something does not add up. Elsewhere in the world, this disease collapses the lungs and the suffocating sufferer must go on the ventilator. This is a virus that in other climes is leaving people gasping for breath, demented and amputated. Over there, exhausted and exasperated doctors, unable to bear their mortal helplessness, have committed suicide with many of them placed on suicide watches.
Meanwhile, Nigerians themselves have taken the initiative to demystify the disease. In our usual penchant to adopt the DIY approach to helping ourselves, our people have resorted to home-made face masks and nose covers to answer the need of the moment. The itinerant Obioma tailor can make three within the hour. Street urchins have found a new industry as they roam the street hawking, “Buy your nose cover here! Fifty naira!” Even if what they vendor can hold no light to the authentic, you can rest assured that no policeman will charge you for not wearing something on your face.
For people like us, such ingenuity brings immeasurable relief. Because when the Federal and state governments began to do what they do best: Buck passing to citizens through instructions by fiat and issuing orders that every citizen must be masked up or get ready to be locked up, the first question was: How do we get enough masks for 200 million citizens?
Governments promised to share out masks. Citizens did not bother to hold their breath in what would have amounted to waiting for Godot. This is a government that has so far failed in palliatives. Government has failed in PPEs. Government has failed in ventilators. Government has failed in patient evacuation. Thankfully, Nigerians wised up. In public, they just wear their let-my-people-go masks to fulfil all righteousness and avoid the harassment of overzealous police. On their own, transport unions got buses, cabs and tricycles to sacrifice half their passenger capacity, although the public pays with higher fares.
And for what? The jury is still out on whether the whole world did not press the panic button unnecessarily in the face of this NOVEL CORONAVIRUS. Scientists insist viruses have always been with us –from your pet dog, to your bed, to your poo, to your toilet handle, in your toothbrush, in the air! Microbes fill everywhere! These microscopic neighbours are a million times more in population than all human race put together. For treatment and tackling, one size may not fit all but experts insist the trick to tackling them is to build personal immunity. There are enough antibodies in each human’s body anatomy to fight and conquer these beasts. But they overcome the system where the health of the person has been flattened by a previous ailment.
The world is certainly in panic mode. Even doctors and other medical personnel are scared, which accounts for the rising body count of mysterious deaths in several places. The husband of a pregnant Mrs. Comfort Adefila detected she had a steaming temperature in the night. Two hospitals in Lagos rejected the pregnant woman for fear she might have contracted COVID-19. And as her desperate husband drove towards a third hospital, the woman died en route. With doctors shirking consultations to routine ailments in patients, common ailments can quickly inflict capital damage. With about 8,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases Nigeria has about 750 deaths. Health minister Dr. Osagie Ehanire said the other day that 70 percent of Nigerians dying from the novel Coronavirus had histories of hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, HIV, cancer, and tuberculosis. Half the number died at home.
Oh, by the way, Bunmi finally gave in to friends who kept taunting him, “You want to wait for government, for NCDC, to bring ambulance to evacuate you? You will just die for nothing! Help yourself!” The man embarked on self-treatment through local herbs that his friends encouraged his wife to prepare for him: So far, so good.
And instead of this long wait for NCDC and Godot, Bunmi’s way may just prove the best way: Self-help!
Our collective strength against this disease certainly lies in the decentralisation and demystification of solution centres. We must encourage personal DIY and First Aid initiatives, followed by primary, secondary and tertiary bus stops in the formal healthcare. This leaves the isolation centres free to tackle the most fatal cases.
To make things easy, doctors say COVID-19 has a 14-day maturity period and could hardly become a killer before then. In years past, radio jingles advertising over-the-counter medicines ended with, “If symptoms persist after three days, consult your doctor.”
In the war against this modern disease, we may just find succour in that classical slogan.
FELIX OBOAGWINA IS A JOURNALIST AND HE WROTE FROM LAGOS