COVID-19 and Nigeria’s avoidable second wave conundrum (2), By Isaac N. Obasi

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Boss Mustapha, Chairman, PTF COVID-19

As we pointed out last week, the key drivers of Nigeria’s avoidable coronavirus (COVID-19) second wave include: (a) ignorance and scepticism among leading to a high level of non-compliance with the COVID-19 safety guidelines and protocols, (b) non-compliant returning international passengers who probably brought in the more dangerous variant of the virus to the country, (c) large political gatherings, (d) large religious congregations, (e) activities such as weddings, burial ceremonies, birthday parties, etc, and (f) conferences, seminars and workshops involving many participants. 

list deliberately excluded ‘reopening of schools’ as a key driver of the virus during this second wave. However, the Presidential Task Force COVID-19 during its briefing Monday, 11 January 2021, included the ‘reopening of schools’ as one of the drivers of the second wave in Nigeria. We do not share this view because as we argued last week, the reopening of the airports to international travellers and their subsequent non-compliance with the safety protocols and guidelines constitute one of the major drivers of the virus in this second wave particularly the dangerous and deadly variant of the virus. It is instructive to mention that the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) added its voice that “schools are not drivers of the pandemic” (See Punch, Thursday, January 14, 2021). This position has policy implication about keeping schools shut or reopening them for children to learn. Like we argued in this page in the past all that is needed for schools to reopen is for the authorities to ensure that there is effective implementation of safety guidelines and protocols in the institutions. 

Two key drivers of Nigeria’s avoidable second wave (namely the widespread ignorance and irrational scepticism among , and the non-compliant returning international passengers who we suspect brought in the more dangerous variant of the virus to the country), are examined in this last installment of this article. In examining widespread ignorance and skepticism, we will use the encounter this writer had with one of many who are denying the reality of COVID-19 in the country. As a prefatory observation, this writer was shocked at the unbelievable level of scepticism, and non-compliance attitude and behaviour of this group of who are stubbornly denying the reality of COVID-19. At best, many think that COVID-19 is an exaggerated reality in Nigeria.

The encounter with a skeptic occurred when this writer entered an electronic and stationery shop located in Gwarimpa District of FCT, Abuja. The writer requested the owner of the shop (who is reasonably educated) to put his face mask before attending to him, but the sceptic retorted vociferously that “Oga there is no COVID-19 in Nigeria”. And when asked why he thought so, his first was that “it is pure deception by the political class to enable them to continue eating money”. Waoooh this writer responded in disbelief. The sceptic further claimed that “COVID-19 is only killing corrupt big men and women in government and their collaborators outside the government”. But even when this writer expressed further shock and disbelief about his wide claims, he said that the numbers of both infection and death were highly exaggerated to enable corrupt government officials to be “eating” money. That is why according to him, “poor people are being protected by God from coronavirus as they are not dying like the big people”. 

Again, supporting his case that there is corruption and exaggeration of figures of infection and death, he cited a friend of his working in one of the agencies fighting COVID-19, who now has a car which, according to him, was as a result of the high level of fraud or fleecing going on in the . But when reminded that an enhanced allowance earned for an increased and emergency work schedules and activities that his friend might have been compelled to observe as a result of COVID-19, might have enabled him to buy a car now than earlier, he waived this argument aside. Although he failed to reconcile logical inconsistencies in his claims, he was not interested in such logic.

Secondly, this sceptic said that when large crowds served the political interest of the political elites (like in Edo and Ondo political rallies for the governorship elections), the authorities looked the other way or did nothing serious to stop such large crowds in a period of a pandemic. He also cited the policy of Identity Number (NIN) registration in a period of the second wave of the pandemic that the authorities themselves do not even believe that there is COVID-19. He then wondered why the authorities always frowned at large crowds involving economic, , and religious activities. Such level of hypocrisy he said, failed to make the people to take many of the risk communication messages by the authorities seriously. In this second major argument by the sceptic, this writer could not contradict him or offer any reasonable explanation to counter his argument.

Thirdly, this sceptic argued further that half of the residents in the Gwarimpa district of FCT (in his estimate) do not believe that there is COVID-19 and also do not observe the non-pharmaceutical protocols such as wearing of face masks and keeping of physical distancing. According to him, many of such people do not take the enforcement authorities seriously because of the discriminatory nature of enforcement of safety protocols across markets, churches and mosques. This writer experienced further shock at this accusation which appears strange, but he cited cases he purportedly witnessed in the FCT, Abuja. But drawing his attention that even if this were to be the case, the non-arrest of defaulters by enforcement authorities was not a favour to them (as it exposed them to serious danger to their lives), this sceptic however maintained his stance on his alleged discriminatory nature of enforcement by the authorities. 

Lastly, and surprisingly (as it was not expected) the sceptic asked this writer if he believes in COVID-19 vaccines. The writer expressly reminded him that if out of ignorance or scepticism he refused to take the vaccine when it is available and accessible to , he would have himself to blame, as he would probably not be alive to continue to push his scepticism further. 

The surprising thing about his arguments is that it is based on a perspective (i.e. a broad line of thinking supported by facts or non-facts that adherents subscribe to). This is why non-facts based-perspectives are called conspiracy theories because of the power of their non-factual logic. This perhaps explains why many Nigerians who subscribe to what this writer (in earlier articles in this column) called ‘irrational scepticism’ are not easily convinced by what the authorities are telling them about compliance with the non-pharmaceutical protocols of COVID-19. This is one of the reasons why we are in this avoidable second wave. 

Apart from the issue of ignorance and irrational skepticism fuelling widespread denial of the reality of the virus, and the high level of non-compliance by many Nigeria to COVID-19 non-pharmaceutical safety protocols, the greatest driver of the spread of this virus in this second wave, was the high number of defaulters of international travellers returning to the country. The chairman of PTF, Mr. Boss Mustapha had revealed few months ago that the level of non-compliance by international passengers for compulsory (COVID-19) PCR test was very high.

 Given details, he further revealed that this non-compliance by defaulters had reached a 65 per cent level. He then regretted that statistics from record indicated that only one out of three passengers, who arrived from abroad, were presenting themselves for the mandatory in-country test, which they signed up to and paid before arrival. The chairman promised that the defaulters would be sanctioned. But this to punish them only came too late when they had probably inflicted harm to Nigerians they interacted with. It is arguable if these defaulters were not the purveyors of the more deadly variant of COVID-19 from the United Kingdom (UK).  

This is more likely to be the case as subsequent reports revealed that the number of international travellers returning into the country who tested positive have been on the increase since the period of this second wave. For instance, statistics reveal that about three weeks ago, the number was 100 people testing positive, but two weeks ago the number rapidly increased to 200 people who tested positive. This is the root of the spread of the virus in this second wave particularly the more transmissible and deadly variant which was first dictated in the United Kingdom (UK). 

Prof. Isaac N. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: