When I left Abuja at short notice nine days ago, the city was already emptying out. The single biggest factory and business centre there – the National Assembly – was on the verge of closure.
Before the closure was announced, though, things were already slowing down but there was still just enough time left for the lawmakers to take delivery of their brand new SUVs to drive any virus out of town.
Lagos was by far more affected than was Abuja. The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) had reported 26 infections from COVID-19 at the time, yet the scenes at the Abuja airport and even on the flight that Tuesday, made Abuja feel like the epicentre.
Lagos meant business. Governor Babajide Sanwoolu’s response strategy had an energy about it that made residents feel calm and secure.
Whatever the case, my wife was ahead of the family curve in sounding the alarm that there was a need to stock the house up. It was only a matter of time before the lockdown would come. It had become the standard containment measure in many parts of the world and we’re not bucking the trend. No need to take any chances.
I knew she was right, but I didn’t know what made me more uncomfortable: the looming lockdown or the fact that I now had to find money that I didn’t budget to “stock up” the house at perhaps twice the price it would cost at normal times. And prices of most staples were already skyrocketing. The only way we overcome greed during scarcity is by yielding to the temptation to charge shylock prices.
I think that part bothered me and after some back and forth over the matter, I responded typically.
I warned that there was no need to panic; that no matter what anyone bought, we’ll still run out of supplies anyway; that it’s better to get only what you need than buy to feed panic.
But philosophy is not a valuable currency, least of all in troubled times. When all the grammar is spoken and done, you’ll have to do what you have to do.
On arrival at home from the Lagos airport, I noticed that new protocol was already in place. There was liquid hand wash at the security post and anyone coming in was required to wash their hands with soap at the tap just outside.
As I got out of the taxi, the security handed me liquid soap. I laughed, and brought out a bottle of hand sanitiser from my pocket which I waved in his face, mockingly. This thing was getting serious.
At dinner that Tuesday night, we swapped jokes from social media and shared information about the state of this public health crisis in different parts of the world. There had also been suggestions that Sanwoolu was planning to impose a curfew on Lagos any time, from 11pm to 6am to fumigate the streets.
The scenes from different parts of the world that we were watching on TV were coming to our own streets?
I went to bed thinking how dramatically our lives have changed within such a short space of time: from communal living/sharing to social distancing; from a presumptuous, almost arrogant confidence in our native immunity to a life with our hands now perpetually under liquid soap and running water; from “partee after partee” to a life of isolation and suspicion.
The next morning, I woke up with a fever. It wasn’t there last night. Where is this from? In a few minutes I scanned my life in the last two weeks – where I had been, the persons I had come in contact with; my whole social log file. My body ached. I also had catarrh and cough. But I refused to panic. I knew what it was but I also knew what others might think it is. No need to panic.
What was the point? Lagos, which has the best public healthcare centre in the country at this time, only had capacity to test less than 100 a day. The limited test kits were reserved for desperate cases. I’m told that even if you checked into a regular private hospital for a test of any kind, if by any means you sneeze more than once or twice while waiting to see the doctor, the entire medical staff could flee for safety.
As for social media, there is always more than enough to worsen a bad case. I explored it, anyway, for whatever it was worth. There was the story of the woman who claimed she and her family recovered from what she said was COVID-19 after they steamed in a boiling pot of lemon, ginger, garlic, and onion.
There was also this video of a black woman, presumably a Nigerian, selling unrefined African shea butter, otherwise called ‘ori’, to scores of Asian women as the wonder cure for COVID-19. The promoter said all one needed was just to apply a bit of the ‘ori’ to the nose and rub some on the hands, and pronto, all the symptoms would disappear!
I didn’t need any of this. I knew what the problem was and I had a fairly good idea how to tackle it, at least for the first two or three days. I used regular dose of anti-malarial with paracetamol and kept hydrated as best as I could.
I wasn’t short of breath nor did I have any sensation of a sore throat. But regular fever that attacks at an unusual time, could send the mind into overdrive and in the current maze of confusion, force you to go the extra mile for treatment you don’t need.
I later commenced the use of Vitamin C (2000mg), and twice a day, steamed with hot water into which I put a few drops of eucalyptus oil. I’m big on ginger and turmeric even at normal times. I simply raised my game.
Four days after, I felt a complete turnaround and modest pride in my anecdotal remedy. It’s also day four since the lockdown started and I’ve learned a few other new lessons since.
My daughter had the whole family install an interactive app, Houseparty, on our phones and I never quite did anything like this. Once the “party” begins, all participants join remotely, just like Facetime, and the administrator pops live questions, from current affairs to maths, which we all scramble to be first to answer. Marks are awarded and participants ranked after every cycle.
I was trying to get used to this new digital hangout, when my attention was called to a fight that had broken out on the Estate’s WhatsApp platform.
Because of transportation difficulties associated with the lockdown, security men manning the gates were finding it difficult to get to work and manage all the gates. So, the Executives decided to close some of the gates and leave a few major ones open.
The moment the decision was shared, the platform exploded. Who? Why? What authority? All attempts to explain to angry residents that keeping all the gates open will stretch the few security men able to get to work on time, fell on deaf ears. You would think that COVID-19 had just arrived in a handcart.
And this once again, exposed the underbelly of our social fabric. The rich build their lives and safety on the back of the weak and vulnerable who have one leg in the affluent neighborhoods from where they eke out their living, and the other on the margins of society, where they can barely survive. No one thinks about our mutual vulnerabilities except at times like this.
We’re still managing somehow, though. Perhaps before this lockdown is over, we may also have to learn how to man our own gates ourselves, among many of the self-help lessons of life.
•Ishiekwene is the MD/Editor-In-Chief of The Interview