Vanishing fear of COVID-19 in Nigeria and its consequences, By Isaac N. Obasi




Since the period of mammoth political rallies in both Edo and Ondo states, and followed closely by the #EndSARS protest and its aftermath, Nigerians have not been taking the observance of the non-pharmaceutical protocols seriously. And observing closely how Nigerians are behaving these days with regards to safety measures against the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), one would be tempted to conclude that the war against the virus is over. Yet, the world (including Nigeria) “is still in the middle of this pandemic” as Mr. Boss Mustapha (Secretary to the Government of the Federation, and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19) would always put it when making passionate appeal to Nigerians to obey the non-pharmaceutical protocols and guidelines. 

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We can all vividly recall that there was a time in the period of this pandemic when the fear of the raging and ravaging virus was the first step in the wisdom of actions towards preserving one’s life. The virus was then dreaded for its ravaging effects across the world. Although the compliance level of the risk communication messages by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) was low in Nigeria, the federal and state governments did a good job of imposing lockdowns and other restrictions to reduce the spread of the virus. But this virus has not gone away to warrant the fast vanishing fears of its ravaging effects among many Nigerians. 

When we look at what is happening in some parts of the world such as Europe, United States of America, South America, India, and Australia, we will see how deadly this virus has even become since its first wave in China and Europe. As of 19 November, 2020 (at 3.45 pm Eastern Time) the world has recorded a total number of 56.7 million COVID-19 cases and about 1.4 million deaths according to Johns Hopkins University that tracks global spread of the virus. 

The statistics in five countries with the highest number of infections and fatalities clearly demonstrate that COVID-19 pandemic is still very dangerous as it was in China where the first case was recorded close to a year ago. The statistics released by Johns Hopkins University as at the same date and time, show that the United States of America has 11,647,930 total number of cases of infections, and 251,756 deaths. This is followed by India with 8,958,483 total number of cases and 131,578 deaths; and then Brazil 5,945,849 cases and 167,455 deaths; France with 2,087,196 cases and 46,795 deaths; and lastly Russia with 1,998,966 cases and 34,525 deaths. 

There are a number of countries, however, that recorded total number of deaths much higher than either France or Russia among the first five countries above. Such countries are Mexico with 99,528 deaths; United Kingdom 53,755 deaths; Italy with 47,870 deaths; Iran 43,417 deaths; Spain with 42,291 deaths; Peru with 35,317 deaths; and lastly Colombia with 34,563 deaths. In terms of the total number of deaths recorded alone, Mexico ranks fourth after France. Again, the United Kingdom with 53,755 has higher figure than France and Russia listed among the five countries above.

 The central message here is that many countries have recorded very high number of deaths that ordinarily should put fear into the minds of people across the world. But like in Trump’s America, many people do not seem to care much about respecting or observing the non-pharmaceutical protocols. President Donald Trump and his ‘trumpeters’ (supporters) have made such safety measures (like wearing of masks) a huge political issue. Again, and surprisingly, many people in different countries of the world are even protesting against the observance of safety measures introduced by their governments. 

Coming to Nigeria, the lower number of cases and deaths in relation to other nations reported above may be contributing to making people not to be afraid of COVID-19 again. Nigeria so far has recorded 65,693 total number of infections and 1,163 deaths (as at the same 3.45 pm Eastern Time reported by the Johns Hopkins University). It seems that Nigeria is enjoying God’s merciful favour otherwise  millions of people would have died if the virus was ravaging the country like it is doing in USA, Europe, India and Latin America among other places. Should Nigerians be taking this divine favour for granted? I think we should not, for as the saying goes, heaven helps those who help themselves. The consequences for taking things for granted by abandoning the observance of the non-pharmaceutical protocols are very catastrophic. 

First, economically, Nigeria is too weak now to experience another wave of the virus. The various governments across the three tiers appear to be struggling to meet their enormous financial obligations. The execution of both the capital and recurrent expenses are seriously challenged by paucity of funds. The Federal Government for example is under a heavy debt burden presently. Where will the money come from to confront another serious spike of the virus beyond where we are?

Secondly, our health system is equally too weak to withstand any further stress of its infrastructure and facilities. In human terms, the health professionals and allied workers who have been working very hard and making enormous sacrifice since the outbreak of this virus in Nigeria are already experiencing serious fatigue to face such a new scaring challenge. These patriotic Nigerians have been working under poor conditions of service. We should help them by observing the non-pharmaceutical protocols.

Lastly, the level of poverty in Nigeria currently is unprecedented that a second serious wave of the virus will leave many people dead or simply be left at the mercy of the ravaging virus. At present, millions of people are struggling to eat, as unemployment is so high that those working are basically sharing their salaries at the end of the month among the endless list of requests from relatives, friends, well-wishers, or even acquaintances and unknown people whom they come into contact with in the course of daily activities. Burial ceremonies requiring assistance from those working have become endless. Indeed things are hard. Many people are literarily begging but in a disguised manner at the end of the month. When people cannot eat, how then can they meet the demands of their health challenge?

But then it is surprising that with all these challenges, people are still not ready to help themselves by preventing a more calamitous health situation emerging simply by just wearing masks and observing other less difficult or burdensome pharmaceutical protocols. This contradiction appears to be a mystery which social psychologists can help us to unravel. 

•Prof. Obasi of the University of Abuja, is a Visiting (Adjunct) Research Professor at the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, (ACAN), ICPC, Email: nnamdizik@gmail.com.  

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