Covid-19: Mr. President, Stop Shaking Hands


Mariam Mohammed Maktoub


The hour was 5am. This unnerving feeling. Gut wrenching. Foreboding. No doubt, the events of the previous day, Monday, March 16, 2020, seemed to have a telling grip as I saw the president, Muhammadu Buhari, governors and ministers and hundreds of other Nigerians at the iconic Eagle Square. The occasion was the Science, Technology and Innovation Expo 2020 of the Ministry for Science and Technology.

President Buhari, as he is wont to do, was on hand to lend his presidential imprimatur to the development of science and technology. There was plenty of handshakes and award presentation including that to Master Akintade Abdullahi, a student of Osogbo Grammar School, who emerged the overall best Young Nigerian Scientist of the Year out of 774 young Nigerian scientists.

As if that was not enough, it was the turn of the governors of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the president later in the day at the Presidential Villa. At this meeting, there was even plenty of backslapping, handshakes and apparent ignorant convulsions of the danger that has upended lives across the globe and poses the greatest danger to human existence at the moment: COVID-19.

Before the events of Monday, last week, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, was at a PEBEC event exhibiting his ‘Star Boy’ tendencies without any lifesaving procedure. There he was dropping vaccine shots into the mouth of a newborn and other not-so-necessary social niceties.

What has puzzled me is the probability that these leaders of ours are into the pedestrian thinking that the ravaging COVID-19 doesn’t exit, and even if it does, it is a ‘white man’s’ burden. Well, even the cynical President Donald Trump has come around to accept the brutal reality that this is no fluke.

Let it be sounded from the mountaintop, let it ring in the valleys, and be made known on the plains; COVID-19 is real! This is no time for indolence, and or skepticism. Mr. President, my president, it is about time you lead as you have always done by taking measured steps on how to combat this biological threat to human existence.

While we remain grateful to our tropic environment and God’s immeasurable mercy, I appeal you demonstrate the basic preventive measures like minimize events you attend. And if you must attend, maintain the required social distance and absolutely no handshake or allow anyone talking into your face.

While there is a certain mass enthusiasm about the immunity of our clime to COVID-19, which is foolish and misplaced, there is a duty that the leadership owes Nigerians by showing exemplary conduct in the event our vaunted ‘immunity’ is breached by the deadly virus.

It bears pointing out that studies have shown that the people who mostly die from COVID-19 are between the ages 60 – 80 years plus. No one, except for the vile, wishes to see the tragic end of another talk more of those who hold the torch of guidance and leadership.

It is instructive to point out that the severity of illness with COVID-19 increases with age and mortality is from 3.8% to 14.8% with 20% of people who are infected and have the potential to transmit the virus showing no symptoms at all.

I became much worried when I noticed that the presidential handlers had no screening measures in place like temperature checks, hand sanitizing. Without a doubt, it is ill advised to throw away safety measures as recommended by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Maintaining a distance of 1.5metres, avoiding handshakes and close contacts, stop attending events etc. Give examples of what other countries are doing to prevent COVID-19.

As the famed Giant of Africa, we are sorely missing for a while now in setting the pace for other countries in the continent to follow. How come Ghana is being more proactive? The country is discouraging large gatherings, handshakes and taking drastic measures to keep its populace safe. But here, we are having cocktails, patting shoulders, throwing etiquettes to the waste bin while public offices lack even the most basic –hand sanitizers.

It was a crying shame when a journalist confronted the Minister of Health, Prof. Osagie Ehanire, a few days ago at a coronavirus update briefing that the ministry lacks running water in its convenience as well as washing soap and the almighty sanitizers. What the heck!

We need to wake up from our delusions and as rightly observed by President Emmanuel Macron of France that this is ‘war.’COVID-19 is a National Security threat as it has disrupted global life and living. It is no respecter of social status or the importance of individuals to their nations. Wives of presidents and prime ministers, top U.S. senators, business doyens, illustrious sports individuals and coveted film stars and entertainers are all adding up to the statistics of those caught in the sinister web of the coronavirus.

It is likely that the argument subsists that index cases have all turned up negative. But if one follows closely the situation in Iran and Italy that are grappling with a horrendous consequences, you will realize that COVID-19 was upon them even before they knew what was upon them. And with a recent Chinese advisory that the virus can be airborne, the most potent public health advocacy at this time and always is to see Mr President lead by example.

*MS Maktoub is Abuja-based publisher of Maktoub Magazine and Political PR Consultant