COVID-19: Call to Make a Difference

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By Idris Aregbe

Coronavirus came like a bolt from the blues. No one saw it coming, and even where scientists predicted an ominous pandemic, governments that have always been at the forefront of nipping such potential disasters in the bud, were numbed by exertions and postulations of superiority on political and economic terrains.

There is no doubt that economies are hibernating, interest rates have fallen to lowest possible levels, millions of jobs are projected to be lost, people are dying in rates only comparable to wartime situations, families and friends are being separated, the best hospitals and health care facilities in the world are crumbling under the weight of overflowing casualties. All over the world the figures are increasing and here in Nigeria we listen to updates twice daily with frayed nerves.

A partial lockdown in our dear Lagos came into force a week before a total lockdown was announced by President Buhari to begin Monday March 30. With 19 states of the Federation affected by the virus, different States have adopted different measures at curtailing economic activities. Some are on partial lockdown, some have imposed curfews, while some are even opening up their economies.

The reality of the lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja has gradually played out in more ways than imagined or thought of, as more and more Nigerians find it excruciating staying locked in their homes with no food to eat and other essential needs, even with their dire necessity at this time and the traditional epileptic power supply which otherwise could have kept people more comfortable and also abreast with crucial information in the Covid-19 fight.

In the face of the lockdown, there have been agitations where people have expressed their annoyance with the government for ordering a lockdown without appropriate cushions to mitigate its effects. The worst part of the lockdown perhaps is the reported cases of daylight looting by miscreants and robbery by night marauders, incidents which have rocked parts of Lagos and Ogun States, turning residents into vigilante groups at night to ward off robbers, leaving others with one eye open while asleep.

These acts of thievery are totally unacceptable and must not be condoned, even with the fact that palliatives and other measures announced to cushion the stricture of the lockdown by the Federal Government are hardly felt by the larger society, over 70% of whom work in the informal sector and have to fend daily for their survival. The situation also underscores the urgent need to put quite a few things right in our country, and in alignment with acceptable global standards; for example, our health care facilities. It is time to seriously ponder automating processes of governance in the country. If the country had a comprehensive data base, at a time of emergency such as now, it would have made for easier, methodical and successful planning and implementation of whatever palliatives to dish out before locking down the country or more specifically the states locked down. As it were however, with an extension of the lockdown for another two weeks until April 27, and with the waning hope of most Nigerians on the Federal Government to provide any reasonable relief, it does not cut a comfortable picture.

The motive behind the Lagos State government’s palliatives was of good intention and way ahead, it must be said. The administration of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu has been at the forefront of the fight and the model that other governments have emulated in the Covid-19 fight. Indeed the effort of the Lagos State governor and his team in trying to ameliorate the bite of the lockdown must be commended, perhaps with little reservation in having the agents of distribution make the initiative work by good and selfless distribution.

At this point it is imperative to note that this fight goes beyond the government. The food distributors themselves and everyone involved in midwifing palliatives to the people must be honest and selfless in their approach and do the right thing, the right way. The effort of Nigerians at showing care and love is praiseworthy, even though the intention of some is just to get attention. In any case, It is not just a fight that demands support from only the Otedolas’ Dangotes’, Alakijas’ the Adenugas’ or Elumelus’ but also from the Yahayas’, Demolas’, the Uches’, Yetundes’etc. It demands all hands to be on deck. Every community has varying levels of wealthy people; while some have truly been showing care and love, more others need to be compassionate to the poor lot around them, as well as those who may not be considered poor but are in dire straits at this moment due to the pandemic.

Throughout history, every lifetime comes with its peculiar crisis or challenge, often requiring the efforts and contributions of every citizen to overcome. Covid-19 happens to be the crisis we face today, which requires the patriotic zeal of every Nigerian in the effort to put it behind us and move on with our normal lives. It may be likened to watching a horror movie, patiently waiting for ‘the end. Everyone is in a certain degree of fear and no one knows when it will end. That ending requires everyone to step up and contribute their quota and help in taking this war headlong.

While over 70% of Nigerians live from hand-to-mouth on less than $1 daily, many workers in the semi-private and SME’s sectors are yet to be paid their wages for March, as some employers are taking cover under the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, these people cannot stock up on food or other essentials, which all project deep concerns about the financial implications of the lockdown.

It is important to note that every country has different structures and capacities, and are also being hit by the virus in different ways, with some highly hit and some not as bad. Many nations of the world have risen from the desolation of adversity to attain remarkable heights of greatness. This pandemic being a time of solitude and introspection for many, without doubt offers a world of lessons to individual citizens as well as leaders and governments, but it might well be said that, only the wise ones however, will be able to pull out some lessons from this unprecedented disaster.

It is a time different people are taking solace from different things to stay happy. While some find happiness with their phones, some cannot even turn on their phones. While some cannot afford data, some others are dealing with network and other related issues. While some don’t mind staying indoors, others love it out in the daylight. Much as some would prefer physical engagement with people, others find the isolation a time for reflections and re-arranging their priorities. It’s just a case of different folks, different strokes.

There are businesses that are making great profit at this time as well as those which are grounded. I have been in touch with a number of people in the last three weeks and I know friends who can afford to eat more than three square meals daily and others who are having difficulty having one per day. I have spoken with some friends to whom N500 only means a lot to at this time and to others to whom N50,000 is nothing to. I have seen families left in anguish with nothing to fall back on, worsened by the fact that they cannot step out. I see 24 hours running like 72 hours daily.

Apparently, a lot of people are increasingly getting despondent. It is therefore a time that well meaning individuals, corporate and responsible citizens should show some level of responsibility, in complementing government’s efforts at defeating this enemy, not just for the government, but for us all.

Our campaign at staying home and staying safe implies a directive for people with homes. However, how about those without homes? These people are also our brothers and sisters who need our support and help, and there couldn’t be a more opportune time for that than now.

As a nation, we must rise up and help ourselves. It is not the fight of the government alone. The government has set the ball rolling so, we must stand firm, continuing to follow all given directives to ensure a successful curbing of the virus; we should reach out in genuine love to one another. This goes beyond just donating money to the government, but also looking and touching areas that the lives of ordinary Nigerians could be impacted the most. You might just be doing it for your own good.

As Mrs Ibukun Awosika, who has also stepped out on this issue rightly coins it, “every one of us holds a piece of what is required to build the right world where we can all survive.” That piece in your hand might just be the needed bit to make the difference in lives of the needy at this challenging time.

I dearly hope that we’ll learn some lessons in the aftermath of this pandemic and become even more united than ever. I also use this opportunity to implore security operatives drafted to enforce the lockdown not to get trigger-happy or assault innocent Nigerians who are going through a lot right now, but to remain friendly while carrying out their lawful assignment.

We’re all in this together, Together we’ll end this pandemic, Together we’ll be stronger, Together we can reset our minds on the paths of genuine patriotism, and Together in love against Covid-19, victory is sure.

As a responsible citizen with burden for the future of Nigeria, I am willing and ready to play my part. So, likewise, rise up and play your part to make a difference.

*Aregbe, Convener of Culturati, writes from Lagos.