COVID-19: Enough of Restrictions, Curfew, Anxiety

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Ring True with Yemi Adebowale, Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; Tel: 07013940521 (text only)

Ring true

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Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com

I can still clearly remember the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Ghebreyesus, telling the world that Coronavirus will remain with us for a long time. “Make no mistake; we have a long way to go,” Ghebreyesus said few weeks back.

He admitted that people in countries with stay-at-home orders “are understandably frustrated” with being confined to their homes for weeks on end and that people, understandably, want to get on with their lives. The WHO DG said the world would not and cannot go back to the way things were and insisted that “there must be a new normal.”

That “new normal” is what we should progress to in Nigeria. However, restrictions, lockdowns, curfew and government-induced anxiety should no longer be a part of this new normal. This is why I find the extension of the restrictions imposed on Lagos, Ogun and Abuja absolutely unnecessary. The curfew, shutdown of businesses, ban on interstate travel, shutdown of schools, churches, mosques and social activities must not go beyond June 1. These measures have inflicted unprecedented pain on many, with some people losing their lives. We have already created a monster with these restrictions and we will be creating a bigger one if they persist.

The curfew is causing traffic crisis with frightening gridlocks. There is hunger, unemployment, violence by hungry people/delinquents and frustration in the land. Innumerable Nigerians have also lost jobs and some businesses will never return. Bank branches are in shambles with endless queues because they are allowed to open for only few hours. It is pertinent to balance the risk of this virus against these other monsters. We need our lives backs, with a “new normal” that will pragmatically contain the spread of the virus.

For me, we must reopen this economy fully on June 1, with a “new normal” that would see us promoting the highest level of hygiene, wearing protective materials and social distancing in offices, factories, schools, public buses, churches, mosques and other public places. The good news about Coronavirus is that we know the problem and the drug to use. The wonder drug is an open secret. We are also evidently getting result. Lagos State alone has treated almost 700 people that had fully recovered and discharged. The “new normal” should be one in which testing, isolation and treatment will be free and fully decentralised. Doctors, nurses and other medical workers at primary and tertiary health institutions should be massively trained to test, isolate and treat COVID-19 patients. I am happy that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State is looking in this direction. He is already talking about involving primary health centres in the treatment of COVID-19 patients. This is the way to go.

Government-induced fear must also end. There has been too much COVID-19 hyping by government and its agencies, and carelessly presenting the virus as a death sentence. I can’t understand how the imposition of curfew will help contain the virus. Perhaps, the virus will also not come out while the curfew is on. Let’s not deny the fact that Coronavirus is real. At the same time, let’s not make our lives useless. The virus will be with us for a long time to come. We must live with this fact. Emphasis should also be on pragmatic protection. We should also be talking about how people can improve their immunity with simple over-the-counter drugs like vitamin C and Zinc. Of course, the use of local herbs that are evidently preventive and curative should also be encouraged.

Another thing I find depressing is that some of the measures being promoted against this virus lack scientific consensus. For example, numerous countries, including Nigeria, embarked on massive fumigation of streets and open spaces shortly after the outbreak of the disease. Many spent huge amount of money doing this. Suddenly, the World Health Organisation gets up and says spraying disinfectant on streets and open spaces does not eliminate Coronavirus and “even poses a health risk.”

In a document released last Monday, WHO says disinfecting open surfaces as part of the response to the virus can be ineffective: “Spraying or fumigation of outdoor spaces, such as streets or market places is not recommended to kill the COVID-19 or other pathogens because disinfectant is inactivated by dirt and debris. Even in the absence of organic matter, chemical spraying is unlikely to adequately cover all surfaces for the duration of the required contact time needed to inactivate pathogens.”

According to the health body, streets and pavements are not considered as “reservoirs of infection” of COVID-19, adding that spraying disinfectants, even outside, can be “dangerous for human health”. The organisation warned that spraying chlorine or other toxic chemicals on people can cause eye and skin irritation, bronchospasm and gastrointestinal effects.So, all the noise about disinfecting public places was just a misguided venture.

Social distancing is equally being questioned, with a former WHO doctor, Professor Karol Sikora, saying the excruciating social distancing rule was needless. He rubbished the two-metre social distancing rule put in place by most governments, saying it should be scrapped as it has no scientific backing. Sikora, an Oncologist added: “The way we use our drugs and the way we do investigations have bases in science, but this two-metre rule has nothing. The politicians are lost because they get conflicted advice. There is no science about the separation.”

As for state governments implementing usage of face mask overzealously, and terrorising people, they need to realise that not everybody can wear these masks, and accommodate this limitation. They say it is mandatory, forgetting that some people cannot wear it for health reasons. Experts have warned that people who have asthma or other lung conditions should not wear a face mask because it could make it difficult for them to breathe. Masks can make it more difficult to draw air into the lungs and this may trigger asthma for some and cause anxiety, which changes people’s breathing patterns. Experts say people should wear a mask if they comfortably can, to protect themselves and others around them, but not risk their own health in the process. Mask-wearing rules must be amended to reflect this fact.

The Languid Military Operation in Katsina

I was bemused by the Presidency’s recent announcement that “a major proactive operation” by Special Forces against bandits in Katsina State would soon commence.

According to the statement, a planning team has been dispatched to the state, with the mandate to select targets and make preparations for the launch of an “unprecedented operation.” Haba! We are now at a stage where planned major military operations against terrorists are made public. What a country! Now that the bandits know that the Special Force is coming for their heads, I guess they will simply fold their arms and wait for them. That’s what this federal government is telling us. The global standard is for military operations to be discreetly carried out. This type of announcement shows unseriousness on the part of all those behind it. It was simply showboating. The statement also unconsciously advertises that the military had all along failed to approach this war against bandits seriously.

The situation in Katsina State, which happens to be our President’s state, is pathetic. President Buhari and Governor Aminu Masari persistently fail the people. The bandits are roaming freely in virtually all the local governments in Katsina, killing at will. Hundreds have lost their lives in the last five years. Masari has persistently been taking sides. This is why his hopeless amnesty programme for bandits is not working. I will never forget the killings by Fulani militias in Tsauwa and Dankar villages of Batsari Local Government Area on February 14. Thirty people were slaughtered here, with several houses razed and animals burnt. The reaction of Masari, from the comfort of his office, was to say that the Fulanis simply retaliated. This governor pretends to be unaware that those who kill innocent human beings are as guilty as those who retaliate.

Bandits are also ravaging Sokoto, Zamfara, Niger and Kaduna and the killings will persist for a very long time if political leaders and security agents continue to act in support of the warring factions. This is the crux of the matter. What is happening in these states is war between Fulani herders and Hausa farmers, over grazing land.

The bandits are Fulani militias. They fight for the herders that want unfettered access to farm lands. Herders often call the militias when they suffer casualties.

The Hausa farmers in Zamfara and Katsina also have their militias called Yan Sakai.

They retaliate for Hausa farmers when their farm lands are destroyed and farmers killed. I remember Masari saying he had banned Yan Sakai in Katsina State. But he is yet to ban the equally violent Fulani militias.

It is one big mess compounded by politicians and security agents that have refused to act dispassionately. This is why hundreds of lives have been consumed by this disaster. The states mentioned hitherto experienced very tiny crisis between the herders and farmers, prior to Buhari’s emergence as President. But immediately he became President, the Fulani herders were emboldened, because “our brother is now in charge,” and the drive for unencumbered access to farm lands assumed a frightening dimension. Of course, security agents also became partisan. That was why bandits attacked Kajera and Magazawa villages in Tsafe Local Government Area of Zamfara State last Tuesday, unhindered, killing five people. Security agents refused to respond appropriately.

A lawmaker in the Katsina State House of Assembly, Mustapha Jibiya, was apt, when he said the “irresponsibility and insensitivity” of relevant stakeholders was responsible for growing insecurity in the State. The lawmaker said both the federal and Katsina State governments have failed to provide security for citizens, and that his constituents now prefer to call on security forces in Niger republic for help: “My constituents are quick to seek the assistance of the Nigerien troops immediately they are under attack. They feel at home with them and this is because the Nigerien troops will swiftly come to their rescue. It is unfortunate that our people are being killed, yet Mr. President and Governor of Katsina State have remained docile. They have refused to tackle the insecurity conundrum in our dear state headlong. What is wrong with this kind of leadership? After Maiduguri, Kastina is the next slaughter slab in the country.”

I guess that was why Senator Ibrahim Gobir, (APC Sokoto East) said the Nigerian military was no longer capable of saving his people from bandits. Gobir reiterated that his people now rely on the soldiers from Niger Republic to ward off the attacks of bandits whenever the hoodlums struck: “There is no protection for my people in the Sokoto East Senatorial District because of the incessant attacks of the bandits.

At least 300 people have either been killed or kidnapped in the last three months. We now rely on the Nigerien Army that is helping us since our Nigerian soldiers have abandoned us.

“When we call the Nigerian Army, whose personnel are a few kilometres away, we won’t get an instant response but the Nigerien soldiers, who are about five kilometers away, will quickly move in and ward off the intruders. At the moment, the Nigerians in Sokoto East are relocating to Niger Republic because they are no longer safe in Nigeria.”

Three Months without Pay in Imo State

It seems dark days are back in Imo State; those gloomy days when civil servants work without salaries for months. Governor Hope Uzodinma has not given the civil servants any hope in the last three months. Those in departments and agencies have three months backlog of unpaid salaries. Workers in agencies like the Imo Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) and Imo State University are gasping for breath. Civil servants in the ministries are still waiting for April salaries. A senior editor with the IBC, Mrs. Ottih Vivian, recently picked up courage to expose the Uzodinma no-salary trauma, but was suspended by the governor. Her letter was thought-provoking.

Vivian, a nursing mother, wrote about her pain and starvation brought about by unpaid salaries. She also wrote about her colleagues that had fallen sick without money for medicals. Uzodinma has continued to pummel these workers in the name of doing one useless and unending staff audit. Must people die because a staff audit is ongoing? Today, I challenge Uzodinma to rise and clear all outstanding salaries. The pain in Imo, a civil servant state, is becoming unbearable. Uzodinma should show some human feelings.