It is an understatement to say that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken over our lives completely. It is the first incident, in recent histor, that will affect the world evenly without sparing anyone. There is nothing that the United Nation’s Security Council can do about it. There is no veto power, and before the almighty COVID-19, everyone is equal.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is no longer the health matter wizard that we used to know. The super organisation has no answer to the COVID-19 question till date; rather, it has its existence threatened by the handling so far.
The numbers keep on increasing. From the lowly figure of one case by 8 January, 2020, it skyrocketed to 9,847 cases by 31 January and by 24 May, the world had a burden of 5,204,508 cases and 337,687 deaths. In the United States where COVID-19 was not an issue as at the same January, over 1,622,114 cases have been reported, with over 97,049 deaths. Virtually, all countries in Europe and Asia have also witnessed a geometric rise in cases and deaths since the beginning of the year.
In Nigeria, the first incident case was reported on 20 February and the nation went on lockdown in Lagos, Ogun, and the Federal Capital Territory on 30 March, as a precautionary step to contain the spread. Since then, the numbers have ballooned from that first incident case to 10162 cases, with 3007 discharged and 287 dead as at 1 June.
Backlash and relaxation
The lockdown was a strange order to Nigerians, and it was exceedingly difficult to obey. People whose lives depended on their daily activities could not cope. There was a cry of hunger in the locked down states and a state of anarchy was almost becoming the order of the day. Hungry people turning into or mixing with bandits started robbing people of their possessions in broad day light. Some, like the dreaded “One Million Boys”, even got more daring by sending advance notice to their would-be victims, saying: “get ready, we are coming to rob you”.
To protect their properties, whole neighbourhoods trooped out at night wielding cudgels, cutlasses and other dangerous weapons to confront the invaders. These ugly trends must have panicked the government of President Muhammed Buhari (PMB) into ordering a relaxation of the lockdown, despite an obvious surge in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths.
It was a smart move. An immediate concern has been addressed but no one knows what the future portends. What will the government do next? Will Nigerians be more cautious now that they have been released to go to work? We suspect that the spread has gone beyond the occasional contact with returnees from Europe, America, or any of the other affected places, as there is a suspicion of community involvement. If this is the case, there is a palpable fear of what will happen next in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, there is a frenetic search for vaccine all over the world, from the profoundly serious one to the utterly mundane and unserious claims of curative medicines. Gradually, the pandemic is giving way to pandemonium and the centre, according to the late erudite Prof. Chinua Achebe, appears not to be holding any longer.
There were loud cries of dissent when it was announced that Nigeria would be accepting herbal remedy from Madagascar. The president of Madagascar became the number one official salesman for the untested and uncertified “Covid Organic” or COVO, as the herbal remedy was branded. He challenged the WHO’s authority to accept or reject the Malagasy COVID-19 formula. He was able to convince Nigeria and other African countries to adopt the concoction for treatment. Nigerians, particularly the medical community, railed against the government for ignoring similar claims in Nigeria while readily embracing that of a foreign country.
There is nothing that government has offered that could pacify the aggrieved professionals on this subject. President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria, Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa, reeled out the statistics: Nigeria has 174 Universities, 20 schools of Pharmacy, other research scientific/pharmaceutical institutions compared to 6 universities and 1 or 2 schools of Pharmacy in Madagascar.
While not opposed to Nigeria receiving help from any country, Ohuabunwa insisted that Nigeria should have embraced, encouraged, and motivated the researchers in Nigeria first before rushing to join the orchestra from other climes. There was a report that the Federal government is yet to send the consignment received from Madagascar to NAFDAC for testing.
Palliatives and Brouhaha
In other parts of the world, President Donal Trump of the USA has offered money, $1 billion at the last count, to the pharmaceutical companies, with a marching order to produce vaccines before the end of the year. He called a press conference where the CEOs of pharmaceutical companies were issued the fiat to produce the vaccines and ensure that the USA takes priority above any other nation in distribution when the vaccines are available.
Such orders are unusual in a world of multilateralism, but Donald Trump is an unusual man and he has used the COVID-19 pandemic to push the frontiers of his “America First” agenda. France will not allow the Trump order to go unchallenged and its president, Emmanuel Macron, was unequivocal when he summoned Paul Hudson, the Sanofi CEO and told him that it would be “unacceptable” for any country to have priority access to COVID-19 vaccine.
Other world leaders echoed President Macron’s view by declaring that COVID-19 vaccine “should not be subject to market laws”. President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, who chairs the African Union, has called for a “people’s vaccine” that would act as a public good as reported by Financial Times. Other world leaders have also voiced their opinions that any vaccine for Covid-19 should be patent fee, produced at scale and produced at no cost to people everywhere. This is another utopian expectation which may not be realistic at this time when nationalism is on ascendancy. Who will pay for the research work, manufacture, and distribution of the vaccine?
The COVID-19 has, once again, brought China into intense scrutiny by the world. President Donald Trump has not relented in his tirades against China as the harbinger of the pandemic. He accused China of hiding information about the origin, spread and pathogenicity of the virus. He has used every available opportunity to condemn China and has threatened to halt relationship between the two countries.
Elsewhere in the world, China’s offer of assistance to combat the pandemic is being treated with suspicion. In Nigeria, there was a public outcry against the invitation of Chinese health workers to the country. The medical doctors, under the umbrella of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA), vowed not to work with the Chinese and threatened to withdraw their services if the Chinese doctors were brought to the public hospitals. To date, the whereabouts of the Chinese doctors are shrouded in secrecy and government has changed the story: the Chinese doctors are guests of a construction company, CCECC, and some of them may be technicians!
China is not taking the threat from the USA lightly and is doing everything possible to protect itself against any possible assault. There are reports that China is tightening its hold on Hong Kong and parading its military prowess to warn any ambitious nation against attack. The peace of the world is threatened by a virus!
The economic impact of the pandemic has been indescribable. The aviation industry worldwide is most affected, and all airlines are gasping for breath with their corporate survival severely threatened. A lot of people are trapped in different locations of the world as they could not return to their base as result of freeze in air travels.
The tourism industry is in serious trouble. Hotel rooms are empty, just as restaurants, eateries, clubs, bars, and others have lost their patrons. The hope of returning to normal business is fading. The threat of massive unemployment is real. In USA, the unemployment rate jumped from 10.3% to 14.7% in April and this was reported to be the largest over-the-month increase since 1948. At 14.7%, the rate was also reported to be the highest seen since the Great Depression. Invariably, the US economy lost a staggering 20.5 million jobs (to a virus) in April 2020.
The cost to the public purse in unemployment claim is enormous. In France, about 10 million people lost their jobs in April 2020 and this figure is about half of the entire private sector workers and the figures are similar in other countries in Europe, Asia, and Middle East with economies heading towards depression.
The social impact is equally unimaginable. The restriction in inter-state travels (and curfews in some states) in Nigeria has turned everybody into a refugee. It has been reported that people slept on the two sides of the Bridge connecting Onitsha in Anambra State and Asaba in Delta State to cover less than one kilometre. Similar incidents occurred in Lagos State when people working on the Island could not connect to the mainland where they live.
Even more worrisome is the movement of the almajiris from one state to the other. Suddenly, the governors of the northern states realised the need to address the social implications of having children roaming the streets for food in the guise of seeking Islamic education. They decided to halt the practice but, first, they agreed that the almajiris should be relocated to their states of origin and be united with their parents.
This noble intention was turned on its head when the almajiris started moving in their hundreds to the southern states. The people of the south are already crying foul and the nation’s attention has been turned to the eternal wound of ethnic cleavages which has refused to heal over the years.
The lockdown in Nigeria is covering the face of the impending economic troubles for the nation. When normal activities return, many people will find out that they have no work to return to. Most workers, particularly in the private sector, have not received salary in the past three months, while others have been paid only half of their earnings.
Schools are closed for now, but they will soon resume, and school fees must be paid. Tenants will be called upon to pay their due rents and the landlords, whose lives depend on the rent, will not entertain any excuses or pleading.
The COVID-19 woe will soon enter its full cycle. The economy itself is just waiting to show its ugly face. The IMF, World Bank and other financial agencies have already predicted a negative GDP growth for Nigeria in 2020 and this means economic recession again as it was in 2016. The impact will be more that the statistics or agencies can predict. We depend so much on oil for our foreign exchange earning and since oil has, for want of a better word, collapsed, our ability to fund our imports will be severely curtailed.
The devaluation of the local currency has begun. The Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, has moved the official calculation rate from N307 to N360 per dollar and is doing everything to prevent the free fall of naira that will follow. Imports will be restricted. There will be scarcity of essential products, including medicines. Inflation will skyrocket with higher prices of goods and services. The vulnerable population will suffer more.
All because of a virus, named COVID-19.