Nigeria is, unarguably, the country the world holds its breadth most when it talks about countries with potential for the highest fatality rate should the Coronavirus pandemic go out of control. It is not so much because the world hates Nigeria. It is simply because Nigeria remains the best examples of a terrible gap between her relatively huge population and the health facilities available. Additionally, Nigeria, especially at the level of governance, has a legacy of carefree attitude or playing politics with the most important things until it becomes an emergency.
Against this background, it makes sense to wonder whether the Nigeria is set to disappoint the world and, instead, get it surprisingly right. It is a difficult question to answer. Perhaps, only the next two – three weeks may tell.
On the one hand, President Buhari has obviously changed his mind and decided to take the lead in the war against Coronavirus. Historically, the president likes war. When he was much younger, he bloodied the nose of Chadians who might have been misreading the mood in Nigeria. In 1983, he was the philosopher and theatre commander of the now rested War Against Indiscipline and Corruption, (WAI & C). Age may no longer permit such exertions but once a battle guy, always one. So, who knows, the president might be itching to lead a war, any war at all, particularly after being taunted too much by bandits, kidnappers and terrorists who have been taking the war to otherwise sacred places without much challenge. If this speculation is correct, then Coronavirus might have chosen the wrongest of time to get in here.
Apart from the presidential broadcast, the second within a week, don’t mind the gaps here and there, his field commanders such as Boss Mustapha, Lai Mohammed and several others have been obliging elaborate briefings. All these cannot be described as the governmentality of appearing to be moving even when there is not motion. Add to the spurt of activism the fascinating looking facilities especially in Lagos. Something must be happening!
Some people are saying embassies are basically evacuating. Seriously speaking, Western countries withdrawing some of their diplomats does not automatically amount to a danger signal. It could also be because of the extensive closure of supports around the world. The British also reduced their staff in Sierra Leone, for example even though Sierra Leone still has no case of infection. Sierra Leone is just one example.
On the other hand, the strong feeling is simply that things would be getting out of control in Nigeria. That notion that it is only a matter of time before the bodyguard of lies guarding the truth in this war are exposed. That feeling and how to deal with it is important. Let it not be when people start dying in large numbers before it becomes clear that there is more window dressing than anything else.
But people need to see what state governments are doing. as some people with informed insights from the management of Ebola would say, the greater challenge, more than building hospitals is acting aggressively to identify those who are infected and quarantining them. Above all, taking note of the extreme difficulty of practicing social distancing for a disease that requires six feet of separation between individuals is important. That practice is almost dead on arrival in overcrowded places such as Lagos or Kano and in most of the highly rural states especially in the Northcentral and Northeast.
While the flurry of activities about bloodying Coronavirus’ nose sends encouraging signals, the discourse of lock down that is deaf to the peculiar intervening variables between the message and the messenger can trigger a revolution in addition to a soul destroying fatality rate. What are those peculiar intervening variables? energy crisis that disconnects a large percentage of the populace from the message in the first place; a poverty level that means that a large chunk of the population barely have enough to keep their phone lines on or access messages; water supply system that is nothing to write home about; food supply chain that is largely reciprocal or follow informal dynamics unknown to the modern economy; health facilities that has a logic of its own and, above all, a country that works on no clear consensus on most issues primarily because no party or movement has ever successfully inducted the citizenry into any coherent frame of reference about the nation. That leaves the ethno-regional, religious and clan actors so powerful in agenda setting. The video below gives an idea of the consciousness from the popular side.
A revolution will be a great thing but what kind of revolution will it be in a nation where pastors, imams and ethnic chieftains are more powerful signifiers than political leaders who have difficulty in securing consensus on just about anything and have to resort to coercion in most cases, the same thing that pastors and imams can achieve so easily, whatever methods they are using.
If only Coronavirus would force the power elite to reflect but would they?