DEALING WITH COVID19 AS A NIGERIAN – REALITY CHECK - Dike Chukwumerije

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My country reminds me of Samson, on the morning after Delilah had shaved his hair, being woken up from sleep with the cries of his enemies at the gate and rushing out thinking he was still possessed of his old strength, of his capacity to engage and defeat a determined foe. This is what my country reminds me of - a man suffering a great delusion about his own capacity at a critical time.

Me? My only real consolation in all this is in the number of people who seem able to recover from this virus on their own. Or who it is suspected contract it and remain asymptomatic from start to finish. This is what comforts me, the possibility of some sort of emergent immunity. And all the indications that a treatment or vaccine may soon be found abroad. These are things that give me hope that this is not the wind that will reveal the fowl’s nyash. But it also makes me sad because this particular fowl may afterwards still not understand how near the miss truly was.

I tell you. Wash your hands regularly? 55 million Nigerians have no access to clean water. Practice Social Distancing? 50% of Nigerians live in slums, bachas, face-me-i-face-yous. Self-isolate for 2 weeks? We are the extreme poverty capital of the world. Over 87 million Nigerians live in it. That is the type of poverty that if you don’t hustle today, you don’t eat today. It is literally death by starvation versus death by infection. Test, test, test for the virus? In the 4 weeks since we had our first case, we’ve been able to do under 200 tests. In the same period, South Africa has done over 15000 tests. If someone abroad does not help us invent a cheap rapid diagnostic test for covid19 sharp and sharp and, very kindly, donate it to us in large numbers sharp sharp, we will continue to test at super snail speed using a process that will be heavily influenced by the routine ‘man know man’.

I tell you. Treat worst cases in Intensive Care? Which Intensive Care? 16 years ago, WHO told us we had 5 hospital bed spaces (and by this they meant everything from public to private, from outpatient to intensive care) for every 10,000 Nigerians. Since then we have elected PDP, then APC. We have elected Christian then Muslim. We have elected Northerner then Southerner. We have elected Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba. Today? Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital has 4 single beds in Intensive Care – with nothing else apparently in the room. Tell me? How do you ramp up what does not exist?

This degeneration of systemic capacity is what we have consistently voted for for 16 years. This deterioration of collective ability is what our young men and women mobilize themselves into thuggish gangs on election day to defend. Because when you shout ‘vote for capacity and merit’ someone will come and start explaining to you why it is the turn of this clan or this village or this region or this tribe or this religion to chop building material. And now that owu is threatening to blow, we are looking for concrete shelter to hide inside? My people, that concrete shelter does not exist. Because we used the concrete to build stomach infrastructure in by-gone elections.

So, let us for a second stop pretending we can ‘handle this’. The horse bolted out of the stable years ago. In fact, it has reverted back to a wild horse in the bush and has spawned generations of wild horse children who now make an expert living from locating where we store materials for building stable doors and devouring them, so that no horse may ever be domesticated ever again. You understand? That if covid19 does not decimate us in this country it will not be because ‘we took steps’, commendable as those steps are, it would be because the virus itself turned out not to be as lethal as we feared in our worst nightmares.

And I fear that if that fact is not well articulated and understood the opportunity presented by this crisis – to truly change the way we approach politics and governance in this country, to truly realize that these things impact on lives, not in their tens or thousands, but in their millions and billions – will be lost. And we will continue to sow the seeds of tribalism, mediocrity, and nepotism, thinking that when it counts ‘las las’ we will rise to the occasion. Until that fateful day when Samson wakes up and runs outside to fight a truly lethal foe with a shining bald head.
 
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