By Rev. Fr. Martin Onwudiwe
As the world is on its knees breathlessly looking forward to the decline and possibly end of the pandemic, COVID-19 and employing all measures to bringing it to a halt, to this point, one can comfortably affirm that our generation is undergoing an experiencethat shakes it from its real foundation after which definitely things will never remain the same.
Infectious disease is not a foreign phenomenon in human history. Between the 19th and 20th centuries humanity recorded some devastating pandemics: From 1852 to 1860, about 1 million people died of the third Cholera pandemic which originated from India.
Over 23,000 people died of this pandemic in Great Britain in the year 1854 which was the same year contaminated water was identified to be the means of transmission for the disease. The 1889-1890 Flu pandemic which originated from Central Asia, Northwest Canada and Greenland claimed the lives of over 1 million individuals. The 6th Cholera pandemic that originated from India claimed over 800,000 lives of Indians before spreading to the Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Russia. Between 1918 and 1920, a devastating pandemic (Spanish Flu) caused by Influenza claimed the lives of over 50 million people out of the 500 million infected persons. Recently, the Asian Flu of 1956-1958 which originated from China caused 2 million deaths. And today, comes the turn of the pandemic COVID-19.
The mighty is indeed falling; mass graves have become common sights, medical personnel come back to duty the next day to meet their patients covered to the head in stiff and lifeless form.
The mortuaries are filled up with corpses unattended to as morticians demand for medical notes before accepting any corpse to their already filled morgues. Experimentally, social distancing has been proven to be a very functional precaution against the spread of the virus which gave birth to the stay-at-home order and consequently, total lockdown in most parts of the world. Different countries and races adhere to the sit-at-home order differently. Initially, in Nigeria some modern day prophets and seers were resolute in steering their congregations and adherents towards the opposite direction of the civil authorities.
Obviously, they injected the usual tunic into their followers insisting that the virus is a wrath from God for the unbelievers like ‘Americans’ and ‘Europeans’. Some promised going to China to fight the virus to a stop while others gave prophesies of the end of the virus. Those prophetic dates are now in the remote pasts and the virus is still making its way across the length and breadth of Nigeria. Incidentally, in a bid to combat the deadly virus, several donations kept rolling out in cash and kind mainly from great philanthropists of our land. All of a sudden, the country is trying to heal itself of the dilapidated state of our health system to which some public officers culpably claimed ignorance of.
Needless stressing how these palliatives are being distributed to the poor and needy in Nigeria. One can imagine what becomes of the palliatives for the poor in a country where security agents detailed to enforce closure of a boarder to prevent further spread of the virus across the states turn the boarder to a toll gate for commuters, thereby making mess of the entire precaution. One can imagine what becomes of the palliatives in a country where the supposed SOS phone numbers of the organ in charge of disease control are permanently unreachable even in the face of emergencies and suspected symptoms of COVID-19. What will become of the palliatives in a country where the same virus that brought America and Europe to their knees has become an object of politics, business and nepotism? Little wonder why an entire street will be left with a quarter bag of rice, one bowel of garri and two loaves of bread as palliatives.
Although the compulsory holiday seems to be renewable fortnightly, it is obviously an indefinite one. Italy has been indoors for about 6 weeks and still counting. America has recorded over 23,000 deaths and the end of the tunnel is yet to be seen while in Nigeria some are more interested in masquerading even as recent as on Easter Sunday. Our boldness in error extends to the self-consoling patches of schools of taught littered everywhere even in the face of thousands of mortality in the Western world stressing that we (Africans) have stronger genes resistant to the type of genetic mutation akin to COVID-19, that we live with viruses of different kinds deadlier than the COVID-19; that the hot weather of our continent is unfavorable to the spread of the virus. In all these, I wonder the source of our courage or maybe we are heading towards actualizing the saying that we do not run for the rain till we are completely drained. One wouldn’t negate the fact that we are mostly unprepared for the sit-at-home order as over 60% of Nigerians are able to place food on their tables only when they go out for their daily bread. ‘Hunger virus’, according to a provoked Abuja taxi driver, is worse than Coronavirus. You can add up what becomes of this country if the compulsory holiday is prolonged. As it stands now, people sit beside their pots of soup on fire else they will come back to tell a different story when they come back.
As if hunger is not enough, the unprofessional handling of the social media becomes another self-inflicted harm. In the Western world, bodies of victims of Coronavirus are treated with dignity and solemnly laid to rest. In our country where fortunately we have recorded only 11 deaths, the social media have been employed as instruments of misinformation and malinformation regarding the virus. Individuals, families, villages and towns have been maliciously stigmatized because of Coronavirus. Information and counter-information have become the order of the day as voice messages of unverified sources continue to fly the air, some traceable to senders with an admixture of prejudice and acrimony. The example of the supposed index case of Anambra State is an instance. When we indiscriminately litter people’s names on the irretrievable social media, we somehow quickly forget that tomorrow awaits us. The entire situation could simply be judged as the complacency of the less threatened.
Humanity is facing a menace aggressively threatening its existence. Everybody is pinned down to a standstill and the economy is gradually being crippled. It is neither an opportunity for enriching oneself nor is it a platform for business and nepotism. The danger before us is not to be treated with levity and light-headedness. It is fatal and we are mainly less prepared than those suffering more casualties. Politics should be placed aside as the dream for one Nigeria could be honestly nurtured once again. The challenge of obedience to the civil authorities is placed in our hands. Prevention, they say is better than cure but in the case of COVID-19, there is no cure yet therefore, prevention is our only option. While we pray for the end of the deadly virus, may we eschew exaggerated spirituality which eventually turns out to be regrettably fatal. God does not answer prayers rooted in disobedience. Fake and unverified news may kill before the virus strikes.
*Fr Onwudiwe, PhD, is the Director of Communications, Catholic Diocese of Nnewi