Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, fear has pocketed the globe. Governments have been busy announcing heavy figures of deaths and huge economic losses. Everyone is crying out for a solution and asking for suitable palliatives. But who and what is the real casualty of this pandemic in Nigeria?
Yes, a few billionaires and millionaires have lost lots of money because the cycle of production, service or sales was truncated. To cut their losses, they will have to disengage workers and reorganise. Some of these workers will never get a job again. Some will become employers and entrepreneurs if they seize traditional and post COVID-19 opportunities, but they will not forget the feeling of being made uncertain about the future. A large number of people will remain traumatised till the end of their lives.
Traditions all over the world make it mandatory for relatives of the dead to bury or cremate their own. COVID-19 dead are not handed over to their relatives. In fact, seeing the face or wrapped corpse of your dead relative could be a very rare privilege. Those who self-isolated, or were quarantined, will live with the scar of being victims of COVID-19, or become victims of stigmatisation, in a society that is yet to depart from traditions of suspicion. Students of tertiary institutions, especially the poor ones, who had calculated their graduation dates may not fulfil their dreams or will forever remember lost opportunities due to the pandemic. Relatives of women who died during childbirth because they could not access healthcare, due to movement restrictions will forever remember COVID-19. Job applicants who were to resume for work but lost the job due to COVID-19 will be depressed about the uncertainties ahead and starting all over again. Bread winners who never received any palliative, and had to endure hunger along with their families, throughout the period of lock down will never forget the experience. Psychosocial challenges will reveal themselves in people who were otherwise assessed as normal. Millions of people in these categories will be victims: but their plight will be excusable.
The biggest casualty will be the trust deficit between Nigeria’s leadership, at the national and state level, and the citizen. The governors of Lagos State and Cross River State have so far won the hearts of their citizens. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State acted swiftly by setting up testing facilities and quarantine centres which are visited by artistes to entertain patients and health workers, and by providing Lagosians with palliatives which were systematically distributed to the satisfaction of most of the people of the state and instilling confidence that the leadership would do more for the people. Ben Ayade, governor of Cross River State, provided jobs for 8,000 people on a salary of N30, 000 per month, per person. He also distributed palliatives on a ward by ward basis. As these two leaders were busy, creatively solving problems, two governors went into disconcerting denial. Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State cancelled the federal directive on public gathering for congregational prayers despite a similar directive by Saudi Arabia, the centre of Islam. His announcement that a strange illness was causing deaths in the state, and reversion to the law restricting social gathering and congregational prayers, presented him as a leader who had no care for his people. Health workers also downed tools in his state due to lack of personal protection equipment. Yet Kano State, like Lagos State, has a huge monthly IGR and is not broke. Though doctors downed tools in Delta, Lagos, Imo, and Ogun states, that of Kano State spoke volumes and created more apprehension.
The governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello shook the world by saying there are no COVID-19 cases in Kogi State for two reasons: there is an app the state government uses, and there is no testing equipment. Unfortunately, inquiries revealed that people are dying in the state silently due to COVID-19. More so, Kogi is a gateway state which logically cannot be free of COVID-19. Too many people travel through the state, day and night, stop to eat and shop, and interact.
The real casualty is the escalated lack of trust between the people and their leaders due to wickedness, fraud, carelessness and lack of respect for human life. Trust deficit can however be amended. A forensic audit of funds allocation and use during the COVID-19 pandemic will have to be carried out. The thieves and killers will have to be exposed and fought, in the same manner Nigerians fought former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s third term bid to the ground.