At 4 pm today, eminent guests drawn from various disciplines and status in life will honour the publisher/editor-in-chief, of Naija Times, Ehi Braimah as he formally presents his book, My Lockdown Diary via the zoom platform. Here in the piece below, the writer, columnist and literary critic, Reuben Abati gives an insight into Braimah’s mind in his Introduction as published in the book.
On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Coronavirus, a public health emergency of international concern. It was obviously hesitant to declare the new strain of the coronavirus which had been reported in Wuhan, China in late December 2019, and which had spread quickly across Asia and other parts of the world, a pandemic. The global health body’s explanation was that it needed to follow established protocols. On February 11, 2020, WHO assigned the novel Coronavirus an official name: COVID-19. On March 11, 2020, however, it finally declared the new strain of Coronavirus a pandemic. This was not the first plague known to humanity.
As far back as the early fifth century, an outbreak of typhoid fever wiped out half of the Athenian army during the Peloponnesian war. It became known as the Plague of Athens. In the 14th Century, there was the deadly Bubonic Plague, also known as the Black Death which claimed about 200 million lives over a period. Between the 19th century and early 20th Century, a cholera epidemic soon spread widely claiming many lives. Between 1918-20, the Spanish Flu infected half a billion people. By the time it was over, over 40 million people lay dead. In a table dated 5 September 1919, and marked “Public Record Office (PRO), C)583/77, by J. Beringer and M. Cameron Blair”, it was reported that the Spanish Flu claimed a total of 199, 325 lives in Nigeria. The number could well have been higher.
In more contemporary times, some of the other pandemics that have been reported include the Asian Flu, the Hong Kong Flu and the Swine Flu. Advancements in science and research many have given man the capacity to understand the nature of the conflict between man, nature, the environment and biology better but this has not in any way stopped the occasional emergence of epidemics, or pandemics, a pathogen gone musth, which further tests man’s knowledge and exposes his vulnerability. As it were, every pandemic reminds man of the interdependence and the interconnectedness of the world in which we live. With death as the central effect of pandemics, such a plague reminds us all of the common humanity that we share.
The COVID-19 pandemic has in particular proven to be a major turning point for the world. Previous strains of the corona virus — the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) — have proven to be “a mere play” compared to the new strain of the Virus that was first reported in Wuhan, China. COVID-19 in less than six months has proven to be a virulent, respiratory condition which alters human metabolism and attacks the organs in a capricious manner. Scientists may have been able to classify the disease in terms of its character — from mild to severe — and its manifestation — asymptomatic or symptomatic — but there are still too many unknowns. COVID-19 is a disruptive factor, which has created a cultural and dramatic moment in history. It respects no boundaries, persons, or space. It does not differentiate the rich from the poor. It has left many communities and societies devastated. There have been reports of corpses littering the streets in Ecuador, high fatality rates in the United States, Brazil, India, United Kingdom and Russia, and a cultural, social, economic crisis of a scale and nature hitherto unseen. Entire families have been wiped out in Europe. In Nigeria, prominent figures have fallen victim of COVID-19. Exact estimates of the infection rate across Africa remain vague.
Out of fear, anxiety, self-preservation, nations promptly shut their borders to contain the spread of the disease. Cities were locked down and individuals were asked to self-isolate in their homes. Public gatherings were banned. Social distancing and physical distancing became the new code of social relationship. The global economy took a hit. Virtually every sector of the global economy was affected. China, known as “the World’s Factory”, was the first to close down its factories. In due course, other countries followed suit, and the global supply chain was disrupted. The IMF/World Bank predicted a global economic contraction of about 3.4%. Bill Gates projected a total loss of over $3 trillion. Job losses, the scarcity of everything including food, water and toilet paper, sharp rise in undertaker’s fees, the spread of poverty: these are some of the fall-outs that have been reported in different parts of the world. The response capacity varies from one country to the other indicative of the disparities and inequities in the global order. Countries have been confronted afresh by the challenges of leadership and capacity, the politics and the economics of the pandemic, and the need to survive the cyclonic onslaught of an egalitarian disease. Nonetheless, there has been an outflow of global solidarity and co-operation, and a shared recognition that the battle against COVID-19 can only be won if the people of the world stand together.
But perhaps the biggest impact of the virus has been at the personal, individual level. In his novel, La Peste (The Plague) (1947), Albert Camus already offers an exploration of human responses to a plague; its effect in particular on their psychology and existence. The psychology of the pandemic can be read further in terms of the responses to its impact at the institutional, leadership and personal levels. How do people cope with the sudden realization that they are surrounded by death? How do they respond to the various non-pharmaceutical interventions recommended and imposed by governments? Are there mental health issues that potential victims and survivors of the pandemic have to deal with such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder arising from restrictions, loss of employment, reduction in income, or the total loss of it? How do families forced by necessity to stay together in one place, for weeks on end, respond to the restrictions on their movement? How do couples cope? How do people learn to adapt to “the new normal”, a new pattern of living that they are unprepared for and the associated, even if unavoidable, violation of fundamental human rights? The book that you hold in your hands, My LockDown Diary: Reflections on Nigeria and COVID-19 Pandemic by Ehi Braimah is an example of how one person tried to adapt, cope and respond to the terror of the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 plague.
Ehi Braimah, I call him “Fo-x-y!” – that is his nickname — is your typical, busy, middle-aged man who does not know what it means to be idle. For the past three decades, he has been actively engaged in a variety of activities: journalism, public relations, brand management, marketing, hospitality, community service, membership of professional associations, combining every activity with the nimbleness of a person of talent. Like every one else, he looked forward to a busy year 2020. Like all of us, he had plans for a year, that many now claim is better forgotten, except that such an eventful year will still be talked about in a century to come: the year that a pathogen crippled the world. Nigeria recorded its index case of COVID-19 on March 27: an Italian who was on a business trip to the country. A few weeks later, as the infection rate gradually increased, the Nigerian government, following the example of other governments around the world, closed the country’s borders, including airports, set up a Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and ordered a shut down of Lagos state, the Federal Capital Territory, Kano state and Ogun state. Other states of the Federation also gradually shut down. Only persons offering essential services were allowed to move about. Businesses were asked to lock up and send their staff home. The entire world was in a state of unforeseen emergency: a force majeure caused by a virus.
Adversity tends to concentrate the mind. In every moment of crisis in human history, man has often shown an amazing capacity to be innovative. In Ehi Braimah’s case, he set for himself the task of writing on the lockdown and the experience of COVID-19. Every week, he penned an essay which he published on many platforms: print and online. His lockdown space and laboratory was Adna Hotel, in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos, which he runs with his wife. Husband and wife moved into Adna Hotel which of course had been temporarily shut down in line with government directives. Unable to travel or go to the office or even move about, Ehi Braimah immersed himself in the self-assigned task of documenting the COVID-19 experience. This book is the harvest from that endeavour: 32 essays written between April and July 2020, in addition to eight previously published pieces on other subjects of interest, beyond COVID-19.
I consider this book a welcome and refreshing addition to the growing global bibliography on COVID-19. Ehi Braimah is certainly in distinguished company. COVID-19 may be a grim reaper, but it has also inspired so much creativity as persons seek to understand it or adapt to it. In 2020 alone, there has been a wave of books and a deluge of research essays written in academic journals and the popular press by scientists and others seeking to decipher the cause, nature and possible treatment for COVID-19. The output has been multidisciplinary: biology, psychology, economics, leadership, the future of work, business sustainability, economic reform, mental health and sociology. On social media, creative memes have been created around COVID-19. Musicians have waxed albums, poetry competitions have been held to educate the public and address the challenge of infodemic, which has been a threat to the necessary behavioural change as protective mechanism.
The bibliography grows daily, as Ehi Braimah’s My LockDown Diary joins a list that includes M.S. Rixon, Coronavirus COVID 19: A fictional story about a possible future (March 2020); Joshua Gans, Economics in the Age of COVID-19 (May 2020); Syed Khan and Zhang Yu, The Outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19): Death and Terror in 2020; Fang Fang, Dispatches from a Quarantine City: Wuhan Diary; Slaing Zizek, Pandemic: COVID-19 Shakes The World; Deborah Mackenzie, COVID-19: The Pandemic That Never Should Have Happened and How to stop the Next One; and COVID-19 Pandemic Poems Vol I – an anthology published by Cape Comorin Publisher featuring poets from India, Indonesia, Australia, Sri Lanka, Phillipines, United States and elsewhere. There are many more books on the production list of publishing companies, more poetry waiting to be written and published, more art in the age of COVID-19, as the pandemic catalyzes and energizes the creative and intellectual industry. Combined, writings on COVID-19 provide useful research information, a way of coping, and a form of therapy as in the case, for example, of “thera-poetry” (that is, therapy through poetry), which receives the support of the UNESCO.
However, COVID-19 is at best still a developing, unfolding story. If anyone ever thought that it would be a sprint, it is at the time of the publication of this book, beginning to look like “a marathon”. We are probably at half-time in the excruciating match against this pathogen, and the encounter may be prolonged till the extent of a penalty shoot-out between scientists and the virus. Nobody knows when it will end. Is it something humanity has to live with permanently? How soon will a vaccine be discovered? Is there a possibility that the virus could further mutate and become deadlier? Nobody knows. The danger therefore of publishing a book on an unfolding story is that the author is taking a risk: in the face of too many unknowns about the subject, his book could be dated by the time the full story unfolds, or certain wrong assumptions may have been made that new facts would contradict. Current statistics may in fact not reflect the scope of the global health emergency. Is a second wave afoot, and if so, how devastating would it be? How many more will be infected? How many will survive or die?
My observation is that Ehi Braimah’s My LockDown Diary, passes the test. It does not run the risk of being out of date. COVID-19 may be an unfolding calamity but it is also a living subject, and what the author of this book has done is to write from the perspective of a journalist. Journalists document history as it happens, in other words, “in a hurry” to identify key issues, and help the community build memory for deeper reflection. Ehi Braimah studied Industrial Mathematics, but he ended up as a journalist – a sports reporter and editor, before he further expanded his scope. In 32 essays in this book, he focusses strictly on key events that occurred between April and July 2020 in Nigeria in relation to COVID-19 and notable events or issues of interest during the period. In the latter regard, the reader should take special notice of the following tributes “Dele Momodu, my Publisher at 60” (Chapter 10); “George Floyd’s horrifying death in Minneapolis” (Chapter 14); “Majek Fashek, the rainmaker, is gone” (Chapter 16); “Who’s Afraid of Akinwunmi Adesina (Chapter 17); “Ibidun Ighodalo: A beauty queen with a generous spirit” (Chapter 19; “How we can strengthen our democracy” (Chapter 20); “Tony Elumelu: God’s Gift to Africa” (Chapter 28); “Julius Adelusi-Adeluyi: Quintessential genius of many parts” (Chapter 32); and “Endless glowing tributes on Pius Adesanmi” (Chapter 35). There are other essays which are not in any way COVID-19 related but which offer an intimation of Braimah’s multiple exposure and experience: in sports, advertising, brand management, events management, agriculture and as a member of Rotary, the international service organization, as well as his commitment to a much-needed reform of the Nigerian brand and enterprise.
Ehi Braimah succeeds eventually, to borrow a common Nigerian saying, in “killing two birds with one stone.” More than two birds actually. He helps to analyse some of the key issues around the management of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria in terms of the process, lessons to be learnt, the people’s response, the role of the leadership, and steps to be taken particularly with regard to the urgent need to diversify and unlock the potentials of the Nigerian economy and strengthen leadership and institutions. He also documents his views on certain key national issues. And third, this is his debut as an author.
Ehi Braimah’s writing is lucid. He is a very kind and polite analyst, so generous and good-tempered in his submissions. I find no trace of anger. What I see instead is a yearning for progress, a conciliatory tone and unmitigated optimism, underlined by an unveiled religiosity about the future of everything including COVID-19. There is a metric and rhythmic regularity to his style and a fascination with figures and data that I can only trace to his original training as a mathematician. He has done well.
Lagos, August 2020.