On Monday, 27 September, 2020 some institutions of learning, places of worship and hotels as well as restaurants, started to heave a sigh of relief as the Lagos State government relaxed the restrictions imposed on them about eight months before, as part of the measures instituted to mitigate the spread of the deadly and invisible disease, coronavirus.
The outbreak of the disease, its highly contagious nature, and ability to spread through public gatherings, have resulted in the loss of lives in excess of 1,000 after about 60, 000 people had been infected nationwide.
Invariably, the subsequent preventive measures of banning mass gathering of people to prevent a further spread of the epidemic, also sucked out most of the ‘oxygen’ in the commerce and industry space, consequently leading to major slowdown in production and distribution of goods and services, with dire implications on the already ailing economy and by extension, livelihood of most Nigerians.
As a result, Nigerians since last March/April have been struggling with the choice of which aspect to prioritise over the other, life or livelihood?
While Nigerians and indeed Africans are only dealing with the twin issues of life or livelihood, the industrialised western world is grappling with a third issue, which is liberty-the superstructure upon which democracy is anchored.
Although the choice between life and livelihood is an arduous one for Africans and others in the illiberal world like, China, Russia and other so-called iron curtain countries, a worse scenario is being faced by Western Europeans, and even worse still in the USA, where they are putting up a fight against the rollback of liberties that is the oxygen that sustains a truly democratic system.
Before dwelling further on the situation in the advanced western societies operating liberal democracy, but now struggling to figure out how to cope with the demon of resistance to the infringement on some of the freedoms that they hitherto enjoyed, currently withdrawn in order to effectively rein in the Covid-19 scourge, let’s first examine the risks now faced by Nigerians as the fear of a second wave of the horrific disease is beginning to manifest in the advanced societies.
By virtue of Lagos being the foremost urban centre in Nigeria (equivalent of London, UK and New York, USA) with an estimated population of between 15-20 million people, and therefore the epicentre of coronavirus, all eyes are fixed on how the unlocking of business activities, pans out to determine the efficacy of the strategy of reopening.
The fear by some concerned parties that the lifting of the restrictions may trigger a spike of the virus is legitimate. That’s simply because some members of the society may mistake the new freedom for return to normalcy, and that would be a grave mistake.
It is a no brainer that there is acute need for vigilance by the populace in order to mitigate the risk of sneaking in of a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic from the western world as Nigeria’s air, land and sea borders are currently being thrown open. As it is so palpable that a resurgence of coronavirus may prove to be more fatal and calamitous than the first wave, the Secretary to Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustafa-led Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), that were robustly supported by the private sector-driven CACOVID, initiated by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, and led by Aliko Dangote, president of Dangote Group and Herbert Wigwe, CEO of Access Bank, that have been adjudged to have put up impressive performance during the first wave, must be at alert. That’s simply because it would be very dangerous to let down their guard at this critical point in time.
Clearly, the willingness to give up our liberties or accept the forceful enforcement of compliance of Covid-19 protocols with military alacrity, helped in limiting the casualties in our clime.
In the light of the foregoing, the team that kept the Covid-19 death toll in Nigeria to as low as a little over one thousand lives has to remain highly vigilant as they roll back the restrictions and restore liberties. The current flare up in major European countries experiencing a second wave, particularly the UK, France, Spain and Italy, where the doubling of infections every seven days is now the trend, even as their economies are believed to have lost at least a fifth of their GDP to Covid-19, should be used as a barometer for determining what action may be required in making the judgement call on whether to protect Nigerians by choosing life and act in a timeous manner in shutting down the economy again or prioritise livelihood by continuing to open up with great caution.
Other countries are already making that Hobson’s choice.
Despite the colossal loss that its economy would suffer, Israel is the first to embark on a second general lockdown owing to the high rate of the spread of the disease.
With a projection that by end of November, at least 100,000 Britons would have died from the pandemic, the UK became the second country to also go on a second general lockdown with other European countries such as Spain, France and Germany that are similarly experiencing spikes, following suit.
Even Canada, the North American neighbour of the USA, which was an oasis close to the epicentre of Covid-19 is also witnessing a spike and the authorities are putting public health ahead of liberties of the people by closing down bars, restaurants and discouraging public gatherings.
One of the reasons for the over 214, 000 deaths and nearly eight million infections in the USA is the love of liberty by Americans.
Astonishingly, the 214, 000 deaths and close to eight million Americans that have been infected by the Covid-19 pandemic represent a quarter of the nearly one million, one hundred thousand (1,100,000) deaths and a little less than 40 million infections, worldwide.
With the USA constituting a mere four per cent of the world’s population and suffering a disproportional 25% of the deaths; owing to the insistence by some Americans that they prefer their freedoms to the restrictions of wearing masks in public places, adhering to social distancing and other Covid-19 protocols, the country with the famous Statue of Liberty as its mascot, cannot be proud of such a damning record of Covid-19 deaths.
But that’s what it is and what l would like to term the situation, as the liability of liberty.
It is appalling that, whereas the imposition of Covid-19 pandemic protocols, which infringe on civil liberties in other liberal democratic countries have been somewhat successfully managed, the obviously nonchalant and reckless posture taken by the President of the USA, Donald Trump, has hindered the efficacious application of the measures that could have checkmated the pandemic in that country.
Feeling concerned about the lack of significant improvements in tackling the coronavirus in the USA, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and the co-chairman of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an organisation deeply involved in public health safety globally, has also weighed in by expressing concerns about the human carnage that is waiting to happen if the race against Covid-19 is not stepped up remarkably as the western world transits into the cold or winter season.
That is a period that people would be compelled to stay indoors more than they presently do, and a situation which would accelerate the spread of coronavirus disease.
Arising from awful death toll, already chalked up by the USA, a country that hitherto blazed the trail in world leadership by being in the forefront in the pursuit of good causes, be it on issues of curbing terrorism, enforcing respect for human rights, managing climate change, promoting public health safety, advancing technology or trade/commerce, is presently the worst victim of Covid-19 disease, as it is now leading from behind, in terms of fatalities.
Who could have imagined that in the effort to preserve their civil liberties, some aggrieved Americans would take the extreme measure of plotting the kidnap of the governor of the state of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, with the aim of putting her on trial for infringing on their freedoms via her introduction and enforcement of Covid-19 pandemic rules in the state.
Before the situation degenerated into the current alarming proportions, there had been street protests by some Americans who apparently value their liberty more than their lives. There have also been situations whereby some mayors of cities that insist on residents wearing masks, were taken to court by the state governors, as was the case in the state of Georgia and the recent riots in some enclaves populated mainly by the Jews in New York.
But nothing prepared even the most ardent civil liberties advocates and crusaders for the extreme and unprecedented violent plot in the state of Michigan by some left wing militias.
Fortuitously, the ongoing street protests in Nigeria against the brutality of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), which is a subsidiary of the police force, geared towards achieving speedy response to the crime of robbery, would yield positive results if authorities listen to the youths and decide to disband or reform the obnoxious agency.
There is certainly no room for violent policing in a democracy for an outfit that has allegedly converted itself into a sort of official ‘Boko Haram’ as the officers and men in official uniform are being accused of hiding under the toga of being a wing of the police force to legitimise their act of inflicting torture and extortion (just like Boko Haram) on harmless youths in the guise of seeking to prevent new age crimes such as cyber transgressions like internet fraud.
Since the youths started calling out the nefarious wolves in sheep’s clothing online, culminating into the ongoing bloody and deadly street protests, that unit of the police force now branded with the trademark of sorrow, blood and death, would hopefully be scrapped or reformed.
And if that happens, there would be less brutality on the masses, in the event that a second socio-economic lockdown becomes necessary in Nigeria, in the light of the situation in Europe and even some North American countries like Canada.
That said, the fact that the legacy of public health safety that our ancestors bequeathed on succeeding generations after the 1918 Spanish flu is now so difficult for our generation to fully adopt, stems from the more central role that liberty now plays in countries where the observation of the principles of liberal democracy is cardinal. That can be illustrated by comparing and contrasting the manner that the virus has been managed and controlled in China, where the coronavirus is believed to have originated, with the USA that treasures liberties.
Obviously, being a socialist and illiberal country has helped China in the curtailment of the pandemic compared to the wild spread of the disease in the USA that has killed in excess of 214, 000 people and leaving similar huge numbers of people dead in Europe, both of which are the bastion of liberal democracy.
It boggles the mind that although the Covid-19 protocol is simple, it was quite effective back in the days, and it remains the only preventive remedy until a vaccine is discovered. What is even more puzzling is, why was the suspension of civil liberties in the USA after the 9/11 terrorists attacks on New York twin towers and the Pentagon in Washington not resisted in the manner now being witnessed in respect to Covid-19 in the USA?
Back in those terrorism defined days, major airports even had scanners that exposed airport users to harm from x-rays and in some cases revealed human anatomy and private cavities to those manning the equipment. Could it be a function of poor leadership? Would a bill by the congress, promoted by the president suspending some liberties, have helped? We may never know.
Over the years, and after the 1918 Spanish flu, there have been other pandemics, including HIV/AIDS.
As science has proved that condoms are the safest protection against infection from HIV/AIDS, until a vaccine is discovered; so also do face masks, hand washing with soap and social distancing, for now, offer the best protection against Covid-19, simplicita.
But why are folks not as keen on following the Covid-19 pandemic protocol with a similar zeal and commitment seen with respect to compliance with the use of condoms as protection against HlV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases?
By comparison, in terms of deadliness, Covid-19 has proven to be deadlier and faster to kill, as a coronavirus sufferer can die in a matter of days and weeks, which is in sharp contrast to HIV/AIDS patients, who can live for much longer after being infected.
Perhaps, presenting the truth about the coronavirus pandemic by comparing it to HIV/AIDS, whose devastating effect most Nigerians are familiar with, would bring the reality home.
And such an approach may especially benefit most of our compatriots on the lower rung of the social ladder who nurse or harbour the ignorant notion that Covid-19 pandemic is a disease exclusive to the rich, which is such a fallacy.
Apart from a few retro-viral medications, medical scientists, nearly 40 years after, are yet to find a wholesome cure for HIV/AIDS, which has been wreaking havoc on mankind since June 5, 1981, when the USA CDC published it in their official newsletter.
Subsequently, mankind as a whole, has taken the use of condoms during sex as a sort of holy grail.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO),
“in the 1980s and early 1990s, the outbreak of HIV and AIDS swept across the United States and rest of the world, though the disease originated decades earlier. Today, more than 70 million people have been infected with HIV and about 35 million have died from AIDS since the start of the pandemic”. That’s about 40 years ago.
In comparison, after about seven-eight months of Covid-19 outbreak from China into the rest of the world, over 30 million people are currently infected, with over one million people dead from the epidemic worldwide, in just eight months .
Going by the logic above, about 10 million people could die in eight years, worldwide. And that’s a greater proportion than the 35 million who died in 40 years as a result of HIV/AIDS.
As no vaccine has been discovered for Covid-19, humanity is still in dire straits, nevertheless, we should celebrate the fact that we may not suffer as much loss of lives in comparison to the grave 35 million casualties from HlV/AIDS if a vaccine is produced before December. That’s because at least 40 pharmaceutical firms worldwide have produced the vaccines that they are trying to put through the stage three trial on human beings.
Back home in Nigeria, as the Lagos State government eases the lockdown by commencing the opening up of the economy, including schools and places of worship, which from experiences in western world, are typically the super spreaders of coronavirus, most parents in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole are quite apprehensive of the fate that could befall their wards in schools and their other family members in the new atmosphere devoid of, or where observing the Covid-19 protocols may be hard to enforce, and as such susceptible to the dreaded community spread.
And their trepidation is not without foundation. Evidently, sometime last year, a strange flu was known to have created health scare in Queens College, Yaba, Lagos and many more boarding schools across the state.
The outbreak of the poor hygiene related epidemic in the school system generated a lot of fears that caused most parents to quickly withdraw their children from those schools.
Without discountenancing the fringe belief that the death toll from coronavirus in Nigeria has been low, due in part to the fact that Nigerians, or indeed Africans, have been living with malaria fever which has killed millions and therefore most of the people with low immunity or vulnerabilities have been wiped off by malaria or Ebola that recently ravaged the continent, hence the less candidates for Covid-19 pandemic.
Going by that same argument, Africa and Nigerians can be said to have been better prepared for Covid-19 pandemic, having successfully coped with the aforementioned pandemics. Be that as it may, the existential reality is that Nigeria does not possess a sterling resume, heritage or legacy in efficacious management of public health.
Therefore, our countrymen and women are very prone to experiencing a second wave of coronavirus as being presently witnessed in some western countries.
It is against the foregoing that the fear of a second wave of coronavirus in Nigeria is anchored.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to take a few steps back to sometime around June of 2019, about eight months before the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria, when coronavirus was not on the horizon. It may be recalled that, following the outbreak of Lassa fever in the country, a public health safety firm, Inspire Consulting Ltd., trading under the name, Germbusters.ng, was born in Nigeria.
The outfit registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) of Nigeria, introduced two public health safety management tools for achieving improved public health safety. These are Optimer steamer, and lumitester, South Korean and Japanese made tools into Nigeria. The firm sought to register the two public health safety products with the relevant government agencies, NCDC, and National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). But rather than receive support, both regulators of the public health space stonewalled Germbusters.ng by denying it registration that it duly applied for.
And till date, despite several meetings held with the DG of NCDC, Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu and a couple of visits to and meetings with the personal assistant to the DG of NAFDAC, Professor Mojisola Adeyeye, in 2019, long before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent national lockdown in March, Germbusters.ng remains unregistered, and is yet to receive official response to the proposal letters sent to the two foremost government agencies.
At this juncture, it is appropriate to share information about how the two eco-friendly public health safety devices function.
The Optima Steamer operates on the principle of using dry cold steam to sterilise and sanitise office, living and play spaces.
Unbeknownst to most people, when heat is applied to water, and it reaches a certain boiling point, it becomes dry vapour steam which is a natural steriliser.
So Optima Steamer is a non-chemical means for sterilising spaces that could have pathogens or bacteria. And the pathogens could be coronavirus that WHO and NCDC tell us we can prevent from infecting us by simply washing our hands with ordinary water and soap.
At a time when the world is making strenuous efforts to save water, and protect the environment from harmful chemicals, Optima Steamer uses far less water than other sterilisation processes and it does not need soap or chemicals which are harmful to the environment. Most importantly, it is a tried and proven effective defense against bacteria and viruses that’s widely used in the USA and Germany.
Similarly, the lumitester, which is more or less a mobile laboratory, is a hygiene monitoring tool that enables users to instantly measure the amount of pathogens in a space or environment.
The combined use of both tools results in improved public health safety. So, the devices could save lives, especially in the rural areas where access to water and chemicals are not only expensive, but also difficult.
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
Why must we wait to set up the expensive laboratories and makeshift treatment and recovery tents for the management of coronavirus, when we can prevent the diseases from spreading in and around our country if the anticipated second wave of Covid-19 manifests?
For full disclosure, Germbusters.ng by Inspire Consulting Ltd., is owned by yours truly. And the driving force behind my vision for setting up the venture is the intention and aim of stemming the spread of viruses and bacteria borne diseases, such as Ebola, Lassa fever and other poor hygiene causing common diseases like typhoid, diarrhea, cholera, etc that have been causing preventable deaths in our country.
The discouraging experience that l had with public health care regulators, which is verifiable and supported with documents, was a setback to the investment, which is more or less socially-oriented.
l doubt if the respective heads of the agencies mentioned would deign to deny the fact that Germbusters.ng approached them via proposal letters and l personally, persistently pressurised them to allow Germbusters.ng give them a demonstration with a view to proving the efficacy of the devices.
Although the officials did not deny the authenticity of the devices as being ideal for eliminating viruses and other pathogens, but by omission or commission, and perhaps bureaucracy, they failed to endorse Germbusters.ng as requested and thus did not allow the society to harness or benefit from the inherent values in the deployment of Germbusters.ng devices for the attainment of a robust public health safety system in Nigeria.
In conclusion, as the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 pandemic and the private sector-driven CACOVID brace up for a possible second wave of coronavirus in Nigeria, they should keep in mind the wisdom in the aphorisms – prevention is better than cure and a stitch in time saves nine.
-Onyibe, an entrepreneur, public policy analyst, author, development strategist, alumnus of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA and a former cabinet member of Delta State government, sent this piece from Lagos.