There is a pandemic going around killing people.
The first infected case in Nigeria is now better; somewhere eating amala if the rumours are to be believed. The National Association of WhatsApp Aunties (NAWA because na real wa for them) have taken us on a wild ride from garlic to chopped onions in the corners of rooms and we really do not know what we did to deserve this. Wives are singing choruses of praise at uninterrupted access to their husbands. Husbands are NOT pleased because there is a distinct and deleterious absence of football, male gatherings and side chicks. Side chicks are struggling to work it all out as they are secretly pleased that Zaddie cannot see them at the moment (nail and hair salons are shut and makeup artists are in their houses) but cannot figure out how to get alert from sugar daddies when they have not dropped any of the sugar. To quote an ancient Latin phrase: “Igboro ti daru”.
And so it was that Nigeria finally got aboard the train of taking precautions to stay alive. A tad late, believing that we were impervious to the wave of death rolling turbulently across the globe, but here we are, and that’s what matters.
In the absence of a robust army of epidemiologists or health researchers (those who have FLED Nigeria are in other parts of the world saving lives and the ones still at home have dropped petri dishes for booming businesses in fine Brazilian wigs), we have taken to copying and pasting advice from the western world. And I’ll be honest, I don’t know how well that is working for us.
This is not like ‘spying’ people’s homework to pass in secondary school. There is more at stake here. We cannot import phrases with scant understanding of what it means and hope that they will somehow magically apply to Nigeria.
What is social distancing? Where in Lagos can you put six feet between yourself and the person in front of you? Do you know that there are houses in Surulere that have eight families living in them? Not eight people but eight whole families? All sharing one bathroom and toilet out back? The population of Oshodi is probably greater than Paris. How is this distance to be maintained?
And as for working from home, throw the entire concept away. The majority of Lagosians live literally from hand to mouth – what the hand makes in the morning, the mouth eats in the evening. How exactly is a Zoom conference call meant to go with Ada the tailor? What should Shuaibu the “fokaniza” include in his email?
Most people cannot afford enough food for a week at a stretch. Those who can may not have the electricity to preserve it. Those who do not have the electricity may not have the financial capacity to buy enough fuel to keep generators running for lengthy periods, Lord knows most people charge their phones and “collect” AC at work to ease the burdens on their generators at home. And those who have that kind of diesel money might soon find generators banned altogether if the Senate has its way.
Pot of beans life!
It is no wonder that people are taking their chances with the ‘Rona. Some African governments are using the hashtag #HumanityOverEconomy to drive home their decision to urge people to stay at home. Catchy, yes, but it is not as though these people are risking their lives to oversee the stock exchange or are agitating over corporate profits. A lot of the stubbornness is as a result of seeing no other viable alternative. Like the lepers in the bible, they’ve weighed the options between venturing out to find food and risking the possibility of death and staying indoors to certain death, and have chosen the former.
The government is making visible strides at offering some palliative support. At various locations around the city, food parcels are being handed out in different sizes using different methods. Many of the methods involved large gatherings of people in close proximity who were all “touching.”
If I sound dissatisfied, it is because these measures are not impressive. They are not even scratching the surface of the problem. Half hearted give-aways cannot solve long-term issues. It is conventional wisdom to buy umbrellas before the rain starts so you do not have to look for a leaky tarpaulin sheet to cover your head in the storm.
But this is Nigeria and there is always hope. As always, there are bright glimmers of faith amongst the rubble of hopelessness. The generous financial donations are not just coming from billionaires and organisations. There are inspiring tales of neighbours giving to those in greater need, helping each other out, watching over children. We have seen companies step up and send staff home pre-emptively. We rise higher when we stand together. By staying apart. In our homes.
My enduring hope is that a lifetime of treating the many unknown strands of sickness that come with simply being a Nigerian will stand in the gap for us. I pray that years of “I don’t know how it is doing me…fever…body ache…traffic since moreen…Third Mainland Bridge is a no-go…tanker overturned at Apapa”, taking the necessary medication and going to bed – has left us fighting fit to tackle this virus. I pray that a steady diet of Becombion, vitamin C, Chloroquin, “C’est Ne Pas Panadol”, Coartem, agbo, and other such delicacies has prepared us for a flu virus with no cure.
Because after all is said and done, all we have are prayers and immune systems.