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Opinions of Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Columnist: Ogunkua, Punch

Coronavirus and Nigerians: It’s each man for himself

Nigeria faced with the third wave of coronavirus cases Nigeria faced with the third wave of coronavirus cases

The third wave of COVID-19, with the Delta variant as its arrow head, is raging around the world. In Nigeria, “It’s each man for himself and not for other”. That aphorism was first coined by the great English poet of the Middle Ages and father of English poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer (1340 to 1400), in his magnum opus, The Canterbury Tales. That seems to sum up the “tale” of the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria and the consequential fate of the common man. While the VIP, our leaders, got vaccinated on television amid pomp and circumstance, the influential through power of wealth and influence, the hustler through their own chicanery and wiles, the ordinary citizen is left hanging without support and hope.

Another Englishman, playwright Robert Bolt (1924 to 1995), in the play, “A man for All Seasons”, casted Matthew, the common man and household servant of the Sir Thomas More, the Lord Chancellor of England, who lamented his loss of identity and self-esteem due to the neglect inflicted on him by society. He threatened that if, in addition, he is allowed to roam the street naked, he would show society his “manhood”, which in actual fact, he had completely and long forgotten ever existed, due to lack of care and battering societal neglect. If Mathew, the common man, was a Nigerian, he probably would have said, “the ogbonge suffer suffer wey I don suffer don kasrate mi”. People have made it clear that if a Nigerian dies and goes to hell, it will be double jeopardy, because he is just transiting from one hell to another.

When many countries around the world were busy placing orders for COVID-19 vaccines in late 2020 and early 2021, some in excess of their real need and also encouraging their research institutions to develop vaccines and antidotes, the Nigerian authorities including the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19, the body, which was expected to steer the country out of the pandemic and death did no such thing. Thereafter, Nigeria went round the world begging foreign entities to have mercy and donate vaccines to vaccinate her citizens. COVAX (led by CEPI, GAVI and WHO) listened to the selfish plea and sent about four million doses on March 2, 2021. Then, what happened? The Nigerian Government and the Presidential Steering Committee sat down and decided that it was only high government officials, influential persons and some urban health workers, who should be vaccinated. Not even bowing down to the usual tokenism by conceding to other Nigerians, maybe, 37,000 doses at 1,000 doses per state and 1,000 for the FCT to be allocated as they may, in their wisdom, decide. As far as they were concerned, lowly Nigerians, the “wretched of the earth”, have no right to life and could die in millions. Hardly did any poor man or common man get vaccinated, except by default. These are those who work for men and women of Aso Rock calibre and their friends, who were afraid of contamination of their larger households by those hangers-on, if they were not vaccinated.

To add salt to raw injury, after his own vaccination, the Chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 continued to dish out instructions that millions of “unvaccinated” Nigerians must wash hands, keep social distance, and wear masks if they must be safe. A mask costs less than N100 or 2 cents (USD) for one, but government failed to provide even that free for the ordinary Nigerian. It then said anybody failing to wear mask will be arrested or jailed or fined. If it was clear to the authorities that “best practice in avoiding infection” was adhering to those guidelines, they should not have taken the trouble to get vaccinated at all but continued to observe the guidelines and cause those considered critical and vulnerable to use the donated vaccine. It is public record before their vaccination, that high officials, even in the supposed adamant fortress of Aso Rock; governors, officials of the national and subnational Steering and Incident committees who were supposed to be the first to obey the guidelines and experts in the art of washing hands, masking and social distancing still caught the virus. Some were saved from death by medical treatment paid for by government, others unfortunately died. Nigeria is perhaps the only country in the world where every citizen is his own local government. He provides his own security, provides his own water, his own electricity, his own road and other utilities and then gets punished because he could not provide his own COVID-19 vaccine and mask. The government failed to do its own job of taking care of him by getting him vaccinated for a mere N4,000.

Sauve qui peut, save yourself if you can, says the French, was my reaction when the chairman of the Presidential Steering Committee on COVID-19 said it is expected that all Nigerians will be completely vaccinated by the third quarter of 2022. Haba! With the rate COVID-19, Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma and other possible mutants spread death across the world? If the Lord does not rise with healing in His wings, it is only a remnant of Nigerians that will remain at that time. I joked that what our leaders are saying to the citizens is, go on and die en masse, we do not care since we are now vaccinated and immune to the pandemic. We will go ahead and award contracts to ourselves and our family members to bury you. I guess, if that ever comes to pass, there will be a great “roforofo” fight among our leaders about who gets what contract in burying the dead. It will be a celebration of the macabre.

The statistics on vaccination, from the Presidential Steering Committee on the first four million doses, for two million persons, are disgusting. They say we have achieved 70% or 80% or 90% of our vaccination. Was it for the whole population? Honest leaders would have added in vaccinating only ourselves and leaving other Nigerians to their fate. What are four million doses of vaccine in a population of over 200 million people? It vaccinated less than two million “high value Nigerians”, their hangers-on and a few genuinely lucky people, leaving over 198 million unvaccinated Nigerians in the jaws of death. What is so difficult in declaring the pandemic a crisis and national emergency, which it is, and devoting sufficient and significant funding to buy enough vaccines to save Nigerians instead of wasting the money on palliatives, which very few Nigerians were lucky to get, let alone the unconvincing account of how the humungous amount of money donated and provided for that purpose was spent.

I laughed at an unserious nation, Nigeria, when the news broke in July 2021 that the beggar nation, Nigeria, was expecting donation of additional 41 million doses of vaccine from the African Union and eight million doses from the USA and COVAX. Leaders of serious nations like the USA, Germany, the UK and others, are busy rolling up their sleeves to tackle the third wave, the leaders of Nigeria that the Lord saved from the full weight of the first and second waves are on the streets dancing like the masqueraders. Who exactly are we?

Why can’t we for once put the common man first and behave like the gentleman, Joseph Robinette Biden, the USA President who faced the epidemic squarely by investing money and efforts in her control and defeat, saving millions of his people? He even gave masks to people free and some of institutions that gave the vaccines gave people gift cards for groceries and other necessities for their compliance! That is governance, effective governance! We need 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for 220 million Nigerians not 80 million doses donated by people from all kind and manner of places. That is just a commitment of $4 or N2,000 for full dose of Johnson and Johnson or $8 or N4000 for full (two) doses of others per citizen. Has the Nigerian government decided that the life of a Nigerian citizen, a “right” guaranteed under the constitution is not worth N4,000? When the initial donation of four million doses came, in a sense, Nigerian leaders created a King’s Arthurs Round Table, sat at a table and distributed it among themselves. Of course, no provision was made for the commoner, “regular Nigerian citizens” on the table. They were kept chained and gagged under the table. They dared not beg for crumbs and were consigned to die. The fact is that the needle has never moved in Nigeria. It is still “everybody for him, God for us all, the devil takes the hindmost”. Guess who is at the rear? It is the ordinary man and woman in Nigeria.

A country, whose population is facing possible death in millions and gets assistance from foreigners and the leadership decided to consume the antidote alone, saying the citizens should go to hell, is a pagan nation. God shall, in his infinite mercy, save the common man and woman of Nigeria from their leaders and a new dawn will come. AMEN. It is a prayer worth the effort. AMEN, again.