Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

FRANK TALK: COVID-19: If we ever make it out alive

By Steve Nwosu

As all manner of people took to the public space, either vilifying or eulogising Malam Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, with whose death, last Friday, the Coronavirus pandemic claimed its biggest casualty, so far, in Nigeria, resisted the temptation to join the fray.

For there was nothing one could say that would not be misinterpreted to be offensive to either God or man – or both. And I intend to keep to that, refusing to join the dance on Abba Kyari’s grave.

However, I have one response to all those bursting their nerves over the perceived ‘undue’ attention given to Kyari, who, they claim, is not even the first (or only) Nigerian to die of Covid-19. My response lies in those eternal words of William Shakespeare in Julius Caesar: “When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes”.

That is why global attention shifted to the UK as soon as Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested positive to the virus. It was the same when the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister tested positive. That was why, locally, we kept monitoring the progress of governors Bala Mohammed, Nasir el-Rufai and Seyi Makinde.

The same reason we have kept a tab on former Vice President Atiku’s son, waited with bated breath to hear the outcome of President Buhari’s test, the outcome of his daughter’s self-isolation and, until he lost the battle, Abba Kyari’s secretly guarded treatment arrangement. That is the way of the world.

READ ALSO: https://www.thexpressng.com/2020/04/21/just-in-again-aso-rock-mourns-as-buhari-loses-personal-bodyguard/

Furthermore, we must not lose track of the fact that, although we had lost almost 20 Nigerians before Abba Kyari, Kyari was the only one for whose death PMB would be getting any condolence messages – even from other world leaders. That should count for something. That should tell cynics we’re not being unduly patronizing.

Meanwhile, did anyone notice how quickly we moved from mourning the late CoS to scheming for his replacement? Or that from the infuriating videos of the shocking scenes at Kyari’s burial in Abuja, our attention has quickly shifted to Kano, where the Covid-19 sh*t is about to hit the fan? And to Katsina, and several other states, where governors refused to take the sensible precaution of locking down their states, preferring to place religious and political correctness over human life and safety concerns?

Not even the significant deaths of Chief Richard Akinjide (of the twelve-two-third fame) and Billionaire Willie Anumudu have succeeded in distracting us from the disaster that is about to explode in our face, as we ramp up our Covid-19 testing capacity. Now, everyone is in danger – both the elite (whose connections and bank balance often give a false sense of insulation and impunity), and the poor (who foolishly thought Corona virus was a rich-man disease and that the shutdown was deliberately imposed to punish the poor). Now, the chickens have come home to roost.

A man carries bags of rice on his head at a border between Abuja and the Nasarawa State on March 30, 2020, as he leaves to neighbouring states after Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari called for a lockdown to limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. – Over 20 million Nigerians on Monday scrambled to prepare for lockdown in sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest city Lagos and the capital Abuja, as the continent struggled to curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. President Muhammadu Buhari has ordered a two-week “cessation of all movements” in the key cities from 2200 GMT in a bid to ward off an explosion of cases in Africa’s most populous country. (Photo by Kola SULAIMON / AFP) (Photo by KOLA SULAIMON/AFP via Getty Images)

Our foolishness has boomeranged. Suddenly, the ‘big man,’ who felt he was too powerful to be obey a simple sit-at-home order (or to submit himself to the same isolation centres where commoners were being treated),  and the poor man, who felt he was doing the government a favour by staying away from the streets, have jointly incubated what would probably emerge as the worst case of community transmission/infection in the entire global covid-19 debacle. Clearly, we’re on the verge of Armageddon. But the problem is only just unfolding.

Barely nine days into the initial two-week lockdown imposed on Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, the streets in my part of Lagos had turned dangerous. Hungry and angry youths had taken over everywhere. Many of them had placards inscribed with all manner of messages; ‘WE ARE HUNGRY’, ‘CORONA HUNGER’, ‘GIVE US MONEY, GIVE US FOOD’, ‘REMEMBER THE POOR’, ‘WE ARE SUFFERING’

Now, these are the same youths who take over the social media, threatening everybody, baying for blood, and threatening to either redraw the map of Nigeria or disband Nigeria outright. Not many of them understand the implications of what they’re asking for.

Who still remembers the civil war? The enclave of Biafra, especially its epicenter, comprising the present day South Eastern states, was forcibly shut down for 30 months. While the federal forces were indiscriminately bombing everybody and everywhere (soldiers, civilians, churches and all), the Biafran forces were grabbing every young boy in sight and conscripting them into the Biafran Army and, almost immediately, sending them to the warfront – with little or no training at all.

Hunger was the order of the day, especially, when viewed against the backdrop that the federal government officially adopted a policy of blockade, and preventing direly needed food and medicine aid from reaching the secessionists, thereby weaponizing hunger.

Unfortunately, this history is no longer taught our children in our schools, leaving them with garnished and romanticized versions of the events of those defining years (told from ethnicity-stained prisms) – so much so that they now genuinely yearn for a return to those years, rather than using the lessons of those dark days to build a better future.

READ ALSO: https://www.thexpressng.com/2020/04/21/two-test-positive-as-abia-records-first-covid-19-case/

As my people say, the non-initiate who blindly rushes into war often forgets that war oftentimes means death. And the result is what we have seen on our streets these past weeks.

We had not even done two weeks of lockdown when criminal gangs, operating as One Million Gang, cult groups, area boys and all, took over many neighbourhoods in Lagos and Ogun states, unleashing terror and robbing both rich and poor.

Now, one doesn’t need a crystal ball to tell that another fortnight of lockdown could see the army of robbers ballooning and becoming more daring. We could all become cannibals, because there’d be nothing left to eat but ourselves.

And this is only a foretaste of what we could be wishing for ourselves when we blindly call for revolution, secession and all manner of violent repudiation of the old order.

But that does not also mean that we should continue to live with a system that is not working for the greater good – or working for anybody for that matter. What it means is that we must all resolve to find a more agreeable solution to the problems that dog our country, especially, when such solutions genuinely exist.

So, if we ever make it out alive from this pandemic, there is one lesson that we must all learn from it. And it is not about the need to steer our economy away from oil (we always been blabbing about that since the 1970s), nor to take deliberate steps towards ramping up our local manufacturing capacity, nor the urgency to put in place sustainable social safety nets for all of us – including those who naively think they are rich enough to survive the severest of famine.

The lesson to take from this pandemic is that none of us can survive for long without the other. That putting down other ethnic, political or primordial groups does not, in the long run, better the lot of our own group – even if we channel all the resources and opportunities to our own kits and kin.

That even if we deliberately give the poor in one section of the country N1,000 palliative, while spoiling their counterparts in another part of the country with N20,000 for the same purpose, after sometime, we would still run out of cash to sustain the differential, and reality would sink home.

That if we decide to look the other way while some people turn the war against insurgency into some form of cash cow (and illicitly transfer money to one part of the country), after a while, global oil prices would plummet and the source of free money would dry up, and we would have to sit down to find an honest solution to the problem, praying it does not get too late before then.

That all the grandstanding about “Igbos would be better off in Biafra” or that “Nigeria can do without Igbos”, or that “the North does not need the Yoruba to produce a Nigerian president”, that the “North is forever dragging the rest of the country backwards”, that the “Igbo would never be president of Nigeria”, are all hollow, and boil down to mortal man trying to play God. And would not get our country anywhere, even if they seem to make sense right now.

 The lesson to take out of this Covid-19 experience is that we are all in the same boat, bound by our common humanity – a humanity which, when push comes to shove, returns to the same pedestal where Maslow left us (Food, Shelter and Clothing). That neither, tribe, tongue, faith, race, nor region counts for anything in the long run. Not even your bank balance is really of consequence in the final analysis.

That even if you think you’re rich enough to meet your every need, your poor and hungry neighbour would not let you have peace. If he can’t break into the fortress of your home, he would ambush you on the road. And if you refuse to leave the safety of your home, be sure to produce your own food, plant your own vegetables, process your own gari, cornflakes, wheat flour and all. You’d also have to supply your own power, change your own electric bulbs, tend your garden, do your plumbering, and generally become an island unto yourself.

As for the poor hoping to ambush the rich on the road (to unleash terror, violence and anger) and dispossess him of his fortune, remember that nobody has monopoly of violence. Remember that the rich, if he so desires, actually has a better chance of procuring sophisticated weaponry to match you bullet for bullet.

The Niger Delta, which is eager to pull off the suckers of the North from its crude oil bloodstream, would do well to remember that the bulk of the food he eats comes from the North.

The North, which is desperate to call the bluff of the South, following the discovery of oil in the North, would do well to recognize the enormous expertise and intimidating logistics needed to not only get the crude out of the ground, but also into the international market, a market that is increasingly looking beyond oil.

If we make it alive from covid-19, we must collectively resolve to live, by finally beginning the process of building a country.