By Eric Elezuo
Today, February 27, 2021 marks the first year anniversary of the dreaded Coronavirus disease in Nigeria. On this day, in 2020, the nation woke to the news of the presence of the disease in the country. Unfolding reports said that an unnamed Italian, who had just entered the country a few days earlier, brought in the disease.
Then this statement by the Minister of Health, Dr Osagie Ehanire confirmed Nigerians’ fears:
“The Federal Ministry of Health has confirmed a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) case in Lagos State, Nigeria. The case, which was confirmed on the 27th of February 2020, is the first case to be reported in Nigeria since the beginning of the outbreak in China in January 2020.
“The case is an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria and returned from Milan, Italy to Lagos, Nigeria on the 25th of February 2020. He was confirmed by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control. The patient is clinically stable, with no serious symptoms, and is being managed at the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba, Lagos.
“The Government of Nigeria, through the Federal Ministry of Health has been strengthening measures to ensure an outbreak in Nigeria is controlled and contained quickly. The multi-sectoral Coronavirus Preparedness Group led by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has immediately activated its national Emergency Operations Centre and will work closely with Lagos State Health authorities to respond to this case and implement firm control measures.
“I wish to assure all Nigerians that have we have been beefing up our preparedness capabilities since the first confirmation of cases in China, and we will use all the resources made available by the government to respond to this case.
“We have already started working to identify all the contacts of the patient, since he entered Nigeria. Please be reminded that most people who become infected may experience only mild illness and recover easily, but it can be more severe in others, particularly the elderly and persons with other underlying chronic illnesses. All Nigerians should take care of their health and maintain hand and respiratory hygiene to protect themselves and others, including their own families, following the precautions below:
1. Regularly and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water, and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
2. Maintain at least 1 & half metres (5 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
3. Persons with persistent cough or sneezing should stay home or keep a social distance, but not mix in crowd.
4. Make sure you and people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene, meaning cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or into your sleeve at the bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.
5. Stay home if you feel unwell with symptoms like fever, cough and difficulty in breathing. Please call NCDC toll free number which is available day and night, for guidance- 0800-970000-10. Do not engage in self-medication
6. Stay informed on the latest developments about COVID-19 through official channels on TV and Radio, including the Lagos State Ministry of Health, NCDC and Federal Ministry of Health.
Citizens must not abuse social media and indulge in spreading misinformation that causes fear and panic. The Federal Ministry of Health, through Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, will continue to provide updates and will initiate all measures required to prevent the spread of any outbreak in Nigeria.”
Of course, the ministry provided updates, but the disease continued to have a field spreading across Nigeria’s 35 states and Abuja. Note that Kogi has refused to grant NCDC opportunity to conduct tests in its state, and the regulatory declared the state a no-go area.
In fact, watching the frail nature of renowned Nigerian broadcaster and Chairman, Biscon Communications, Prince Bisi Olatilo, while he tried to dispel the rumours of his death during his ordeal with ailment, one couldn’t help but shed a tear or two, and of course curse the spirit behind the deadly COVID-19, which ravaged the entire the world while becoming a full blown pandemic.
The disease did not just make an appearance, but devastated businesses, livelihoods, social lives, families and day to day existence. It broke an all time record of the world’s biggest killer.
Much as the world may not claim ignorance of having seen so devastating, so hazardous and uncompromising a disease, one thing is obvious, none of the diseases in the past has appeared so stubborn and persistent that even a nine months lockdown could not drive it away completely. The COVID-19 made a dramatic return, claiming more lives in quick succession now than before. As at the present, newly two million lives have been wasted even as World Health Organisation (WHO) battles the new virus strains.
The killer disease bared its full pangs from inception on December 9, 2019 when it made its notorious appearance in the Chinese town of Wuhan. What started like a child’s play was later to metamorphosed into a full blown pandemic, paralysing the world’s economy, ruining social, entertainment and religious lives of the people as well as creating a distance between one and another.
According to Science Direct, “the coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) is a highly transmittable and pathogenic viral infection caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), which emerged in Wuhan, China and spread around the world. Genomic analysis revealed that SARS-CoV-2 is phylogenetically related to severe acute respiratory syndrome-like (SARS-like) bat viruses, therefore bats could be the possible primary reservoir.”
By January 2020, the virus had eaten deep into the fabrics of the society, causing nations to systematically declare unspoken sanctions against one another as international travels became totally restricted. No one wanted the other into his territorial space. Apart from the war declared on humanity by the virus, there was also a silent war declared by man against man; do not trespass into my territory. There were dire consequences for defaulters. The world was on lockdown! And the midst of the lockdown, the virus continued its mass slaughter.
In Nigeria, the matter of COVID-19 assumed greater seriousness when on April 17, one of the supposedly strong men of the Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, who was the Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari died from complications from the disease. This was barely two months after the first case was reported in Nigeria, on February 26, 2020, of an Italian expatriate, who inadvertently recovered from the ailment. Kyari’s death jolted the Nigerian public, especially the elites. This was a disease that has no respect for class or status. The dice was cast. It became obvious that no one was safe. The safest place to hide therefore, became the embrace of discipline with its attendant features that involve hand washing, mask wearing and keeping a safe distance from the public irrespective of how well known or close the other person is to you.
From then onwards, there was no looking back as the ailment claimed personality after personality, not to talk of ‘ordinary’ people who did not get a mention as a result of their status.
The killer disease showed no mercy, cutting short prevailing happiness in homes and rendering children fatherless, and motherless in most cases. On June 25, another Nigerian political heavyweight, Senator Abiola Ajimobi, bowed to the disease. He was 70 years. Abiola was a two term governor of Oyo State. Shortly afterwards, Senator Kashamu Buruji followed suit. Struggling with the pangs of death, Buruji had brokered a peace deal with one of his major foes. He knew he was not going to make, and so put through a pathetic call to billionaire businessman, Kesington Adebutu, and made peace. His words were rapid and desperate, and his voice shaky. Though the bitterness of death was severe and obvious in his voice, he must have died a happy man.
Following closely in July, another heavyweight of the Buhari administration, Mallam Isah Funtua, joined the fray of fallen heroes. He was a notable force in Nigeria’s political terrain.
It is worthy of note that almost all the state governors had contracted the virus at one time or another. Some of them are Governor of Oyo, Seyi Makinde, Kaduna State’s Nasir El-Rufai and Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, Others are Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State among others.
The disease was no respecter of persons. It claimed the heavyweight and paperweight, the young, the not very young as well as the aged in its sweeping movement.
As at April, 2020, the virus had cleared over 1000 African personalities from former presidents, prime ministers and lawmakers, to entertainment icons and top sportsmen. The agony of the of the deaths was that most of these greats could not get the send-off they would have been accorded in “normal times.”
Across the states, and the world at large, the story remained the same; a tale of deaths and untold crises.
In Nigeria, three phases of lockdown were recorded yet the disease maintained an upper hand, making a mincemeat of all efforts previously put in to curtail it. The impact of the virus did not only waste human lives, it also has a debilitating effect on economies with Nigeria, among a few other economies sliding into recession, the second in less than five years, and the worst since 1987. Only last week, the country made a slight but welcomed recovery…
Just before the turn of the year, Nigeria announced that it has unceremoniously entered a fresh phase of the pandemic. The chairperson of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Boss Mustapha, gave the indication, lamenting the risk of not just losing the gains from the hard work of the last nine months, but also losing precious lives of citizens.
Speaking through the Minister of Aviation, Sen. Hadi Sirika, Mustapha said: “the events and statistics of the last two weeks, within and outside Nigeria, have been very mixed.
“On the one hand, the cheering news of the COVID-19 vaccine, while on the other hand, we have witnessed spikes in the number of infections at home and abroad.
“The real threat is upon humanity and the progress made in the global health sector in the last five decades or more.
”In Nigeria, the indication is that we have entered a second wave of infections and we stand the risk of not just losing the gains from the hard work of the last nine months but also losing the precious lives of our citizens.
“The PTF believes that if we do the right things, adhere to the NPIs and step up our testing and detection, loss of lives will be minimised and the rising curve will begin to flatten”, the chairperson said.
Mustapha further stated that “we are in a potentially difficult phase of the COVID-19 resurgence; accessing the hope offered by the arrival of the vaccine is still some time ahead.
”Vaccines alone cannot cure the virus, rather, but a combination of initiatives, including the NPIs; that more than ever before, we need compliance.”
The SGF lamented lost lives and vow to ‘escalate our risk communication and community engagement strategies to higher levels’.
While the virus has sent a whole lot to their early graves, a lot has survived the scourge and its deadly attacks which involve dry cough, loss of taste, difficulty in breathing among others. The survivors have sorry tales of near death experiences – an experience they unanimously agreed that no one should go through.
Among some Nigerians, who had gone through the hell of COVID-19 and survived include Mrs Laila Saint Matthews-Daniel, veteran broadcaster, Prince Bisi Olatilo, Ali Baba, Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, Retired Police AIG,Tunji Alapini, Seun Fakorede, Ivuoma Tom, Seun Osowobi, presidential aide, Babafemi Ojudu, Chairman, DAAR Communications, High Chief Raymond Dokpesi and entire family and others.
But after many months of research and hard work, the world through the World Health Organisation has come up with a remedy – the COVID-19 vaccines. While an initial dose of 100, 000 was allocated to Nigeria, there were obstacles to receiving them. In the first, there were problems of where they vaccines would stored. They were supposed in cold temperatures, but reports came Nigeria did not have refrigerators to store them. There were also problems of navigating the interior and rural areas. However, a means was discovered via ultra-cold chain equipment.