By Eric Elezuo
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, 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 in 2020 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.
Nigeria was not the only country that lost its CoS, as Guinea also recorded the death of Sékou Kourouma. He was the second high-profile death from COVID-19 within a 24-hour period after that of the country’s elections body head, Amadou Salif Kebe.
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.
Elsewhere, in July, Naya Rivera bowed out, just as the US Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg died at age 87. It was a moment of emotion as the disease claimed Jeopardy! host, Alex Trebek at age 80. These were men and women regarded as movers and shakers of world’s politics and policy makers.
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.”
Dr. Anastasie Akamba, head of a district hospital in Yaounde, Cameroon, died from COVID-19. In the same vein, 56-year-old South African Queen Noloyiso Sandile, widow of the late King Maxhobha Sandile, passed away on 8 July 2020 following a short illness.
Ghana was not spared as it lost prominent medical experts in one fell swoop including an Orthopaedic Surgeon, a General Surgeon, a paediatrician and a Consultant Physician/Academic.
The casualties were Professor Jacob Plange-Rhule, Dr. Harry Boateng, a Specialist Paediatrician and Medical Superintendent at the Kwadaso SDA Hospital. A retired Orthopaedic Surgeon, Dr. Emmanuel Twagirayesu as well as Dr. Richard Kisser, a Consultant Surgeon with the Trust Hospital in the capital Accra.
On the political scene, Anthony K. K Sam, the Mayor of the Western Region’s oil-rich twin city of Sekondi-Takoradi had succumbed to the disease on Friday, June 12 before enigmatic leader, John Jerry Rawlings fell to the virus as well days after giving his mother a befitting burial.
Across Africa, 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 has 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. The country is still neck deep in it..
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’.
As at Friday, Nigeria has recorded a total of 107, 345 cases with 84, 535 recoveries and 1, 413 deaths. There are presently over 20, 000 active cases, and the figures keep rising. On the global stage, about two million deaths have been recorded while there 93.3 million infections with 51.5 million recoveries. Consequently, about 42 million COVID-19 active cases is still being managed as today.
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.
Speaking exclusively to The Boss, famous public speaker, Mrs Matthews-Daniel said that the experience should not be wished any living soul. She narrated in her own words:
For stand-up comedian, Atunyota Akpobome, known as “Alibaba”, Nigerians must be cautious and keep safe. He maintained that COVID-19 pandemic is real.
In a video, which was uploaded on his Instagram page (alibabagcfr), the laugh merchant claimed that he just survived the deadly virus, and urged doubting Thomases to desist from describing COVID-19 pandemic as a scam.
“COVID-19 is real. Don’t let anyone tell you it is a scam. I just came out of isolation, several people died, while I was there.
“Some of my close friends know and they were very supportive.
“I thank the Lagos State Governor, the Commissioner of Health, Managing Director of the COVID-19 Isolation Centre in Yaba, doctors, especially Dr Nifemi, who are risking their lives to keep us alive. Thanks also to the nurses.
“COVID-19 is real. Observe all the protocols, people are dying, and it is not a joke.
“In fact, anyone who says COVID-19 is a scam, is a compound idiot and a fool,” he wrote.
I NEVER BELIEVED I WOULD MAKE OUT ALIVE – Ivuoma Tom
Speaking with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), a registered nurse based in Benin, Ivuoma Tom, said her survival represents a second chance to live for which she is grateful.
Ivuoma narrated in part as follows:
“Although the hospital where I work did the best that they could to ensure our safety, I was exposed to the virus when I came into contact with a patient who we didn’t know had been exposed. My colleague and I went into self-isolation for fourteen days after the exposure. My test result came out within the period and I tested positive for COVID-19. I thought everything was alright because I was asymptomatic, but on the sixteenth day, this deadly disease got a hold of me
“The sixteenth day after exposure, I started having difficulty breathing. I called NCDC, they came to pick me up and took me to the isolation centre in Lekki, Lagos. That night was horrible. I was wheezing like somebody who has asthma and at some point, I could not talk. I was so scared. Luckily, an oxygen cylinder was brought in and I was able to breathe through it before I was transferred to the Infectious Disease Hospital in Yaba. I stayed on oxygen for five days. Those five days were days of restlessness, sorrow and depression.”
“I am very fortunate to have a strong support system. My fiancé, my sister and her husband were strongly there for me,” Ivuoma said.
“On the third day of being on oxygen, I sent a message to my fiancé. I told him I didn’t know if I was going to make it and whatever happens, he should stay strong. He called me immediately and told me I was not going anywhere. He played a vital role in ensuring that I was transferred to Infectious Disease Hospital for proper management.”
“I am not a careless person, yet I contracted the virus. COVID-19 has taught me to be much more careful in observing all precautions, such as handwashing, wearing a facemask and keeping physical distance. Now I hardly go out except to work. I feel really bad whenever I see someone who still thinks coronavirus is a scam in Nigeria.”
IT WAS AN EXPERIENCE I DON’T WISH ANYONE TO HAVE – Seun Osowobi
And for those, who erroneously believe that being young exempts them from the virus, it is imperative to note that anti-rape campaigner, Oluwaseun Ayodeji Osowobi, was 29 years old when she fell victim of coronavirus during the early days. She narrated that the symptoms began shortly after she returned from a trip to London.
She told Al Jazeera genesis of her traumatic experience
“It feels great to have survived COVID-19. If you see the data of people who have passed away due to the virus, they are alarming. I’m really grateful to be alive but also grateful for the experience as I am able to share with people that COVID-19 is not a hoax like many people may believe in Nigeria.
“I had high fever, was coughing heavily and had loss of appetite. I had a lot of symptoms on the COVID-19 list so I knew I had to get tested just to be sure of what the situation was because I was feeling really sick and wasn’t getting better.
“The virus kicked my system. It made me very weak. I was dizzy every second, I was throwing up. I lost my sense of taste but my sense of smell heightened so I could smell everything like water, food, even soaps. Everything was just disgusting to me. It was a very tough period, a very tough moment for me but I am happy I beat it. It was an experience I don’t wish anyone to have.
“The first thing that came to my mind was, “Am I going to die?” I feared that am I going to be one of the people to be counted as dead. I was asking myself, “Is Nigeria ready to handle the situation? Is Lagos state capable to handle the situation as of now?”
Many people still deny the existence of COVID-19, and many Nigerians go about their business every day without putting on a facemask or maintaining physical distance, but survivors say such people are playing with their lives.
In his message to the people of Lagos, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu cautioned that a way must be found “to delicately balance the imperatives of life and livelihood. With this in mind, the only solution available to us is to take responsibility for all our actions, and to understand that we must stay safe not only for ourselves but for the sake of the entire society.”