The #YNaijaEssay: Why the pandemic is a joke to Nigerians | LONG READ

By virtue of the fact that many issues have been trivialised and bantered over on social media spaces and newspaper stands in Nigeria, it is unsurprising that a pandemic would be added to the list. This time, the conversations on and off social media are even more insignificant than spiritually tolerable.

Interestingly, when the pandemic became a staid conversation and deaths were recorded in their thousands abroad, Nigerians saw the need to do better with keeping safe and staying home. Even people whose livelihood is based on daily earnings sat at home and hoped the situation is upturned. But, Nigeria recorded deaths only in tens and isolation centres seemed to be so secretive that questions were raised.

One prominent question was if anyone knew a friend or family member who had the coronavirus. It became so widespread that stories of people who had survived COVID-19 were largely trashed – video and photo evidence were said to be helping to push the government’s still not known agenda. If the country had no access to information from other countries, the pandemic would have been shoved to the gutters before it even becomes a national parley.

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How can Nigerians not question the existence of a pandemic when monies were thrown around in their billions and yet the economy entered its worse recession in decades? – the ‘street’ does not believe in data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). How can ‘distrust’ not enter the conversations when the government itself keeps disobeying stay safe protocols? How do you explain to a people you have cheated all their lives – in all ramifications – that COVID-19 is killing people in real-time?

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Many Nigerians already answered these questions in their heads and in her submission, the author of Keeping it together in a crazy and uncertain world, and Lead Therapist, The Family Place, Gbemi Ogunrinde says there are Nigerians who never believed there was any such thing as a pandemic.

Going by the attitudes of the majority of the people I have observed and interacted with, the pandemic does not appear to be a threat any longer. Even with the recently discovered (Delta) variant and newly recorded increase in the number of cases, many people (particularly those in the lower economic strata) do not believe the virus still exists. Some of them never even believed it existed in the first place.

The negligible attitude towards issues that should ordinarily interest citizens/residents of a particular society is usually a newborn of conversations on ‘distrust’, ‘corruption’, ‘tenebrific leadership’, etc. It is the effect of a cause. So, could just be interpreted as a reaction to a drab phenomenon.

We could have Nigerians scrimmming ‘uninspiring nepotic ethnocentric leadership’ for a whole three years and balk at the idea of going out to vote in the fourth year. “They will rig it. Why should I waste my time?” Then, the scrimmming resumes after the general elections. It is a cycle and Nigerians are always on the track. The ‘relentless nagging lot’ one could call Nigerians.

For the pandemic, it is more distrust for the country’s leadership, knowing a pandemic could be an opportunity to pass a conduit pipe through the offices of government ministries from the central bank. And, if this is really it, then it is understandable.

Based on our past experiences with the majority of the people in government, I want to think it is a transfer of distrust for government officials. Sadly, our leaders have always seized every opportunity to embezzle funds. They will hide under the guise of various projects and this pandemic appears to be one of those opportunities,” Gbemi reiterates.

And, when high profile names like Abba Kyari and Abiola Ajimobi were announced to have died from COVID-19, the jubilation knew no bounds, yet did not change many people’s minds. It is an offshoot of the belief that COVID-19 is a disease of the rich – the elite.

Nigeria’s minister of health, Osagie Ehanire‘s speech in early 2020 noting that educated and well-to-do Nigerians are the ones dying from COVID-19 made it harder to convert unbelievers of the pandemic to believers.

A disturbing picture emerging from statistics is that not only are most fatalities observed to be linked with preexisting diseases, but many are also educated, well-to-do people, who chose home-based care, where they developed sudden complication and have to be rushed to the hospital,” he said.

On March 18, 2020, a Nigerian polling service, NOIPolls announced that 26 per cent of Nigerians were in doubt as to the existence of the disease.

The NOIPolls noted that while some claimed they are protected by their religion from contracting COVID-19, some believed their strong genes, alcohol and hot climate were the antidotes to COVID-19.

The Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, led by the country’s Secretary to the government of the federation, Boss Mustapha, several other government and private organisations ran campaigns to debunk the myths that had little to no effect.

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In their disbelief, Nigerians also think a western agenda is about taking shape, and the pandemic is a perfect way to lay out the process without anyone finding out the backstories. Talk about the pandemic being a way of destabilising the globe, so poor countries may have to give in to pressure to be more willing to let their resources go for little or nothing, was ripe among Nigerians.

There is also the local talk of the country’s leadership pushing the pandemic agenda so the country’s citizens and residents focus less on ‘other important issues’ like high-class looting and irresponsible leadership – insecurity is top of the list.

Dem wan use am distract us. No mind them. No be only COVID-19!

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On another note, it is Nigerians wondering how they will survive the protocols of a pandemic – like staying away from people and staying home when almost everyone lives on daily bread.

And, there are several other reasons. But, there are Nigerians who gave in to the reality of the existence of a pandemic, and Gbemi says they handled that reality well.

“I would like to think that, to a large extent, we were responsible, the way we handled the pandemic as a people. For the most part, many people adhered to the protocols and during the lockdown, several people and private organisations tried to meet the basic needs of hunger in many communities. Some people even discovered new business ideas that met the needs of various individuals during the lockdown.

“Mentally speaking, many people struggled to cope. However, it was an opportunity for my colleagues and me in the mental health field to educate people on the importance of taking good care of our mental health. Social media was extremely helpful in getting the word out there.”

Now that vaccines are available…

Despite attempts at reorientation towards COVID-19 realities, doubts persist which may further threaten the vaccination exercise, and possibly thwart the government’s target to vaccinate millions of eligible citizens within the next two years.

According to Africanews, a journalist, Aniette Patrick says she thinks the issue of trust is a major challenge for most Nigerians because leadership has been a major challenge, and people tend not to trust the system in place despite the campaigns and enlightenment.

“In Nigeria, I guess nonchalant attitude is one thing and lack of trust is another, people feel what the government is giving as vaccines may not be the same thing others are receiving, that is the common man understanding and I think that is the major factor,” she added.

So many Nigerians still do not believe that it is a pandemic driven by COVID-19 that has killed over 2,500 Nigerians, so why should getting a vaccine – particularly one as trailed by conspiracy theories as is the COVID-19 shot – be a priority?

“When it comes to the vaccines, there are various schools of thought. Some do not believe in the efficacy of the vaccine, some are afraid to take it because of possible side effects, some are averse to it due to religious reasons, while some believe in its efficacy and have gone ahead to get vaccinated.

“Among those who have been vaccinated, some have relaxed and do not feel the need to observe the basic COVID-19 protocols, while some are still observing the protocols. Generally speaking, the initial fear about the potential impact of the pandemic appears to have subsided to a large extent,” Gbemi says.

A recent release by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), showed that only 1,043,737 eligible Nigerians have so far been vaccinated with the first dose.

There are millions of Nigerians still living in denial and believing that the COVID-19 story is a spurious tale. To them, the pandemic is a hoax. No masks anymore at even popular centres, washing of hands has become a strenuous activity that ‘can be done later’, parties have gone on in unsafe conditions and so on.

The pandemic has shown that a government really has to pay particular attention to building trust with its citizens or anything they do or say is a lie.

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