THE world only knew of the novel coronavirus around December 2019 and less than four months later, it had become a pandemic. COVID-19 is the official name for the disease, while the virus was named SARS-CoV-2. But coronavirus – a large family of viruses that cause respiratory infections – have indeed been around for a long time. The pandemic was considered novel because it was new to man, but believed to have been around for some time.
Sadly, however, as the enemy changes, sometimes radically, and potentially becomes more dangerous, thereby requiring more committed and urgent actions, Nigeria’s rulers have been immersed in an unchanging irresponsible way of life. And since the outbreak of the pandemic, despite warnings and guidelines that include observing social distancing and wearing of face masks, as issued by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, many politicians have unashamedly found ways to behave like children out of control. Religious leaders too have seemingly put their frustration at their losses to the pandemic above public safety by downplaying its seriousness. From spreading falsehood and conspiracy theories about the pandemic, to putting undue pressure on various governments to lift the ban on religious gatherings, some religious leaders have been displaying dangerous ignorance.
Now, the World Health Organisation has subsequently conceded that aerosol transmission in “crowded, closed and poorly ventilated settings could not be ruled out” in the spread of the terror virus. Poor ventilation occurs when polluted air is not replaced by fresh air. One main pollutant of indoor air space is carbon dioxide, generated by breathing and talking.
Amid overwhelming scientific evidence on the deadliness of the virus, a number of prominent Nigerians, including a governor, attended the 80th birthday of the Nigerian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, George Oguntade. Soon after they returned to Nigeria, there were reports that two of the attendees died of coronavirus. This was confirmed by one of those who attended the party. Some of them were tested and announced they had proceeded on self-isolation, as advised by the government.
Not done, political parties, especially the All Progressives Party and the Peoples Democratic Party, and their leaders have been recklessly ignoring COVID-19 protocols at campaign rallies being organised ahead of the September 19 governorship election in Edo State. But perhaps the most disturbing ironies were the blatant disregard for COVID-19 protocols by guests, including leaders, during the burials of the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, in April 2020 and Buruji Kashamu (a senator), in August, both of whom died of complications arising from the disease. At Kashamu’s residence in Ijebu-Igbo in Ogun State, poor crowd control ensured there was little or no space to spare as hundreds of sympathisers pushed and shoved to get a better view.
The PTF thereafter blamed governors, traditional and religious leaders for allowing crowds to gather and break safety protocols during the electioneering in Edo and Kashamu’s burial. The PTF Chairman, Boss Mustapha, was quick to apologise for the violations that occurred during Kyari’s burial in Abuja, but there was no move by any of the governments involved to prosecute anyone for the violations mentioned.
There is indeed a fundamental and inherently dangerous flaw in the average Nigerian in power: it is the false sense of superiority over the people they are paid to serve. It is this silly air of authority that makes them see themselves as being above the law or unquestionable.
These unruly rulers are largely responsible for creating lawlessness in society. For instance, in July, while the country was grappling with rising cases of COVID-19, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria condemned the actions of the governor of a North-East state and an ex-governor of a North-West state for violating protocols put in place to curb the spread of the disease at the airports. The governor and his entourage were said to have refused to have their temperature taken at the Port Harcourt International Airport, Rivers State, while the ex-governor was accused of assaulting an officer trying to enforce COVID-19 protocols at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano State. They made it known that they were “important personalities,” according to reports.
In the same month, FAAN accused a senior officer of the State Security Services of breaching security protocol and assaulting an aviation security officer at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. He was said to have prevented security officers at the airport from performing a mandatory check on a passenger. The Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, soon vowed to ensure that those found guilty of breaching protocols at airports would be punished as stipulated by the regulations of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. Nothing has been heard of the cases since then and the infractions seem to have all been forgotten.
But COVID-19 has shown there is a link between leadership and how the disease is effectively managed. At the onset of the outbreak, Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, played down the risk of the virus and sacked his health minister after a series of disagreements over the government’s efforts to contain the coronavirus. He had publicly criticised his health minister for urging people to observe social distancing and stay indoors. The country’s cases of infection and death have since shot up to over 3.3 million and 108,000 respectively, only behind the grim figures of the US, whose President, Donald Trump, had also refused to use a face mask until July. The US has recorded over 5.5 million infections and 170,000 deaths.
Truly, actor, Funke Akindele, and singer, Naira Marley, were punished when they were found guilty of breaching COVID-19 guidelines; the latter by three courts. However, it is not enough to target entertainers and ordinary Nigerians. For the fight to be won, governments and relevant agencies must make an example of any public office holder found to be irresponsible and culpable of breaching COVID-19 protocols.
Like many other countries, Nigeria is gradually opening up from COVID-19 restrictions, but with guidelines for safe gatherings issued by the relevant agencies. However, with political, religious, business and traditional leaders setting bad examples that are raising doubts about the existence of COVID-19 among the populace, the safety of schoolchildren and others is at risk as plans to fully reopen schools, airports and other sectors are underway.
All rights reserved. This material, and other digital content on this website, may not be reproduced, published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or in part without prior express written permission from PUNCH.
Contact: [email protected]
DOWNLOAD THE PUNCH NEWS APP NOW ON