Fighting the Virus With A Herdsman’s Mentality, By Banji Ojewale
We must creatively wrestle with the virus by both de-socialising and producing goods and services, not solely by staying away from work. Work is the primary characteristic of liberated man. God ordained it… Let us spurn the current one-track approach to containing coronavirus through only abandoning productive activities. We can devise a mix to enable our people work to rebuild our country, even as we seek to overthrow the virus.
The experts (the economists outside government orbit) say a thousand and one things don’t add up in our operations in the war between us and the virus. Nigeria has engaged coronavirus in needless panic, moving unimaginatively the way a herdsman’s cattle would. If one cow takes one path, it’s green light for the others to head there, even if it’s the way to a death-dealing desert.
The world is locking up hundreds of millions of its citizens to stop the spread of COVID-19. We have sheepishly followed suit, without a prior study of its tough socioeconomic and demographic implications in our own amorphous system. In some of the developed countries where people have been caged like animals in a zoo, the authorities have uncompromised statistics templates about the station of these people. They can be monitored or reached for their needs to be met if emergencies set in during the shutdown. They have in place near foolproof arrangements for shut-ins to call for help outside the laid out intervention plans. Here, we didn’t leave room for such contingencies. But once others locked in their people as the only answer to the relentless march of the dreaded COVID-19, we must take similar steps.
Our legislators opened the way. In the early days of the pandemic scourge, they stopped work and announced a break, afraid that visiting members of the public might bring the virus into their germ-free grounds. But they forgot that they might as well be the vendors of the disease. Only weeks earlier, they had returned from overseas trips as potential coronavirus vectors. They didn’t subject themselves to screening when they came back home. No self-isolation or quarantine followed. Abba Kyari, chief of staff to the president, is alleged to have protested that members of the House of Representatives refused to present themselves for statutory screening on their return from overseas. It’s in order then to submit that these lawmakers have themselves wilfully broken the law that asks all those who land in Nigeria, citizens or foreigners, to be tested for the plague.
If they failed to be tested, they should have, at least, been kind enough to quarantine the entire house, right there in the Green Chambers. That way, there would have been no fear that they might retail the contagion, if they had it.
So, now, like one huge prison, the entire globe lies humbled by an unseen enemy. The virus operates whimsically. The experts say it offers some signs when it lands on earthly beings. But lately, coronavirus has opted to be asymptomatic. It can evade the radar and wreak havoc as you jubilate that you have outplayed it. The answer? De-socialise and reduce crowd density. Meaning? Close down factories and schools and offices and markets and malls and informal business hubs and centres of worship. In a word, ask all in the cities and villages to stay home. Let those afflicted not plant the disease on others. Let them be separated to enable them receive special care, lest our inattention should give way for COVID-19 to wipe out the human race.
In Nigeria, that is the way we are treading. More citizens are now ‘quarantined’ in their homes than those bearing the cross of coronavirus. The government says that for a couple of days or weeks or months, the situation will remain so, and it will offer some help. It is releasing grains and money to the so-called vulnerable of the society. It is engaging the generosity, philanthropy and patriotism of the Dangotes, Alakijas, Elumelus, Otedolas etc. in our midst to confront the virus and the economic misery it is causing by keeping agile Nigerians away from work. So far, these great generals of industry and the economy have not failed the government. They’ve thrown in billions to match government’s own princely contribution. They promise more in the days ahead. That gives us a seemingly unassailable war chest!
Only seemingly so, according to economists, chiefly those of the alternative school. The advanced countries which have caged their workforce over the past weeks have a large ‘storehouse’ of goods and services, along with iron-cast infrastructure that can withstand prolonged economic shutdown and other seismic social or natural challenges. These couple with age-old institutions upon which the whole system is built. They are laid down, as it were, for use in wartime, which approximates what the entire mankind is witnessing at the moment. It appears, therefore, that those countries can afford a cessation of economic hustle and bustle for weeks, indeed months. They have what they can always fall back on. Does Nigeria boast such arsenal to beat COVID-19 merely by locking its young men and women up at home and relying on the trifles from government and its partners in the private sector? How far will this charity go? We must not be drugged into complacency by the idyllic picture of satiety epitomised by the sudden appearance of trillions of naira to fight the virus.
We must not fall for the simplistic strategy of sitting at home without working, all in the name of warring against a flu by running away from it. What happens after you have exhausted your limited resources during your unpaid-for holiday? Why sit at home and rest solely on the weapons of ruthless and capricious businessmen and businesswomen as you wage such a war as COVID-19 is imposing on Nigeria?
We must creatively wrestle with the virus by both de-socialising and producing goods and services, not solely by staying away from work. Work is the primary characteristic of liberated man. God ordained it. The Bible record is that God Himself worked and commanded His first created being to work. (Genesis 2:3,15). Let us spurn the current one-track approach to containing coronavirus through only abandoning productive activities. We can devise a mix to enable our people work to rebuild our country, even as we seek to overthrow the virus. An economy in recession would fall into depression in very quick time if we continue to cease work over this virus war.
It’s now obvious that our leaders and lords of industry are nationalistic and resolute to preserve precious lives and leave indelible legacies. In that case, the plea from all Nigerians is that the trillions they are throwing into the unproductive venture of ‘idleness’ should go into reenergising the economy and broken down infrastructure, “rebuilding and renovating primary health centres…stockpiling medicine for flu and pneumonia just in case the wave comes, we need to be standardising whatever local remedies we have…We need to be working and not sleeping…So that when it’s all over we can prove to the world that we (Africans, especially Nigerians) are not worse than baboons.”
What this demands is atypical reasoning, thinking outside the box of warfare, not swallowing all what the world is throwing at us. We certainly do have something new, something good, to give to a grieving globe.
Banji Ojewale writes from Ota, Ogun State.
Image credit: Naijaloaded.com.ng