The disruption which the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to our lives is beyond imagination. In Nigeria, we have had to endure a curfew, restrictions in movement and association in the marketplace, places of business and of worship, and even the means of movement. There were prescribed hours for buying and selling and the wearing of masks when outdoors was made a mandatory requirement. All these were essentially media obligations because they were mostly ignored by the ordinary people usually in exchange for a fee paid illegitimately to complicit security outfits. Even air travel which was banned except for the most urgent humanitarian needs was similarly breached for various fees. Elsewhere around the world, the arrival of the pandemic disrupted national economies shut down businesses, and gave rise to new ways of networking and communicating. Everywhere, the message was the same: keep a minimum physical distance of two meters between you and the next person, wash your hands with soap and running water every two hours for at least 20 seconds, wear a face covering when outdoors and learn how to sneeze or cough into a bent elbow. While doing all these, avoid touching your face unnecessarily.
However, it is noteworthy that in the first two months of this new way of life people largely complied. As the days and weeks went by, we did not see a large number of casualties from the disease as was feared at its beginning and the people threw every caution and lesson they had learned away. Just when people were asking themselves whether the earlier sacrifices they made were worth it, news came of a certain, more virulent strain of the virus in the United Kingdom. Another strain was also to emerge at about the same time in South Africa. Just then, the Nigerian authorities decided that the time had come to embark on a national identity registration drive on an emergency basis. The time frame allotted to the exercise originally and the stringent requirements demanded was certain to place the lives of people at grave risk for contracting the virus. As is usual when the government decides on matters of this scale and scope, there was a crush of humanity at all the various sites for registration. No attempts were made to ensure physical distancing was in place and no facilities were provided for people to even wash their hands. The same government regulating the number of worshippers in a church or mosque and how many people should sit in a bus is responsible for this chaos.
Predictably, the number of cases began to rise in tandem with the onset of this exercise. The officials of the management agency responsible for the tedious task of performing the registration soon went on strike over the failure of the supervising ministry to provide them with the minimum personal protective equipment available. In a couple of days, that requirement was met but the huge crowds outside the registration centres almost certainly began to fuel the new cases. Whereas the #EndSARS protests, which were feared to be able to accelerate the spread of the virus, occurred in a few towns and cities around the country this new requirement is being executed everywhere in the country once that place has a local government office. From the week prior to Christmas until now, the daily number of new cases sprang above 1,000 cases regularly. This has placed Nigeria at the same place where South Africa was in mid-October of 2020. Clearly, an exercise such as this can only promote the spread of a virus that we all know to be airborne. If that is the case, we are surely now at the beginning of the curve to the top that has seen South Africa reeling from the effects of the pandemic.
The highly virulent UK COVID-19 variant is now present in 70 countries while the equally virulent South African strain is present in 31. It is almost certain that both strains are present in Nigeria in addition to the original Wuhan variant that has already done much damage. Sadly, we remain in a precarious situation with the way this registration is being run amid a pandemic. The Nigerian Medical Association at a time called for a postponement of this strange event so that the nation could fight one emergency at a time. People from other nations are astounded at what is going on here, and cannot believe that the same government shutting down bars and restaurants in a renewed effort to contain the pandemic is negating its own efforts by carrying on with a project like this. It remains to be seen in the coming weeks whether the country has not shot itself in the foot by fighting a pandemic at the same time as she is embarking on a programme of this nature that runs against the grain of proper public health protocols. This then is the problem with the registration requirements.
The baffling combination of circumstances has made some of my colleagues to label what is going on as covidiocy, a Nigerian attitude to the pandemic that has already generated a six per cent increase in the total number of cases since the last week of December 2020. On the surface, that percentage figure does not look like much but in a populous country like Nigeria, it would mean the addition of tens of thousands of new cases to the total number already known. If a small nation with a tiny population were to announce a 200 per cent increase in the number of cases, it could mean an increase from 50 to 150 cases. Herein lies the huge task facing a country that has poor healthcare infrastructure, inadequate manpower to run even what is available, and the absence of clean water for the proper maintenance of adequate levels of personal cleanliness. This reality has, to a large extent, compelled various state governments to embrace the option of domiciliary care for the mildly ill patients and the asymptomatic ones. If these numbers rise even more steeply in the coming weeks as a result of this forced assembly, the nation could truly be in trouble.
It is, therefore, the responsibility today of every individual to ensure they keep to the preventive guidelines enacted by the NCDC (Nigeria Centre for Disease Control). This is particularly important in an atmosphere of skepticism displayed by members of the public who still do not even believe that COVID-19 exists. It is here with us. Many people who contracted it have recovered from it but many others have also died from it. The nation is unable to afford a large number of doses of the vaccines at the moment and prevention must remain the most important aim for everyone. Vaccines have their place but they are the only option. People get annual flu shots which are taken on a recurrent basis and still get the flu if they are negligent. Even people who have taken this vaccine, however, must still obey the basic principles of prevention otherwise they could still get the virus despite initial vaccination. Their only consolation is that their disease would follow a mild course. If such a risk still exists despite taking a vaccine that Nigeria cannot presently guarantee, it is safer to do things that help to avoid this disease. The Nigerian Identity Number registration is injurious to that quest.
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