By Vivian Onyebukwa and Oyinlola Pelumi Adewale
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced last weekend the loss of 108 lives between September 1 and September 10 to the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic.
The agency noted that within those ten days, the death toll rose from 2,480 to 2,588. Lagos State Commissioner for Health, Prof. Akin Abayomi also announced the occurrence of 25 COVID-19 related deaths and 401 infections from September 9 to September 11. Based on these figures, they urged Nigerians to continue to practise the use of facemasks, alcohol-based sanitizers, to avoid large gatherings and to maintain the recommended social distancing.
Saturday Sun investigation shows that despite the worrisome figures and subsequent warnings, many Nigerians have dispensed with the protocols, especially the ones having to do with the wearing of facemasks, and the keeping of social distancing. Some of the reasons given by those interviewed include the unenforceable nature of the rules, for instance, the avoidance of large gatherings and social distancing. They spoke of the cost of constant replacement of the facemasks, availability of the vaccine, the choking nature of the mask, and their doubts about the existence of the pandemic. Some said COVID-19 was nothing but government propaganda. Other respondents who disagreed with their views pointed to the danger of ignoring the virulent nature of the virus, and urged their doubting compatriots to have a rethink before it is too late.
A respondent, Shoyemi Ayodeji, interviewed by Saturday Sun, was commended for wearing a facemask. But when asked whether he also observed social distancing, he shot back, scarcely curtailing a mild irritation at the question.
“I don’t observe social distancing because that is not possible. How can you observe social distancing on the streets of Ojuelegba in Surulere, Lagos, for instance, or while struggling to enter some places?”
Social distancing is unachievable
Adhering to the law of social distancing, he explained, is quite hard in Nigeria because doing that in certain places is just impossible. “Is it in commercial buses where you are forced to pack yourselves like sardines on the few available seats? Or, in the market where the language of social distancing doesn’t even exist? How do you tell a fish seller to give you at least one-metre social distancing because you want to buy pepper from the person beside her?
“Following the COVID protocols is a very hard task. It is only in some places where it is mandatory that I cooperate. Don’t let me lie to you. It is very hard even though I know the disease is real because I know people close to me who had been victims.”
Investigations by Saturday Sun correspondents show that there are many Nigerians in Ayodeji’s shoes.
Afolabi Bukola, a university student who like Ayodeji, wears her facemask only when she is in “a less choky environment,” agreed that maintaining social distancing outside one’s home is not easy.
Silah Wasilat, a digital marketer of products, noted that you could only observe the protocol concerning social distancing when you have everything under your control as to who touches or comes near you, and who doesn’t. But where you don’t, maintaining social distancing will be difficult, he said. “Take, for instance, in a crowded place where you have people walking around you or past you, or in some cases where hawkers would touch you without your approval. So, to me, it is quite difficult to maintain absolute social distancing.”
Rita Busayo said although it is mandatory for her to use facemasks in the hospital as a nurse, maintaining social distancing, especially in public places, is quite herculean.
“I don’t think anyone in Nigeria actually follows the COVID protocols,” Ademolu Eniola, a young lady in her 20s said. “While I believe it is good to follow the protocols, this is Nigeria. Personally, when I am in public, I always put on my facemask.”
Faces without masks
Daniel Garthey confessed that he only obeys the protocols in places where the protocols are mandatory. “If not, I don’t. Sometimes it gets really frustrating to obey these rules but then it is for our own good. I strongly believe that COVID-19 is real.”
A bus conductor plying the Oshodi-Iyana Ipaja route was asked why he was not putting on the facemask, and he retorted in Pidgin English: “Madam, leave that thing. Dem no go deceive us again like dem deceive us before. Dem don use am chop money, now they wan make we begin cover nose again. Make them no tell us that one”. A driver who plies Ikeja-Along to Ogba/Jones reacted similarly when asked why he was not encouraging his passengers to cover their noses with facemasks. He too thundered in Pidgin English: “Madam abeg, if you no wan go, come down. Why you no carry your own motor comot for house? Anybody wey wan wear, make him wear, e no concern me”.
“I don spend too much money to buy this facemask,” Lasisi, a vulcaniser, said. The young man whose workshop is located on Lawanson Road, Surulere, Lagos, added: “Each day I buy, e no dey last. How much I dey make as vulcaniser? I don tire to buy.” He then appealed to the government to make facemasks available to people free of charge. “No be everybody go afford to buy dis thing every day. Some people never chop, not to talk of buying face mask.”
Emeka Obi, a spare parts dealer at Ladipo Market, Lagos, said he does not wear it all the time as it can also cause harm when worn for a long time. “As you can see, I have it in my pocket, so it is not as if I don’t wear it,” he said as he brought it out to show to our correspondents. “It is not advisable to wear it all the time, as one can suffocate in it. I only wear it sparingly.”
Suffocation, Ebube Ewuzie, an undergraduate, pointed out, is one of the reasons he does not like to wear the face mask. “It does not allow me to breathe well”, he explained. “I always have it with me though and wear it only where it is compulsory such as at the banks.”
“I don’t like it because it makes me suffocate,” Chiamaka Uche, an SS3 student, also said.
Why we don’t believe in COVID-19
But there are those who don’t wear facemasks, not because it makes them suffocate or something like that but because they don’t believe in the existence of the pandemic. “How long do you want to wear it?” asked Abiola Adegbite, a pregnant mother and also a schoolteacher. “If I wear it, it makes me choke. Moreover, most people believe that there is nothing like COVID-19 anymore. They make jest of you when they see you wear it. The other day, I tried to wear it inside a public transport and the conductor asked me if I was afraid of COVID-19. According to him, COVID has ceased to exist.”
“Facemask? I don’t remember it anymore,” said John Okon, a building contractor. “COVID-19 is not for me. It is for the rich. Can’t you see that it is only the rich people that are dying? As long as I don’t believe in it, nothing shall happen to me. I have a natural immunity against any disease, including COVID-19. Since I have stopped wearing it, nothing has happened to me”.
Kazeem Akangbe, a cybercafé operator, shares the same belief with Adegbite and Okon. “The reason I don’t obey the protocols is because I don’t believe COVID is real. It may exist in developed countries but I don’t believe it exists in Nigeria. And, unless they make it compulsory to the extent they will start arresting people who don’t obey the rules, I won’t bother myself with obeying the protocols.”
Ganiu Olamilekan, a private security guard, said if the authorities want to arrest him, they might as well do so but that will not force him to believe in the existence of COVID-19. Only people who have fallen to the government moneymaking propaganda believe in its reality, he said. “The only time you can see me wear nose mask is when I want to enter the bank. But even so, how many times do I even go there? COVID is not real; it is only stupid people that believe in it.”
Adedeji Muri noted: “I used to believe in its existence but I don’t anymore. I don’t think people should still be restricted to these protocols because there is now a vaccine for both prevention and cure. Nigerians fear a lot, that’s why you still see a few using masks to protect themselves.”
George Atamenwan, a youth corps member, thinks too that it is time that the rules were relaxed. “Since the casualties from the virus is already going down, I think we can relax the way we observe the protocols,” he said. But contrary to his claims, available figures do not agree that the figures are going down.
Opinion leaders warn of dangers, seek govt intervention
But in interviews with Saturday Sun, some opinion leaders described the scepticism in the existence of COVID-19 and the call for the relaxation of its protocols as dangerous.
“Some people think that the virus is an illusion,” said Ngozi Ogbolu, a lawyer and former President, Federation of International Lawyers, Lagos (FIDA). “But here is a warning to all Nigerians: the virus is real and active.”
“With the arrival of the Delta Variant, we may be facing a serious health crisis if essential safety measures are not enforced,” Emman Usman Shehu, Director of International Institute of Journalism, and Founding President of Abuja Writers Forum warned.
“The Delta variant is more virulent,” Janefrances Duru, Executive Director of Gender Care Initiative (GCI), a non-governmental organization explained. “Most times, it does not manifest any symptoms but spreads and kills faster.”
“Beyond covering of nose, preventive measures such as hygiene practices must be made to take the centre stage,” opined Michael Ale, President, Association of Waterwell Drilling Rig Owners and Practitioners (AWDROP).
“The bane of the Nigerian society is lack of trust that has its foundation in the inability of the government to deliver on its promises to the people,” Charles Okeke, Group CEO, Tshabron Group noted. While Jerry Ugwu, National President of Igbo Youth Congress (IYC) believes that lack of trust which Okeke spoke about is the main reason many Nigerians are not complying with the pandemic protocols, Princess Roseleen Folarin, a real estate developer, blames it on ignorance. For Bishop Nath Ofor, General Overseer, Bishop Campaigners Ministry, Lagos the scepticism is caused by on economic hardship while Aduke Olufunke Odetayo, a retired teacher, thinks is it escalated by government’s reluctance to punish those flouting the rules.
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