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Covid-19 is bringing out the worst instinct in Nigeria’s elite/middle class

Case I: Late March, a 55 year old gentleman was brought into the emergency unit of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) unconscious. His family denied he had any history of recent travels outside the country. Even after regaining consciousness, he lied to doctors at LUTH over his health condition and travel history. He died a few hours later. Investigations revealed he just returned to the country two weeks before from the Netherlands where he had a kidney transplant and was on immunosuppressant drugs. Further investigations revealed that soon after arriving the country, he performed a Covid-19 test at the Central Public Health Laboratory at Yaba and the result turned out positive. Yet, he and his family continued to hide the truth while deceiving health workers and exposing them in the process. Of course, tests were carried out and he was confirmed positive for Covid-19 after his death.

Case II: A 57-year old, male, Alhaji Muideen Obanimomo was brought into the University of Illorin Teaching Hospital’s (UITH) Accident & Emergency Department on the night of Wednesday, April 1st, 2020 in the company of one of the hospital’s Professor of Internal Medicine, Kazeem Alakija Salami (a specialist in infectious diseases); allegedly with history of abdominal discomfort/stooling, following ingestion of rotten pineapples. He was then admitted and managed as a case of ‘food poisoning’. The patient later died in the early hours of the following day, 2nd April 2020.

“Following the patient’s death and release of his corpse to the managing professor (who also claimed to be his relative) for immediate burial (in accordance with Islamic rites), the hospital management received several anonymous calls disclosing information of recent travels by the patient and his wife to the UK and having been on self-isolation on arrival to Ilorin 12 days prior presentation at A&E (on the advice of the Professor who brought him) – information that was concealed from the frontline medical personnel at first contact in the A&E, A&E Attendants and the mortuary staff; acts that the hospital’s management considered highly unethical,” a statement from the management of UITH read.

Read also: Covid-19: NMA confirms death of doctor at LUTH isolation centre

But it later emerged the hospital was not completely truthful about what really happened. Alhaji Obanimomo first came to UITH on March 29 with his wife who complained of headache. When Obanimomo was brought into the A&E by his kinsman, Professor Salami on April 1st, he was already showing strong symptoms of Covid-19. Yet, he wasn’t tested, and when he died, no samples were taken for test. More suspiciously, the corpse was hurriedly released to the Professor for burial. Further, it prevented the ambulance that evacuated the corpse from reentering the hospital premises and all the doctors, nurses and pharmacists who potentially had contact with him were isolated and placed on chloroquine prophylaxis.

Case III: On March 7, the President’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, travelled to Germany where he held talks with officials of Siemens in Munich on improving power supply in Nigeria. He returned to the country on March 18 but refused to self-isolate as the standard protocol demands. Over the next few days, he would hold series of meetings with individuals and state officials and travel far and wide including attending wedding receptions. On Tuesday, March 24, he tested positive for Covid-19.

But the same Abba Kyari who refused to self-isolate on his return wrote a memo to the leadership of the National Assembly on March 21 complaining about members who travelled and refused to get screened on their return at the airport. He urged the leadership to ensure all such members get tested immediately.

These were cases of Nigeria’s leadership, elite and middle class – all seemingly educated – acting like complete illiterates but with so much hubris as to endanger the lives of everyone else. More befuddling was the refusal of some of these individuals to give health workers the chance to save them.  That was why two weeks ago on the page I described them as narcissistic and unimaginative. These two terms have continued to define their actions and response to the pandemic.

I have often railed against the middle class as the weakest link in Nigeria’s quest to creating a capable state that works and serves everyone. I have always argued that “unlike the archetypal middle class in Western countries that act to protect the democratic order by ensuring good governance and accountability of elected leaders, the Nigerian middle class, with few exceptions, use their privileged positions to negotiate good deals for themselves, their families and friends and have thus become the medium through which Nigeria’s politics of plunder, neopatrimonialism and prebandalism is sustained and deepened.”

The mindset is to ensure personal survival and prosperity even at the detriment of the collective. That mindset has taken firm root in our culture and religion. My “case is different” is the new singsong and it signals a belief that in spite of the bleak fortunes of the society, one can prosper and become quite successful. This narcissistic attitude and culture explains why people who have tested positive or are exposed to Covid-19 will foolishly lie to medical workers and infect thousands of others just to be admitted to medical treatment. It is why a Professor of Medicine, with expertise in infectious diseases, will choose to needlessly and foolishly expose his colleagues to the virus just to help a relative.

And to show how totally unimaginative our elite and middle class were, their only strategy for dealing with the pathogen is the model developed for other places – lockdown, social distancing and quarantine. Two weeks into this, the cookies are already crumbling and the remedies are even worse than the problems. As at Wednesday, April 15, only 11 people have died from the virus in Nigeria. But, according to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), 18 citizens have been killed by the Nigerian security forces in attempts to enforce the lockdown regulations on Covid-19 pandemic.

 Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Health Organisation (WHO) have realised the foolishness behind the adoption of the lockdown template by African countries without even thinking of their local peculiarities. “How do you implement a lockdown when 80% of your labour force is dependent on daily earnings and cannot stock-up on food for days?” How do you advocate for constant washing of hands when majority of the population lack access to running water? The IMF in its April 2020 regional economic outlook projected that Sub-Saharan African economy will “contract by -1.6 percent  this year – the worst reading on record, a downward revision of 5.2 percentage points from our October 2019 forecast.” The multilateral institution minced no words when it asserted that “the measures that [African] countries have had to adopt to enforce social distancing are certain to imperil the livelihoods of innumerable vulnerable people.”

Even the WHO, the initial champion of the lockdown strategy, on Monday tweeted the same concern: “While #Covid19 accelerates very fast, it decelerates much more slowly. This is especially concerning for countries with large poor populations, where #StayAtHome orders & restrictions used in some high-income countries may not be practical,” the Director General, Tedros Adhanom tweeted.  “Many poor people, migrants and refugees live in overcrowded conditions with few resources and little access to healthcare. Physical distancing is very difficult in such situations, so other public health measures must be put in place and protections extended for the most vulnerable”, he continued.

But our dear country Nigeria has decided to extend the lockdown in Lagos and Ogun states despite the clear breakdown of law and order. Perhaps, they reasoned Lagos and Ogun states are just two states and events there wouldn’t cause problem for the government or escalate nation-wide. But they forget that things could spiral or that the two states are the major economic hub of the country. The Arab spring began with just an individual setting himself ablaze. But more importantly, like the IMF grimly surmised “people will suffer”.


Christopher Akor

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