As at Monday, 16/3/20, everything was normal on the Nigerian front. Oga CORO, a celebrity pandemic was causing unimaginable devastation everywhere else, attacking and humbling leaders of Government, big names in entertainment and sports and causing confusion among BIG countries. Surely, the Book said it long ago, that “those of high structure will hewn down and the haughty will be humbled” (Isaiah,10:33). People and governments who were hitherto so sure of their capabilities were throwing up their hands in despair. But all was calm in Nigeria. People were marrying, giving birth and dying, and we were all working on our individual and corporate plans.
There were only two issues of public discourse then: the mysterious and devastating Abulado explosion and the predictable and predicted dethronement (second time around) of the saintly and loquacious Sanusi. ASUU was on strike and I had all the time and peace of mind to go and deliver a paper at the 2020 Laity Week programme at Ijebuode on 16/3/20. I came back from the lecture and continued with my normal routines: reading, writing, listening to Channels TV and all that. “Coro” was something happening far away but here, life was normal, with the only exception being the daily briefing by the stressed but articulate and knowledgeable Minister of Health and by the Presidential Task Force on Coro (by the way, the PTF-Coro is chaired by a lawyer and political civil servant! Where are the experts?). But the BOOK has warned that it is when everything appears normal that calamity strikes (1 Thess,5:3).
Then, SUDDENLY, just SUDDENLY, everything changed and everywhere became charged! The government, a top official of which declared that Coro was caused by corruption, and, which had been acting in an “I don’t give a damn” manner jumped up on 17/3/20 as one rudely woken from a deep slumber with a bucket of cold water or somebody stung in the holy of holies by a vicious ant. Indeed, they behaved like the people of Nineveh did after Jonah had told them: soon, ‘Nineveh would be destroyed’ Since then orders, policies and instructions have been flying around both at the centre and in the peripheries. The entire political, policy, socioeconomic and media landscape became both coviduous and coronalised and since them, nothing has ever been the same.
The hitherto abnormal has become normal as according to Buno & Kerber (2009), continuous change became the new normal. We are getting used to the inevitability and instability and Nigeria has become, like organisations in the turbulent environment, a work in progress (Burnes, 2009), with everything being tinkered with continuously. Unfortunately, given chaotic, per second and uncoordinated manner in which these orders are flying around we appear to have acted and continue to act in a panic mood.
The government kept changing instructions in an amoebic fashion but this is the step rep by the weekend (22/3/20): all schools primary, secondary and then tertiary closed; NYSC orientation camps closed, visa on rival suspended, entries from 13 countries and then 15 disallowed (we had declared that there was no need to do so a few hours earlier), 3 international airports and then all of them closed, rail transport suspended, social and religious gatherings were limited to 50, 20 and then suspended all together; the budget received a haircut of N1.5trn (from capital, recurrent or debt servicing provisions?); oil-price benchmark reduced to $30 and the Naira devalued, (sorry adjusted, to N380/$). The Senate closed its public gallery and before then, earnestly begged PMB to address the nation. Foreign trips were suspended for all public officials but I am sure that nobody will order them to refrain from foreign medical check-ups and holidays; they have all suddenly become patriotic because under this COVIDIOUS environment, home is the best. LASG has ordered 70 percent of its workforce to stay at home but overreached itself when it asked danfo drivers to limit themselves to only 60 percent of their capacity (6 instead of 10 passengers per trip).
Other developments followed. My dear OOU has sent all the staff on compulsory 2-week leave, in the first instance. Anambra State Government banned weddings, funerals, ofala festivals “upped the ante” by placing Lagosians in the same category with returnees from Italy or Spain so that should the son of man travel to IgboUkwu now, I should self-quarantine! I never knew the state has such an awesome capacity.
The federal government sent all its staff home and suspended the FEC weekly contract dispensing assembly was and continues to be, an era of unprecedented uncertainty and unpredictability. Even during the war, the government did not issue this avalanche of directives, directives that were changing every second, within so short a period. Like the typical Igbo man, we did not run until the rain has thoroughly beaten us or we ran run when the pursuer is just one meter away.
It was when I attended morning mass on Saturday, 21/3/20 that it dawned on me that we were in real trouble. We were all “sanitised” at the gate and the sitting arrangement was very queer, with people sitting almost “a kilometre” apart. Even for the reception of the holy communion, people were “forced” to give serious gaps. It was then that I asked, “how can I maintain social distance from my wife when we slept in the same bed, drove in the same car and held our hands as we were moving into the church”? Even the offertory was cancelled because cash had high covidiousity!
Some extant policies were triggered off: Sunday would start on Saturday evening; there would be general confession/absolution and then, those above 65, below 18 pregnant and nursing mothers were granted sabbatical from Mass. Of course, all activities were suspended. 6 masses were had that Saturday evening and 12 were scheduled for Sunday. However, before we went to bed, all masses were cancelled because the threshold was reduced to 20; people were advised to receive communion spiritually and to send any offerings online. There was confusion, anxiety and palpable fear and people were running helter-skelter, buying both the things they needed and the ones they did not need.
On Sunday, 22/3/20, there was no Masses in the Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos and for the first time in my 3 score+ years on earth, I was indoors from morning to night, except for the 3km walk I had in the morning. And as I did so, I observed that all the Catholic churches along my route were on lock-down and the roads were free! Yet it was under this environment that COZA services held while Evangelist Copeland (somebody called him scamevengelist) told his followers to keep on tithing even if they lost their jobs in the pandemic, because God was/is their source. And Nigerians, even in their alarm and panic, still had the peace of mind to see the thing ‘jokiously’. They designed a special suspended quarantine centre, noticed houses that was more crowded than a church , noticed the unusual kind of social distancing at Onitsha Main Market and saw those doing hand-washing business in Igboland while one Edo boy released a song: “Coro, we no want you here.”
As I write this, the super powers have become powerless and the world economy is on a roller-coaster. My compatriots who would rather rush out to Dubai to buy golden soya and Milan for platinum ice-cream are all at home because it is almost a death sentence visit overseas. Trump was rattled; the Strong Lady of Europe, Merkel is on Quarantine; Senator Paul has fallen and Damniel Goldman is a victim; the Canadian first Family has been infiltrated, AbaKyari has caught it, Bauchi State Governor is on “self-iso” while Atiku’s son is down. Nowhere is safe; nobody is safe and the life we knew a few days ago is receding into our memories. It is sad indeed.
As our people would say during Biafran War of Independence, “Awusa abatago Awka” (the federal forces have come into Awka); “agwo no n’akilika” (the snake is on the thatched roof) and indeed, the come has come to become and there is FIRE in the mountain. But our president is non-pulsed and the motion by his Senate, begging him to address “we the people” did not move him. He who had time for the Egungun festival, (where he was forcefully embraced by “one of his admirers”) and to intervene in the self-inflicted fires in APC, does not feel it is necessary to address us because doing so, according to Shehu Garba, it is mere showmanship and drama,.
Abule Ado explosion, our tears and a president missing in action
On Sunday, 15/3/20, as Lagosians were on their way to various churches, there was a deafening, ground-shaking sound followed by tick smoke somewhere around FESTAC. There was panic as people immediately remembered the Ikeja bomb blasts of 2002. The only difference was this was a one-off affair. By the time I got to Our Ladies Seat of Wisdom, Okota, some parts of the ceilings had caved in and I was told it was caused by the mysterious blast. When we finished with the Mass and other related matters, we had a clear picture of what happened.
The explosion was at Abulado, a settlement adjacent to FESTAC but its impact was far reaching. Buildings at Festac, BBA Complex, and surroundings were affected. By official records, 21 lives were lost in the inferno, hundreds were injured, thousands were homeless and houses (as many as 300) were destroyed and Billions of Naira worth of property damaged. And the controversies started: was it a bomb blast, a pipeline explosion or gas cylinder-related accident; does the land belong to Lagos or to Federal Government (FHA); are the residents illegal occupants or are their houses certified by the government and whether the residents were there before or after the pipeline.
These controversies still rage, 10 whole days after the disaster! the governor of Lagos visited, said all the right things and kickstarted a N2bn fund with a donation of N250m. By the way Bethlehem Collage was worth more than N2bn in historical (not replacement) costing. And then, the following day, he was at the Rock, showing our president hard-copy pictures of the calamitous disaster. Hard copies, not video shots or soft copies via laptops or tablets and Buhari’s people covered the picture-watching session and placed it online! Our president did not deem it necessary to visit; he was content to watch pictures of the horrendous disaster and they proudly shared the pictures. The governor even thanked the president for granting him audience! I don’t understand this issue of governors thanking the president at every opportunity.
The other day, while commenting on the inexplicable and do-your-worst exclusion of South East from the failed $22bn loan, the South East Governors, who ought to be fuming in anger thanked the president for his good works in the SE. Anyway, in the judgement of the president and the presidency, the picture-watching show has taken the place of visiting and commiserating with the people. That is body language in action. Sad indeed; our president is missing in action. And as somebody had asked, who did this to us? Are cursed or are we the cause?