It is 3 am in the morning.
Have Nigerians been following developments in the Coronavirus pandemic?
I have been watching the news on TV and the utmost seriousness with which the world is taking the matter of the Coronavirus and what governments are doing about dealing with the rampaging virus.
It is frightening, to say the least, but in the end, responsible decisions are being taken. Every advanced country is taking extraordinary steps to either slow it down, or preventing it before the first case is found, or managing it where it has happened.
Everywhere, people are being told to be their brothers’ keeper, to make the temporarily uncomfortable sacrifice. These are the easiest but essential steps that everyone must take to deal with a virus that the world does not know enough about till now, and is in a race against time to do so.
The global situation, experts say, will get very worse before it starts to get better, but that will be only if everyone, ALL of us, make the personal and collective sacrifice to deal with the scourge.
In the past 24 hours since I called for the postponement of the National Sports Festival starting in a few days time in Benin, debates have been ongoing about how best to join the global community in confronting a new virus that has no known cure, no vaccine to prevent it, is mutating at a rate such as a world has never seen before, and from which our country has been luckily spared. I have been shocked by some reactions.
The first concern is that people are even debating the merits and demerits of postponing a sports event that will bring thousands of people together in a crowded environment for almost two weeks in a country that has no record of the needed social discipline to do the things that experts say need to be done to tackle or to prevent the dreadful disease – avoid close physical contacts, avoid crowded gatherings, avoid travels unless absolutely necessary, wash hands as often as possible with soap, use sanitizer for the hands and to scrub all surfaces people are exposed to, observe social distancing of a stipulated distance with one another, remain at home and work as much as possible, and follow medical instructions on what to do to stop the spread.
Whereas the vast majority of the reactions I have received are in support of postponing the games, a few from some critical persons were not about the correctness of my argument, but about not spreading panic and the sentiment of denying a part of the country the pleasure of a sporting festival they had prepared for.
They also point to the isolated success of managing the single coronavirus case Nigeria has had, whilst also admitting that, that alone is not an adequate measure of Nigeria’s capacity to deal with the virus all over the country.
Even the UK with the best healthcare system in the world is not that arrogant and is going down the path of the most basic precautionary steps to deal with a disease that has no known treatment, and the management of its spread demanding extraordinary steps that have necessitated locking down and quarantining whole communities, cities and even countries.
Yesterday, I was called up by a doctor friend in the corridors of influence in government, informing me that vigorous debates are on going in their medical community about postponing, or not, some major events with large gatherings including the National Sports Festival, Nigerian Labour Congress’s events, and so on. He told me that most discussants sided with my point of view but many are prevaricating because they want science-backed reasons to make a decision. He wanted me to provide scientific evidence to back my common sense conclusions.
I told him the evidence is in the extraordinary ongoing actions of the more advanced countries of the world.
Nigeria has dealt with the only known case of the Coronavirus recorded in the country, and people should not now spread panic amongst but allow people go on with their normal lives.
Normal lives, really? There is nothing normal about the world again, the way things are going. Life on earth will definitely not be the same after this virus is dealt with. The rest of the world, including the most advanced, understands this and have chosen to make the essential sacrifice of very uncomfortable decisions that provide the only hope of dealing with the crisis.
It was most shocking to hear medical personnel even hesitate to take the hard but correct decisions. Who does not know that ‘prevention is better than cure’. It is as simple as that. Can Nigeria cope with a break out of the virus that spreads like wildfire and is already out of control, as we are witnessing, everywhere it has landed in the world?
The answer is that with over 200 million Nigerians with some of the poorest health facilities, common sense shows we cannot cope with a pandemic in our midst.
The world is watching our present complacency. They don’t love us enough not to shut us out should it breakout here. Nigeria shall be isolated.
No country will use some sentimental excuse to come to our aid when we lit the fire of the virus with the overbearing evidence all around us now.
At this point, it is gross irresponsibility to stare reality of the situation in the eye and take the very decision that we all know will put all of us at risk and in serious jeopardy should anything go wrong.
The National Sports Festival is not worth the risk we are presently taking by going ahead with hosting it at this point in time.
Even the Olympics are undergoing discussions on whether to go ahead with it or not. That’s only because there are still 4 months to go, during which time the world may have found a way to deal with the Coronavirus.
This is not a time to allow the personal interests, or greed of a few Nigerians that stand to make money from the games, or sentiments to determine what happened to a festival that can surely wait and can be held in a few weeks or months time when we know where the world stands with tackling the virus.
Nigeria will not collapse if the games are postponed. The country could actually be better for it as the festival will be held without fear and in a spirit of true celebration without the restrictions that must be put in place if held now.
Going ahead with hosting it will mean lost revenue and investment for many people, without a doubt. That’s where the government has to step in and help in the alleviation.
Holding the games now is like lighting a fire blindfolded. The World Health Organisation is warning the entire world to join hands in the global war against Coronavirus.
Even if it is a one per cent risk, it is not worth taking by any country in the matter of this uncharted virus and a global pandemic.
The world is taking extraordinary steps because that’s what it will take to defeat this elusive and dangerous virus. Nigeria should not be the exception.
Without spreading panic, let us massively educate every Nigerian about the virus and the disciplined steps we all have to take now to AVOID the need to test our national capacity to deal with its outbreak that is challenging even the most advanced countries in the world.
Once again, the reasonable and responsible thing to do is adhere to the difficult but needed steps to prevent an outbreak of the coronavirus in our country. It is a no-brainer.
Except there is something Nigeria will lose greater than the lives it puts at risk, the most reasonable thing to do is postpone the games until the coast is clear that we understand the virus enough, and can manage it (if it ever enters Nigeria again or becomes a community spread virus).
Experts tell us that no country or a part of the world will be spared this virus down the line.
We have been lucky so far. Why risk everything and dare the elements when we should team up with the rest of humanity and deal with it?
Even beyond the National Sports Festival, let us start obeying the commandments: testing the citizens, social distancing, maintaining serious public hygiene, scrubbing surfaces with sanitisers around us and in public, staying away from crowded places, remaining indoors and working from home.
These are all much easier options than managing an outbreak.
The least we can do is postpone this festival. The world will not end if we do.
We must not take the unnecessary and avoidable risk of exposing our youths to the first commandment in slowing down the spread of the virus – social distancing and avoiding crowded gatherings.
Once again, I love sports with all my heart, but I love the lives of my fellow countrymen and women more.
The WHO says every arm of every government in every country in the world must take this impending catastrophe very seriously and join in the global war. Let us postpone the Nigerian games, please. There is no easy or convenient way out of an unfortunate situation.
As I am about to round off this piece, I have just read that in the past 48 hours 30 African countries now have recorded the presence of the virus.
We must stop this prevarication and do what is right, reasonable and needed NOW. Time is not on our side. Please postpone the National Festival now!