The scourge of Coronavirus has come to be a daily reality with Nigeria. From an index case in late February, 2020, confirmed cases have risen to 40. Some people are saying that the number is even underreported. From Lagos State to Ekiti, Osun to Ondo, a number of critical measures have been put in place. Schools at all levels have been shut. Bans have been placed on large gatherings whether temporal or spiritual. Any gathering that is above 50 was the target in some places. In Osun, the ban was total regardless of the number. Lagos is the highest hit in the country. Very Important people have been infected. The son to the former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, has been diagnosed as having the COVID 19.
The governor of Bauchi State,Bala Mohammed, has put himself in self isolation. The president was even tested . he was negative. The Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, has tested positive. The major concern is to stop the spread so that the country’s failing health system is not overrun. However, as the nation races to stem the tide of the disease in the country, the challenge to the nation is beyond the issue of the health system. It is a challenge to all that the country represents – people, government, culture and belief system. This piece focuses on those challenges that the COVID 19 is bringing to the system. Here are the challenges:
The Level of Credibility conferred on the Government
For any government to function well in a democratic setting, those who put such in place must have a level of belief in its capacity to govern. There are basic ingredients that make the citizens have some level of trust in their government. These include transparency in its dealings, delivery of electoral promises, prudence in spending of public resources, and zero tolerance for corruption. However, since 1999 when this democratic dispensation commenced, Nigerians have had little or no trust in their governments at all levels. The reason for this is not far-fetched. A lot of the problems confronting the nation are still there despite the billions of Naira that have gone down the drain in the pursuit of these.
The novel virus has come to expose the lack of trust in the system in Nigeria. At the time the Italian index case was reported in the country, some Nigerians did not take the news with a pinch of salt. Some said it was an attempt to make money by the concerned government institutions. People asked for the name of the Italian who brought the virus to the country. As a matter of fact, some were asking for the picture. Social media platforms were abuzz with gist and counter gist on whether the virus was really in Nigeria or not. It is hoped that now that we have had cases of infection being reported by people in high places, those doubting Thomas would believe the Coronavirus is here in Nigeria.
The Professionalism of the Nigerian Media and Journalists
The media are critical to the survival of any country. They not only inform, but also educate, enlighten, and warn people of consequences of events and happenings. Before the advent of the Coronavirus, the nation has been grappling with the extent of professionalism displayed by journalists and the media organization. Concerns have been raised as to the way issues of national importance have been reported by the Nigerian media. For instance, the Nigerian media have been accused to be partisan in their reportage of political issues. Not only that, they have been blamed sometimes for being sectional on issues that are expected to have been looked at from national perspective.
Sensationalism, fake news and hate speech are some of the accusations levelled against the Nigerian press. Experts have queried if Nigeria media have any sense of social responsibility. The roles of the media in any crisis situation, such as the country has on her hand, cannot be over emphasized. The media are expected to provide timely, relevant and accurate report of the situation. They are also to help to create awareness and make popular coping strategies as well as assisting in creating a chart for relief and recovery. In the fight against the spread of the COVID 19, the media are allies. They are not only to report update but also to assist in preventing spread of the virus. Within the framework of a developing nation, the Nigerian media are to report issues surrounding the disease with some level of social responsibility and national patriotism. They should report without creating panic. They should not only focus on numbers, but on issues surrounding the disease.
In a piece nudging the Nigerian media to rise to the challenge that this period poses, Prof. Ayo Ojebode, the Head of Department of Communication & Language Arts, University of Ibadan, advised three professional ethics they have to follow. One, he charged them not to allow the pressure to be the first to publish to overwhelm and they succumb to publishing information without verifying them. He stated journalists have to fact-check before going to press. He also said there is a need to hold government agencies and institutions accountable over their actions on the Coronavirus pandemic. Two, he posited that Nigerian journalists have to bring human angle into the statistics that would be flying around. He urged them to do interpretative reporting. He said “it is important that we underscore the need for a balance between hope and despair.” Third, Ojebode discouraged journalists from over focusing on the Coronavirus. He said journalists need to resist the temptation of surrendering the mediascape to the “tyranny of coronavirus”
The Level of Responsibility of the people in power and those out of it
At this point of the incidence in the country, the level of responsibility of Nigerians in and out of power has come under attack from Coronavirus. It would test the ability of Nigerians to be responsible for themselves and for others. One unique thing about the novel virus is that the chances of it spreading is premised on how people are collectively careful. It is not about how careful an individual is. It is about the caution of the collective community. So far, the test has yielded different results from both ends. On the part of the ordinary Nigerians, there was a level of unenthusiastic attitude from them. Governments at national and sub national levels have placed bans on social and religious gatherings since Friday. Yet, some Nigerians still went ahead to pray Jumat on Friday. Their Christian counterparts had their church services on Sunday. Another instance is the self-isolation measure of those who travel to high risk countries. Upon arrival, they were urged by government to disclose themselves and self-isolate. Few cases of celebrities who indeed went on self isolation were heard.
On the part of those in power, the level of responsibility is noticed to some extent. Governors, especially in the southwest, accepted the gauntlet thron at them by the invasion of the virus. Oyo, Ekiti, Osun and Ogun had their governors address the citizens. They reeled out measures put in place to ensure the virus did not spread. The president had to be called out severally before he eventually addressed the nation. Despite, Nigerians were high on social media platforms making jest of the president’s speech. Some senators and members of the house of representatives were said to have been exposed to the virus. They have refused to declare their status or even self isolate. Gestures such as these can never assist the campaign. Yet, to conquer the spread, there is a need to up the level of responsibility of the two divides of the Nigerian life.
In the next few weeks, the situation is dicey for Nigeria on COVID 19. The statistics has the tendency to go higher. Things are happening at a very dizzying pace. No one could say what happens. But, whatever happens then will be a factor of those issues being challenged by the novel virus. I hope we take the challenge with equanimity and rise above it.