The news that Nigeria has confirmed her first case of COVID-19 circulated on Friday, 28th February, 2020. Different Nigerian media houses carried this news. Even foreign ones, like CNN, seemed eager to announce first to the world that, finally, coronavirus has been reported in a Sub-Saharan African country. I expected the social media to be lit up with this news. I expected anxiety and panic, but I saw none of those. The news didn’t make waves in Nigerian social media space as was expected. It was as if Nigerians didn’t understand the language.
Some days ago, I read a post written by a Nigerian living in the UK, who asserts that Nigerians residing in Nigeria are nonchalant about the presence of the virus in the country and she couldn’t help wondering the reason behind that. This person compared Nigerians’ attitude towards this disease to that of western countries that were panicking about it. She said that if that sickness manages to get into town, that the effect will be worse than that of a holocaust. I know this lady was concerned about the health of Nigerians but I don’t think this assertion is totally true because Nigerians are concerned about their health. It’s just that they have a lot of other things to worry about too.
But let the truth be said, Nigerians still moved about their normal businesses despite the warning from the ministry of health. Here in Enugu, I’m yet to see anyone using a surgical mask. People only talked about the illness that Friday and let it be. It was as if the news never happened. The only residues of that news were the hilarious videos, memes and write-ups concerning the disease in Nigeria.
The silence and relaxed attitude of Nigerians upon receiving that red flag news make it look like everyone was waiting to hear more about the spread of the disease. People seemed to expect that more cases will be reported, after all the Italian made contact with lots of people before he finally broke down. When nothing was heard, people started speculating that the virus doesn’t affect black people. Then the speculation changed to the fact that this part of Africa was too hot for the survival of the virus, meaning that coronavirus can’t survive in Nigeria.
When Nigerians got tired of testing their hypothesis non-empirically, they turned their attention to the people that released the news in the first place – the Ministry of Health and the government as a whole. They started asking questions concerning the possibility of this virus being in Nigeria. Nigerians started suspecting the government of lying about coronavirus coming into the country.
Like Thomas in the Bible that wanted a series of evidence before he could believe in the resurrection of his master, Nigerians wanted evidence before they could believe that there was an Italian that brought the illness into the country. Nigerians wanted the federal government, or rather the ministry of health to show them the Italian that introduced the virus into the country. They want to see his face or at least get his name. They no longer want audio messages, they want visuals this time.
I don’t really blame people for their desire to do “afu n’ anya ekwe” (seeing before believing) because a lot of funny things happen in this country. The explanation about the patient’s confidentiality didn’t assuage their demands to get the identity of the Italian. Some kept reminding everybody that the identity of the person that brought Ebola was revealed so why should that of the Italian hidden. Some asserted that Sawyer’s identity was revealed because he was African and things like that.
The truth behind this matter is that Nigerians no longer trust their leaders. They believe everything done by government officials has ulterior motives. They never assume that any public officer will do anything with any positive or selfless intent. The government has truly lost the confidence of the populace, who now want to be reassured every now and then with tangible evidences.
Fortunately for all Nigerians, coronavirus seems not to find Nigerian environment favourable because there would have been an epidemic by now. Because, if you truly look at it, since this Italian man, without a name, could comfortably pass through all the coronavirus detectors and screening devices claimed by the Nigerian government to be mounted in the airports, other carriers of this virus must have found their ways into the country.
What Nigerians should focus on right now is how to keep themselves safe from being infected by this disease, should it be in the country, and not whether the government released fake news so that they can see avenues to embezzle public funds.