By Dike Chukwumerije
After the lockdown is eased or lifted, we will be confronting the virus still and, in addition, a troubled economy. The first will make you want to stay at home. The second will push you out. You will emerge hesitant, fearful, ready to cross to the other side of the road each time you see another human being coming. But social distancing is as difficult for many of us in Nigeria as a lockdown. For breathing space is a luxury only countries that have been properly governed for a while can afford.
So, if you are dependent on any form of public transportation, or live in the type of place that can be described as a ‘lungu’; if you will be standing in queues to enter supermarket, or turning your back on supermarket to enter main market; it does not really matter. You will find it hard to stay two meters away from your fellow Nigerians. So, honestly, if you are really determined not to contract the virus, the practical thing to do is to cover your nose and mouth with a face mask each time you go out.
This is not beyond reach. If you google, you will find ways to make your own at home. In fact, I saw a video on facebook – a lady in Lagos who was now using her factory, which usually produced local fabrics for fashion designers, to produce them (reusable ones at that) at N300 a piece. It is a soft kind of manufacturing, the type of thing we have been looking to encourage in our desperate battle to wean ourselves off oil. Tell me, will there ever be a better time than now to push forward with this? If the CBN supports, I am sure, Nigeria can be self-sufficient in the production of face masks in a matter of months. And alcohol-based sanitizers too. Because if you cover your nose and mouth, and sanitize your hand after every contact that raises doubt in your mind – social distancing or no social distancing – your odds of contracting covid19 will be low.
And we need to have it like this, so we can go about our business. For that is what the economy needs now. Therefore, this is also not the time for government to start saying it cannot pay salaries. No. It is not the time for austerity measures, for tightening any working woman’s belt, or sacking anybody. No. It is not the time for FIRS to be forming agile ‘mopol’, or for Abuja Environmental Protection Board to be chasing street hustlers. No. This is the time for government to be putting money in people’s pockets. Yes. For the greatest intervention funds the government can create for us now is to stop ‘chopping’ government money. Tell me, how bad must things get before we recognize that any public official who, at this time, is still riding in convoy and flying private jet is the reason for our crisis? True. The time has reached for masquerades ‘to pull cloth’ and join The queue.
For we simply cannot afford to wait for a vaccine first. No. We must work through the pandemic – with face masks and faith, with hand sanitizers and a stoic shrug of our shoulders. In this part of the world, it is a stark choice between people dying from hunger while we wait at home for a cure, and people dying from the virus while we work through the pandemic. But, in truth, no death is less painful than the other. No life is more precious than the next. And it is impossible to tell today, from looking down a microscope, which choice will actually end up saving more lives in the long run. This – the high level of uncertainty about how today will affect tomorrow – is what makes it all a question, not for science, which must wait for the data our actions generate to compute, but for the human intuition. For this reason, let us feed it with faith. As the spirit of man mulls its choices in these fear-charged times, let us feed it with the immortal words of the Jamaican poet, Claude McKay. Yes. It was he who wrote: ‘If we must die, let it not be like hogs…’. For death must come, but when it does may it meet us living.
▪ Chukwumerije lives in Abuja and sent this via WhatsApp