Stuck in an unwelcoming lockdown I’ve watched the events surrounding this pandemic, the unfolding drama being played out on the Nigerian scene, deftly acted by the characters that form our government. The fiscal donations. Paltry, or as in some states, illusionary, palliative measures. The staggering number of confirmed cases. Not to talk of the number of patients who are discharged daily even in the absence of a universal cure. The COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria is simply confusing.
As a medical scientist, I wanted to write about this virus tearing rapidly through our world. I was going to write about purported cures—from Madagascar, Sierra Leone, even in our own Ooni’s palace here. I wanted to analyse the research claims from Oxford University, as well as those from Chinese and American labs, not forgetting our own University of Nigeria. Until I stumbled upon the headline: “Report hotels working against our lockdown order for immediate demolition.”
That was Gov. Wike, the Chief Executive of oil-rich Rivers State—my home state. A couple of days later, we were greeted with the news of demolition of two hotels perpertrated by the then no-nonsense Rivers honcho. Present at the site himself, he seemed to watch with fascination as the bulldozer razed down a fellow citizen’s property.
As is expected, this action sparked a furore amongst the citizenry. Many Nigerians have lashed out at him for what they described as ‘dictatorial’. And a few citizens have risen to Wike’s defence, describing the demolition as done in the best interest of Rivers people. Owners of the Prodest have secured advocates and human rights lawyers for themselves even though one threatens to bomb Rivers States if contacted by the hotelier. Human rights lawyer Falana describes Wike as becoming the ‘maker of the Law, accuser, witness, enforcer of the Law, the prosecutor and the Judge at the same time.’
But amidst the vitriol and hate that this seems to incur, it is imperative to ask: Does anyone think Wike is wicked? Who hasn’t known the man Wike and his rambunctious ego? Who isn’t aware of Wike’s earnest desire to save Rivers’ people from the ‘evil clutches’ of Abuja forces, even to the point of martyrdom?
Undoubtedly, this is not the most controversial action the man Wike has taken as governor. Unarguably too, we know that Wike is capable of many things. He who has transformed terrorists to traditional rulers and, in turn, terrorized traditional rulers for failing to move about with their staff of office. Hey, stop shaking your head! (You remember?)
There was an alarming rate of community transmission of the virus. To curtail the spread, the federal government placed total lockdown down in some states which eventually became the new normal for everyone. To ease the lockdown, the federal government placed a nationwide curfew between the hours of 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. (apparently the virus struts the streets only at night). The Rivers State COVID-19 Containment law also prohibits social gatherings and all forms of non-essential business activities. Wike’s own Executive Order also specifically asked hotels to remain closed for the moment.
Prodest hotel was reported to be in operation despite Wike’s order, housing some not-so-nice night ladies. Reportedly, too, the hotels too hosted parties during which there were suspected instances of touching and twerking and tumbling of humans on humans against the ‘no touching’ and social distance COVID-19 global fiat. Simply put, there was a flagrant breach of the laws and an outright attempt to jeopardize the lives of other well-meaning Nigerians resident in the locality. In a report backed with photographic evidence, the hotel owners were also alleged by the Rivers State Government to have attacked the government’s taskforce that went to initially to seal up the hotel, leaving several badly injured.
Yes, everywhere in the world, there is the agitation for freedom. Freedom from this deadly monster that has grounded activities in the world and ripped the phenomenal nuances out of life. Freedom to breathe. Freedom from the dampness of used-and-resused facemasks; freedom from the long graying hours of boredom that threatens our sanity. Freedom from having to sit idly at home only to be mocked by a government giving ‘pittance in the name of palliatives’ as rightly put by Sam Omatseye.
In the US, armed protesters had marched on the streets of Michigan calling for an end to the lockdown, and surprisingly, they earned the title ‘Very nice people’ by President Trump. Also, in the US, a fellow had threatened ‘to literarily eat his own neighbours’ if the lockdown persisted. By operating against the lockdown order, the hoteliers had equally registered their rebellion and joined the masses to proclaim ‘freedom!’
Nevertheless, those who criticized Gov. Wike’s demolition of the hotel said they did so mostly for the concerns of the many workers who have been obviously thrown out of job. Wike’s critics think empathy should have prevailed over the rule of law, and justice should have been tempered with mercy.
While I do not totally agree with Wike’s brutal demolition of the property and the unemployment that have risen from it, it is instructive to note that given the circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic, the right to life supersedes other rights. People must know that in a state, such as Rivers, where there is evidence of community spread, the operations of the hotelier puts every person’s life at risk. Moments such as these call for sacrifice from everyone. To contain the spread of Covid-19, individuals, corporate organisations and institutions must not only work with government to return things to normal but must be willing to make painful sacrifices that is phenomenal to ending this pandemic.