Dear Abba Kyari, chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, I have not come to gloat over your affliction by coronavirus (COVID-19); I have come to sympathise with you and to wish you strength as you pull through this deadly infection. But I will not express my sympathies without some censuring.
Really, I believe coronavirus is an inevitable doom. It has been suggested by some health experts that the disease could spread to as much as 60 percent of the world’s population – if it spirals out of control.
‘’The coronavirus epidemic could spread to about two-thirds of the world’s population if it cannot be controlled,’’ reports The Guardian UK quoting Hong Kong’s leading public health epidemiologist.
We can only do what we can not to get infected. But this virus has shown itself to be indiscriminate of race, class or gender. It could be any of us today or tomorrow. None is impregnable to this lethal enemy. Top politicians, celebrities, and different people across the world have been afflicted. So, why do some of us gloat because someone in government is stricken by this plague?
I do sympathise with Kyari and I consider the revelry over his affliction by certain people in poor taste. I understand some persons may have an axe to grind with him based on the assumption that he is the hand steering the wheel of the Buhari administration into the doldrums, but carousing over the misfortune of anyone does not speak better of us. How are we different from maniacs when we celebrate the agonies of other people? Are we ourselves immune to this disease?
Kyari contracted this virus while on an official assignment. Alongside Sale Mamman, minister of power, he had attended a meeting in Germany with officials of Siemens to discuss issues relating to the Nigerian power sector. After returning from the trip he had himself tested – though he showed no symptoms. This shows responsibility on the path of the chief of staff at a time when some members of the elite have willed to be irresponsible.
Permit me to take a detour from this letter.
A memo Kyari wrote to the leadership of the national assembly on how federal lawmakers returning from abroad were evading screening had gone viral earlier on Monday. It was reported that 35 senators had not complied with the procedure to determine their coronavirus status.
The senators were said to have returned from a trip to the United Kingdom (UK), where they attended a Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) seminar in London, last week. And that they refused to subject themselves to COVID-19 screening at the airports. This is utterly irresponsible and a contemptible display of elite arrogance. It is why the spread of this virus in the country has the prospects of becoming grimmer than Italy’s.
On Monday, Atiku Abubakar, former vice-president, revealed that one of his sons is plagued by COVID-19. And as suspected there was roistering in some quarters as if the disease only afflicts the rich. Really, at this time, we must be compassionate and attuned to our humanity. The promiscuous nature of this affliction should sober us up.
Nevertheless, I believe the Buhari administration of which Kyari is a key part of should have done more to protect the country from the spread of this infection.
At the time when countries across Africa were taking measures to contain the diffusion of the disease into their territories, Nigeria did nothing. There was nothing on the ground even while the minister of health was bragging that we could tame this beast. The isolation centre in the federal capital territory (FCT) was not ready, and there were no isolation units across the states. A 70-year-old woman suspected to have COVID-19 in Enugu was dumped in a dungeon at a hospital where she reportedly died from poor treatment – even though she tested negative for the virus posthumously.
As a matter of fact, it appears we waited to be afflicted before preparing to contain disease — while it was ravaging countries across the world. The danger was ominous but we were not pre-emptive.
And while Chad and a few other countries banned flights into their areas when they envisioned this threat, Nigeria slumbered even while citizens demanded immediate restrictive action. It has been suggested that the reason for this was insular – to allow the return of the children, families and cronies of some members of the elite – an action which now puts everyone in jeopardy.
But again, I believe restricting flights from high-risk countries could have attenuated, not eliminate the threat. Most of the host of the virus are Nigerians returning from abroad, and it is illegal to stop them from returning to their own country. That will be a breach of their fundamental rights as citizens of Nigeria.
But Dear Kyari, I really pray you to survive this affliction. I believe you will. And you will. When you come around, push for deliberate action on and sustained investments in the country’s parlous health sector. This should be an epiphany for us all. When it comes down to it; home is home. We must build Nigeria for Nigerians.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist