Afraid that deadly Covid-19 variants might find their way into Nigeria – if they have not already done so in Osun and Edo States according to a report – Nigeria has reimposed restrictions akin to last year’s measures in order to avert the tragic Indian-scale recrudescence. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has not confirmed the existence of the mutant Indian, Brazilian and Turkish variants, but preferring to err on the side of caution, it has revived measures put in place towards the end of last year. Curfews have been revived, religious centres are not to exceed 50 percent capacity, wearing of masks remain mandatory, gyms and recreational facilities remain shut, wedding receptions and parties should not exceed 50 people, and social distancing must be adhered to, among other measures.
At the best of times, as the Presidential Steering Committee on Covid-19 has indicated, compliance was only fairly satisfactory, and the law enforcement agencies have had a herculean time policing the measures. Consequently, after months of laxity and complacency, including a populace that had become indifferent, it will be difficult to reimpose these measures or guarantee satisfactory compliance.
There have been no reliable statistics of the economic losses sustained by Nigeria during past restrictions and lockdown, except of course the recession Nigeria slipped back into last year. That experience, assuming a fairly accurate picture of what happened could be painted, would have informed future measures and helped the government plan the policing of new restrictions. The country is just struggling out of a recession, while the recovery remains fragile, according to presidential economic advisers. Failure to synchronise the reimposed measures with the economic realities on ground might yet push the country into another recession or, worse, produce the social backlash that saw the country explode into a paroxysm of rage and violence. The society is already fraying at the edges because of the ubiquitousness of violent crimes such as kidnapping and insurgency, much of these caused by poverty and alienation. Adding another round of restrictions, with their dire economic implications, could give fillip to the seething revolt plaguing the country.
Policing last year’s restrictions and lockdown as well as relieving the economic pains they caused were inexpertly done, leading to widespread hunger and poverty. There were allegations that the reliefs were unprofessionally and incompetently distributed, with some critics even suggesting that they were skewed in favour of certain regions. There are no indications that lessons were learnt or that a review of the distribution of reliefs was attempted. No blames were apportioned, and no one was disciplined for inefficiency or incompetence. Not only is the country poorer now than it was last year, with anxiety being expressed over whether salaries of public workers would be paid in the coming months, nothing suggests that the country has planned for a reoccurrence of the pandemic nor put in place better and more coherent efforts to palliate the pains certain to proceed from new restrictions.
The problem is not that restrictions are uncalled for. They are necessary, if the Indian tragedy is to be averted. Indeed if the Indian Covid-19 crisis should be replicated in Nigeria, its fragile democracy and widespread discontent may just rend the national fabric. The government is, therefore, right to think futuristically about the pandemic, and to put anticipatory measures in place to prevent catastrophe. The problem, however, is that with a struggling economy that limits just how significantly the government can palliate the people’s distress, and with incompetent administrators saddled with distributing the palliatives, not to talk of the government’s inability to emplace plans that weave the measures, the economy, and social programmes together, Nigeria may again be poised on the brink of disaster. The reimposed restrictions may compound the people’s woes, worsen poverty, and encourage criminal ventures. Unable so far to stanch the flow of blood consequent upon insurgency and abductions, there is no proof that a worsening of crime would not lead to more anxiety and panic.
The restrictions are unavoidable; but the only way the nation’s increasingly numerous poor can tolerate the measures is to flout them and hope that the law enforcement agencies would execute nuanced policing that takes cognizance of reality. It is also urgent that the government should assemble tested administrators, without deference to parochial interests, to take charge of palliating the restrictions. There is no indication that the government intends to go beyond just announcing new restrictions. They should, if they are not to court disaster. It will be costly to assume that one way or the other, the people would cope. No, they are already pushed to the end of their tethers. They won’t cope, not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t. They lack the means to tolerate new measures.
Sadly, the country has boxed itself into a corner, seeing how horribly they are faced with many dilemmas at the same time. An Indian-scale pandemic tragedy will push the country over the precipice. Averting that implies that new restrictions must be put in place. But weighed down by a costly government inimical to peace and growth, the government has been unable to muster the resources to remedy or forestall the coming danger. And if they take the pandemic ham-fistedly, they may make the Indian-type tragedy inevitable. The government is in a bind. Their best hope is that current countermeasures to insurgency and kidnapping should succeed quickly, that the economy should sustain a steady recovery, that the law enforcement agencies be restrained in enforcing restrictions, and that the deadly Covid-19 variant meet its waterloo in Nigeria as it did last year.
Herdsmen rampage: juju to the rescue
No one can fail to notice the refuge ethnic activists have taken in juju (native black magic) in their fight against herdsmen rampage in many states in southern Nigeria. Before setting out to ward of the invasion of herdsmen, the activists visit local juju shrines, deck themselves in specially attires festooned with native accoutrements including cowries, miniature gourds, etc. The activists believe these would make them bullet-proof, enable them to command or hypnotise herdsmen to surrender their weapons, and generally strike fear into the hearts of the enemy and give victory in skirmishes with law enforcement agents. No one has established to what extent juju has proved efficacious in battle, despite fanciful stories of its potency.
Nigerian history is replete with storied charm usage by militias and even regular troops, and Christians and Muslims have not totally discountenanced its potency, sometimes even casting longing eyes at it. The ordinary Nigerian, partly based on oral tradition passed down to him, believes juju, reposes confidence in it, and recounts historical anecdotes of great battles in which powerful warlords and military commanders displayed versatility in appearing and disappearing at will or defying bullets. That history has now caught up with ethnic champions, with Yoruba activists like Sunday Igboho and his supporters proudly boasting of juju, recounting stories of lightning killing herds of cattle still engaged in open grazing, and the late Ikonso Don, an Eastern Nigeria Security Network (ESN) activist, posing for photographs in shrines.
Whether juju can stand the science of guns, RPGs, machine guns, artillery pieces, fighter jets’ strafing runs and bombing sorties remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether whenever science confronts juju, the outcome could ever be in doubt. The pre-colonial era is replete with wars where juju was deployed and rhapsodized. But it is often forgotten that the same juju proved impotent against the white man’s guns and tactics thus opening up the country to colonialism and reducing famous warlords decked with juju to jellies.