My family was among the first to leave Lagos immediately the military government annulled the presidential elections in June1993. My father feared war was looming, herded us back to our village in the south-east of Nigeria and moved his business to Portharcourt. Many Igbo families did the same thing. They felt the nation was at the brink of war and didn’t want to get caught in the middle of a war they believed was between the Hausas and Yorubas. To this day, Nigeria is still deeply divided along tribal lines. The Biafran war happened over 50 years ago but many people have refused to forget.
Many of us remember a parent or grandparent traumatised by the Nigerian civil war — still disposed to stocking up food, hoarding things. Forever altered by hardship, shortage, fear.
My aunts recall trekking from Calabar to Asaba during the war. But with COVID 19 its different type of war. Instead of running it best to stay locked in.
We, sadly, will be the generation scarred by the disturbing experience of a pandemic. Shaped by global lockdowns, #stayathome or lose your life, empty supermarket isles, tissue paper, fear fueled by gruesome stories, of dying alone. And the dreaded African misfortune of the dead body never coming home to loved ones to be laid to rest.
The month of March was fraught with depressing news and felt more like a year than a month and made me remember how my father would frantically stock up on staple foods, especially salt at any slightest news of unrest or even an industrial strike. By the middle of the week, I was prepared to follow in his footsteps by checking my pantry for what needed replenishment. Need I say that I fear starvation more than the dreaded virus.
I had started the week cautious but not afraid, washing my hands and sanitizing. However, as Nigeria recorded new cases of coronavirus daily, I couldn’t remain as calm as I would have loved. Every time I told people not to panic, I felt like a fraud.
On Thursday 19th March I get a WhatsApp message from children’s school WhatsApp group they inform parents of the Lagos state government’s decision to shut down schools. This sparked comments from parents and a free flow of fearful messages.
A few moments later, I get a call from my mum; she suggested my children who stayed with her after school now to stay in one place; my place. I don’t blame her, older people are more vulnerable, according to Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) This first preliminary description of outcomes among patients with COVID-19 in the United States shows that fatality was highest in persons aged ≥85, ranging from 10% to 27%, followed by 3% to 11% among persons aged 65–84 years, 1% to 3% among persons aged 55–64 years, <1% among persons aged 20–54 years, and no fatalities among persons aged ≤19 years.
Before COVID-19 my mum was the tireless, ever-dependable grandma, did not debate terms and conditions with me. However, this past week introduced to us our present reality. Though, we may need more time to adjust to not being able to touch people when talking (an annoying but characteristic trait of Nigerians) hug random strangers, visit friends or welcome visitors is among many things that made last week seem like a tough year. If you ask me, I will say the Coronavirus officially hit Nigeria last week.
Since it was first detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019, coronavirus (COVID-19) has ravaged through the world with a social and economic impact that will reverberate for years. In Nigeria, the hot weather that many believed would protect us from the virus, has proved to not be of much help, From Monday, there was a steady rise in the number of cases and even the most obtuse people paid attention.
By Thursday evening, the internet was awash with corona updates. Nothing was newsworthy if it wasn’t COVID-19 related. People were sharing as much helpful yet alarming information as possible. Even members of my house fellowship WhatsApp group were sharing frightful news, accompanied by words of prayer and faith.
By Friday morning, shopping lists and stocking up tips topped the list of sharable content in many WhatsApp groups. I swung into full panic mode when a friend who lives in the US posted on Instagram that she could not get water for two weeks. She shared pictures of herself waiting for on a long queue to buy water as early as 6 am. This was all I needed to go on a panic buying spree. By Saturday when I was stocking up on everything from groundnuts to acne medication.
Among our present realities is the work from a home route that COVID-19 forces many companies to take especially for Nigerian businesses that are not keen on managing remote teams. Also, who would have thought we could ever ask churches to not close, and save for a few gatherings that still held, people promptly complied.
We all expected this calibration, an event that will jolt us all, but no one thought it will come in the form of a pandemic. We’re each coping with the loss of normalcy, but some of us(me) are freaking out.