By Felix Oboagwina
I once personally witnessed him treat and revive the lifeless kidneys of a patient recommended for dialysis. And times like this make me miss Dr. Frederick Fasehun, who died on December 1, 2018 at the age of 83. Many will remember him for founding the controversial Yoruba socio-cultural group, the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC), but only a few know him as a quintessential medical doctor. Africa’s first Acupuncturist, the renowned Scottish-trained doctor won a United Nations scholarship to study the Chinese art of Acupuncture in 1977.
Whenever news headlines proclaimed the death of prominent Nigerians who travelled out on medical tourism but died abroad, Fasehun often told me: “Felix, our rich men like to rush abroad to doctors with whom we studied and whom we beat in the medical school right in their own countries. Nigerian medical students outperform these whites academically and practically.”
Place the survival rate of COVID-19 patients undergoing treatment in Nigeria side by side that of those developed countries, then you find that the old man’s hypothesis holds water.
Abroad, the body count climbs skywards, as COVID-19 patients die by the minute. Infection has grossed over 1 million worldwide with the number of deaths inching past the 75,600 needlepoint. The highest total of 1,344 deaths were reported on Saturday alone in the US, whose 10,530 total deaths on Tuesday from 367,776 infected victims surpass the 3,331 in China the original trigger point of the mysterious ailment. In Italy, deaths increased to 16,523 on Tuesday and 13,798 in Spain.
Conversely, Nigeria appears to wield the magic wand in COVID-19 treatment –only five fatalities from 238 infections at the weekend. These locally deceased, on the aggregate, failed to declare their authentic foreign travelogue, leading to misdiagnosis and consequent death. Also, virtually all the dead had previous histories of terminal ailments and not a single one of them died in the quarantine facilities operated by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
Abroad too, over 100 doctors have died on the frontline. Italy has lost the highest number, 66 doctors, although other advanced countries from China to UK, France and US have also taken a hit in medical practitioners’ death. Oppositely, COVID-19 has not cost the life of a single Nigerian doctor here in Nigeria. Our 2014 Ebola experience appears to have given us rehearsals well ahead of COVID-19. That is the good news.
However, let’s hear the bad news. Like we have done in fighting terrorism we have packed the bus. Like a football team playing defensively, the country’s efforts in fighting this scourge have been mostly defensive. Our anti-Boko Haram (BH) and anti-terrorism tactics appear wrapped around waiting for the enemy to attack with blazing guns and then our boys launch a counter-attack in response. The Military high command even came up with that ridiculous idea of a so-called “super-camp” that saw the Nigerian Army abandoning previously won territories in the North East to Boko Haram (BH), which allowed the renegades to return there to plant their flags and subsequently launch devastating attacks against our boys. It is not much different in the fight against bandits and killer Fulani herdsmen.
And that much has reflected in the quantum of publicity materials and policies in circulation against COVID-19 in Nigeria. Defensive and preventive, they all are. Hand washing. Hand sanitisers. Face masking. Social distancing. Locking down. Borders shutting. Each connotes a wait-for-it tactic.
All the measures seem to gloss over one fact. COVID-19 is an imported ailment. It is not native here. Its home is China. Just like during Ebola, COVID-19 index cases have been Nigerians and foreigners landing in this country, returnees from abroad. It informs why President Muhammadu Buhari is being blamed for failing to shut out international travellers early enough and ordering their mandatory quarantine, a policy Ghana and other nations embraced much earlier to checkmate the pandemic.
Ostensibly to prevent its spread, Nigeria currently has an estimated 50 percent of its 200 million people off the streets. In this we are doing what the rest of the world is doing. But is this all it takes?
Where are the palliatives? The Federal Government that proved incapable of catering for its Boko Haram and killer Fulani Herdsmen-induced 2.5 millions IDPs proved a woeful failure in providing palliatives for people clamped into a lockdown in Lagos, Ogun and Abuja, just three “states” out of “37.” The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) disappeared from the radar as it has done with insurgency IDPs. Lagos State, assisted with N10 billion from the Federal Government’s intervention fund, ridiculed itself with its intervention efforts. Imagine sending three bread loaves worth N200 and two sachet of tomato puree to over 100 families in some streets, each family having at least four to six members! This is a state whose GDP of $90 billion and 30 million people makes it Africa’s fifth largest economy. How can you lock down such a population, with its majority poor, without providing adequate social welfare? Where did Information Minister Lai Mohammed’s N100 billion palliative funds go to, money he said went from the government purse since the lockdown began 10 days ago? To where? People are already sniffing lies and graft incorporated, just like in the huge BH budget.
President Buhari now knows to lock our land borders, airports and seaports against COVID-19 carriers. Yet people cannot forget that the same President last December unilaterally announced point-of-entry visas for Africans travelling to Nigeria. Not a few patriots highlighted the irony and contradiction for a country fighting insurgency. He continues to turn deaf fears to outcries that the policy would open up Nigeria to the foot soldiers of banditry, BH and killer herdsmen designated by the UN as the world’s fourth worst terrorist group. The irony comes from government appearing to be concerned about death by a virus while ignoring death dispensed by Fulani herdsmen and bandits.
One sneaky contributor said on NAIRALAND (the faceless interactive internet blog): “Boko Haram (and) Fulani herdsmen have killed more than Coronavirus. Nobody lockdown anywhere; because of one common cough and catarrh everybody is now panicking and hiding.” For such people, like most Nigerians, death is death, whether by a microscopic virus or by violent terrorists.
Question is: Will the fight against COVID-19 be won by mere lockdowns, face masks and isolation centres?
Check out this scenario. Assuming that 1 percent of Nigeria’s population, 2 million people, should get infected, can we cope? Let’s do the maths. WHO places the ratio of Nigerian hospitals’ bed-spaces to sick-people at about 5:10,000, meaning that for 10,000 potential patients, our about 25,000 hospitals nationwide can only provide five beds. In the case of an all-out COVID-19 epidemic, the remaining 9,995 people should “go and die.” That would come to about 99.95 fatalities. Less than .1 percent (0.05 percent actually) would stand a chance of receiving treatment in the case of an all-out, full-scale Coronavirus outbreak in Nigeria. Is this not the time to repent from past indiscretions? Should we now not realise that hospitals matter than stadia and our collective survival will depend more on bed-spaces and ventilators than on airports? Do we realise that funds must go into constructing and equipping world-class hospitals? Should we just wait for this thunder to strike? That is our present style! This is the same style we are employing against BH.
Just over the weekend, the Chadian army taught our Generals the way the BH war ought to go. Pained by the previous week’s killing of 90 soldiers, Chadian troops invaded the enemy’s territory. They returned victorious. The spoils of war and the prisoners of war were massive. What this does to troop morale is enormous. That same week Nigeria lost 47 soldiers, a loss the government hastened to sweep under the carpet. Yet Chad’s total budget per annum is about $1.3 billion. Comparatively, Nigeria’s Defence budget alone guzzled over $28 billion in the six years between 2013 and 2019. In 2018, Buhari signed off a special $1 billion to buy equipment to wage the BH war. Yet soldiers ceaselessly complain they suffer lack of bulletproof vests, night vision equipment, jamming guns and shortage of bullets. An embittered Nigerian General lost his command at the front after a viral video caught him echoing his men’s demand for equipment to prosecute the war and stop BH slaughtering our boys like flies. Bottom-line? More money does not translate to sure victory.
Currently, in the same spirit of throwing good money at death, the government through the CBN Governor has gone cap-in-hand to beg corporate Nigeria for donations to fight COVID-19. Under the Billionaire Businessman, Aliko Dangote, the COALITION AGAINST COVID-19 initiative eyes a target of N250 billion but has so far harvested N15 billion. Clearly unimpressed with the response, government purportedly plans to ask the National Assembly to suspend its emergency vacation and hurriedly convene to approve a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund.
Predictably, the N500 billion fund is unstoppable. The psychological atmosphere is just right, following politicians’ usual template: Create panic in the public and …wham… demand more money to tidy up things. After being locked away for so long to enforce social-distancing, people, especially the antagonistic Lagos-Abuja Press (and opposition in the Legislature) will want solutions at all costs. They will want the rhythm of their lives restored even if they must pay the high price of over $1.2 billion or N500 billion.
The same panic method came useful when government demanded a $1 billion bailout for Boko Haram in 2018. With the embarrassing pummelling and killing of our troops, the National Assembly quickly approved the sum. Ironically, up till last week, soldiers and field commanders still complain of inadequate and inferior weapons. Will the NA ever raise posers about where $1 billion went and why it has not translated to solving the BH problem and ending terrorism?
Bottom-line? Like the managers of BH funds have reputedly done, COVID-19 fund handlers may consider this as their own opportunity for a slice of the national cake. In the face of such a mentality, more money will not translate to defeating COVID-19.
The real success will come with robust investment in home-made remedies. What has been the magic behind the Lagos Coronavirus isolation centre’s 100 percent survival rate? How do we replicate it nationwide? Alternative medicine practitioners have spoken about a combination of leaves, barks, roots and bulbs from Dogonyaro (Neem) and other herbs. Some spoke of Shea Butter. Some spoke of Hydrooxidechloroquine.
All these home-grown hypotheses must be subjected to investigation by a sector that government and COVID-19 fund managers have so far ignored: Research and Development. The world over, the race is intense to develop a Coronavirus vaccine from scratch or from existing drugs. What is Nigeria doing in this direction?
Unfortunately, little or no mention has been made of money channelled to Nigerian researchers from the fast-rising ocean of donations. There has been no single reference to any stimulus package to facilitate research centres and laboratories to develop breakthrough vaccines or drugs against the ailment. No one has spoken of any collaborative bridge between doctors and researchers.
Adversity presents opportunity. Our virologists, scientists, researchers and alternative medicine practitioners, with government ploughing the requisite funds and equipment their way, can give the world the breakthrough solution needed for COVID-19. They have impeccable testimonials like the late Nigerian doctor who revived dead kidneys.
Oboagwina is a journalist and he writes from Lagos