COVID-19: Let’s Go Back To the Beginning, By ‘Tope Fasua

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The economic challenge is for us the greater challenge, because it cycles back to the other challenges… If the economy totally collapses, that is when we will supply the millions of dead bodies that have been demanded of us – because little ailments will become untreatable, malnutrition will drop our people’s remaining immunity against COVID and other diseases… Nigeria will do well to have a medium to long term vision, despite tackling the short term challenge that is COVID-19.

“Everyone in the citadel doubts everything. That is their job. 

But the tales of the long night can’t be pure fabrication. Too many similarities from unconnected sources.

In the citadel, we are the world’s memory, Samwell Tarly

Without us, men would be little better than dogs; don’t remember any meal but the last; can’t see forward to any, but the next.

And anytime you leave the house and shut the door, they howl, like you’re gone forever.

When Robert’s rebellion was raging, people thought the end was near; The end of the Targaryen Dynasty;

“How will we survive?”  When Aegon Targaryen turned his eyes westward, and flew his dragon to Bluewater Rush.

“The end is near! How will we survive?”

And thousands of years before then, during the long night, we forgive them thinking it was the end.

But it wasn’t. None of it was.

The Wall stood through it all.

And every winter that ever came, has ended.” – Archmaester, in Game of Thrones, Season 7

I came across this remarkable conversation watching my collection of Game of Thrones recently and it spoke to me. We live in a season of fear, when 90 per cent of the world have bought into the idea that we have to hide or else we all die. Some call it social distancing. We have granted unto governments around the world all of our rights, and retrieving them back will prove more herculean in some jurisdictions more than others. But every winter that has come, has also ended. Human beings have changed many things in the world. We are smart – well some are much smarter than others – but none can claim to be in total control of the earth and all its elements. The winter that has set upon us promises to be long and harsh. The night is also long and spooky. But the sun will shine in the morning. May we not die in despair, in hopelessness, in depression, in fear, in trepidation, especially for what we have not seen, which someone has described very vividly to us, and which we are barred from questioning, from doubting. Members of today’s Citadel must remember that we are the memories of the world, it’s very conscience, and humanity relies on our constructive interrogation, lest we all live lives that are lower than dogs.

Unpacking My Take On COVID-19

Given my experience in life in general, I have since learnt not to take most things on the surface. It is always great to triangulate information, to corroborate through two or more sources. And so, when the COVID-19 story broke, I had cause to do the same. I ferreted for information, given that there were equivocations on the part of those at the centre of it. It doesn’t matter if global agencies are at the centre of it all. Human beings run global agencies and antecedents show that human beings get up to all sorts. I was amazed at the use of fear by medical people to propel a medical issue. I asked questions and was told by some medics that that was the right thing to do; use fear. By training though, when someone tries to activate my emotions – especially fear or greed – my armour snaps in place. I started losing respect for science, and for those medical people. How can you say there was no escape from a disease? How can you ask people not to boost their immunities? Do we just crawl into a corner and die? If you say tens of millions of Africans will die, how can you ask them not to try anything that can help them? Are you also saying all the professors, PhDs and so on we have are useless? How did our ancestors survive before you showed up? Those and many more were questions swirling through my mind.

Bodies On the Streets of Africa

Melinda Gates wasn’t the first to say this. Her hubby had been repeating it. So, they sponsored a famous simulation just six weeks before this disease broke in China, in which they concluded that 65 million people will die in 18 months. Johns Hopkins University, which chaired the simulation, has had to issue a disclaimer on its website denying, albeit feebly, that that simulation does not have anything to do with what started six weeks later. Nothing at all, except that the name (new-coronavirus), the diagram, and much more were exactly the same. Our people usually say when the witch cries at night and the baby dies in the morning you know who to hold. Johns Hopkins may put up a brave face today but it is grossly embarrassed by being part of that event, which it may have considered a mere academic exercise. The World Health Organisation (WHO), Centre for Disease Control (CDC), and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were also there, alongside super corporations like Johnson & Johnson (which is one of the proposed vaccine suppliers), Lufthansa (which may now go under), Marriot (which, like other hotels is feeling much pains right now), and ANZ Bank, among others.

One thing that those who find my views grating at this point – some of who have called me names – will find hard to deny is that I have been right on the issue of the numbers of calamity. In Nigeria, at 11 people dead, 373 affected and 91 discharged as I write, we haven’t done badly, and it will not only be because of social distancing, isolation and what not, but there has to be other factors. Recently, as I took a walk, I saw members of one COVID TaskForce in yellow reflective jackets, stuffing six of themselves in a car on their way to work. No one wore masks. I also saw loads of Civil Defence personnel in the same conditions. I went to the market yesterday and most of our people interacted in the way they always have.

The market was still as dirty as it has always been. People milled around communally, to eat or to chat the way they always have. The culture shock demanded by COVID is turning out to be too much to ask. Africa’s casualty number has remained low, and this has become quite embarrassing to the ones who sponsored or participated in the simulation, such that they are making further postulations that millions will die here by the fall and winter. I found a couple of research articles online yesterday. Dalhatu et al (2012) writing in the Journal of Infectious Diseases about influenza viruses in Nigeria, stated that our flu season is between November and March of every year. It is possible that Nigeria has overcome the worst for this season. But I believe COVID will keep reoccurring, vaccine or no vaccine. The idea of vaccinating 7 billion people at once is flawed. For one, how do they access conflict zones, in Afghanistan, Kurds in Iraq and Turkey, Eastern Congo, Northern Burkina Faso, North East Nigeria, and parts of Niger and Chad that are under Boko Haram territory? And once you leave 100,000 people un-vaccinated somewhere, the model breaks down. We may be in for a long season of fear and blackmail. Other opinions and ideas must be brought on board and by all means.

I have placed bets that our people will not die by the millions, and well, for now, I am winning – even though regrettably there is no monetary value attached to those bets. My theory is that something inhibits the spread of COVID in Nigeria or, more accurately, the morbidity attached to it here. It may be our conditioning over decades, or that the way we treat flu is more proactive, or that we self-medicate, or that we have local remedies that work.

Bill Gates

He inserted himself in too deep in the whole issue. Granted he has given much charity to Africa but as I heard him talk, I could see someone with a few hinges missing. You will never know because he is rich. That someone has done well to Africa in the past doesn’t mean their intentions cannot be mad then next time, or perhaps that they can make grave mistakes. I don’t look for conspiracy theories on Gates, but I just listen to what he has to say and watch his body language. The first time I heard him speak when this COVID broke out, I concluded he was angry with Africa, Nigeria in particular. It could be that he is frustrated that he has spent much here with little results. Some of his funds were also serially embezzled, especially in Nigeria. But the more I listened to his subsequent interviews, the more alarmed I became. He is not just angry with the Nigerian government but with all of us. He can no longer stomach our tardiness. He is also angry with the way the world has turned out and will want to make some immediate changes. Nobody should underestimate the influence of a single man who in some quarters is known as the world’s most important doctor, even though he is not a medical doctor. His investments in health alone grants him the respect of global leaders. But also, everybody needs checks and balances at the end of the day. And it seems that with all the sponsored simulations and investments in vaccine companies, we are dealing with someone with insider information or a dangerous monopoly. His prognosis on Africa – delivered in between chuckles, smirks and smugness – is dire. At best he believes millions will die while we wait for 18 months for vaccines to be ready. And when ready, we have to get rich nations to sponsor the vaccines for us. In the interregnum between when the vaccines are ready (and he has invested in all the companies that would produce them), he believes countries like the USA should not allow people from Africa in, except if we can show a certificate (of vaccination), which will be introduced. I don’t know by whom.

The Value of Culture

You don’t have to agree with me on Gates’ power. However, he is being sought for his opinions on this more than anyone else on earth today – certainly more than any president. Billions tune in to hear what he has to say, and billions revere his every word. I used to, until this incidence. Now, I think something is off. In spite of his visits to Africa, is there any possibility he suffers from something we don’t know? What if? A mere OCD will do – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Those guys love their things to be in a certain way. They hate filth. They hate disorder. Gates is almost certainly borderline genius and most geniuses are a bit autistic, which also ties with OCD in a way. Anyhow, anyone can check the threads that run through his interviews. Just two days ago, it was an interview titled ‘The World Will Change Forever After Covid’, granted to the Editor-in-Chief of LinkedIn. Now, forever is a long time and I believe forever is too large to give away without negotiation, even in the face of a pandemic. What more? Gates says schools and factories may resume after a stretch of time, but he doesn’t see why restaurants should ever be full again. He sees no reason behind stadiums, and all those contact sports. Thousands of careers could be over in that realm. Forget about bars and nightclubs. Given his oversized influence on WHO and CDC, and of course every government in the world – especially in Africa – is Gates imposing his opinion on humanity? As I visited the local market here yesterday, suddenly I began to realize the importance of our culture, warts and all. I have proposed, that we try and seize the moment to achieve broad reforms, but we have to be wary of altogether dumping our cultures for what a single billionaire thinks is the only ideal way of living. In sociology, there are no perfect cultures. For example, the U.S. Democrats are supporting Gates and the WHO push, in a bid to get rid of Trump. But the last time they were there, they were pushing a global same-sex culture. Are we walking into a trap with this singularity of culture business? I see this as a chess game. We have to see the end from the beginning – or at least the middle. And we have to consider all sides of the arguments and all possibilities.  Gates has softened his rhetoric a little in the past week, due to criticisms, but intelligent people will see what he has achieved already

Dead Africans On the Street

Anyone can proffer anything they want actually, but when people make statement like: there will be dead bodies on the streets of Africa, it is time for Africans themselves to band together and do something. First, it is important to push that rhetoric away, else someone uses that as opportunity to do something crazy. But it is also important to organise ourselves around the things that matter, and use our own intelligence to try and solve our problems. As I have stated earlier, our solution here may not lie in ventilators and hospital beds and test kits. We could as well treat every case of bad flu as COVID-19 in Africa, but lean more on the therapeutic drugs (Chloroquine/Azithromycin, etc). We have no time here to slice and dice, like the Americans are doing, resisting drugs that many tests around the world have shown to be marginally effective. We must position ourselves to tackle this disease, first, from our homes, to the primary health care centres to the general hospitals and onwards. Every medical doctor in Nigeria must know what to do, and as much as possible get the right personal protective equipment for their work immediately – or improvise. This is not the time to rue our fate and complain about what we have not achieved in the past. This is not the time to abuse and curse government. It is not the time for politics. It is not the time to remember how useless the Nigerian Medical Association is, as some are doing. We have none other but our medical doctors, and our sitting government, at this time. We must make the most of them, and assist them where we can. I have placed bets that our people will not die by the millions, and well, for now, I am winning – even though regrettably there is no monetary value attached to those bets. My theory is that something inhibits the spread of COVID in Nigeria or, more accurately, the morbidity attached to it here. It may be our conditioning over decades, or that the way we treat flu is more proactive, or that we self-medicate, or that we have local remedies that work. For sure, every Nigerian knows that we are likely to have thousands of COVID-19 patients in Nigeria by now, many of whom escaped through the cracks in a society where body contact is rife. But we are not seeing unusual deaths in our communities arising from respiratory issues, at least not yet. In all these, millions of our people live in conditions that will shame COVID-19!  How can we help those environments without necessarily oppressing those hapless people?  Where is our policy on housing, environment, education, water, health and the things that really matter towards humanising our people? We must never let a disaster go to waste. Milton Friedman, a proponent of Disaster Capitalism, made it clear what nations can achieve in a time like this. I may not agree with all his postulations though.

The Science and the Data

Forgive me, but I never knew there was so much ambiguity in science. I used to think it was lawyers and economists who never agreed on anything within their fields. But with COVID, we non-medical people are thoroughly confused. So we have seen COVID morph from a disease transmitted by bats and non-transmissible among humans, to a super bug that transits among humans, transmits back to animals, stays on surfaces for days – some could even say weeks or forever – does not resist heat, hangs in the air for minutes, gets defecated in the toilet and hangs in the air for hours like the smell of poo, and now we hear that humans may have been transmitting COVID-19 through farting!  The science has morphed a lot and some humble scientists have admitted that a lot gets made up as we go along and learn some more. Fair enough.  But where I am from, there is a limit to which you can build masquerades if you don’t want people to resist it altogether. So, if we are supposed to be afraid of everything – remember the fear factor at the foundations of COVID – then we may choose to fear nothing. I watched one Hausa-speaking guy yesterday on WhatsApp wash his hands and drink the water, while hurling curses at COVID and the government. Nigerians are fatalistic. Hunger is one of our basest instincts, and diseases are secondary to some. Many have become very frustrated over time that they don’t scare easily. Our suburbs are bubbling with activities at night, though reduced from the normal levels. How many can the police hope to arrest?

The statistics bear some extra scrutiny. Some countries have not conducted many tests but have high fatalities. Yet others have conducted many tests with low fatalities. Australia has conducted over 370,000 tests with 63 deaths. Russia has conducted 1.6 million test with 198 deaths. United Arab Emirates, 648,000 tests, with 28 deaths. This means that clearly it may not be so fatal in some countries.

The science and the statistics still don’t jive. When I saw information that the U.S. may be dumping the flawed WHO model (similar to what Johns Hopkins/WHO/BMGF/CDC built in October 2019), I was happy. It may not be true but it will still come. There is something patently wrong with lumping up all sorts of deaths and calling them COVID-19 deaths just to achieve a large figure and continue scaring the world. As a fact, COVID could be said not to have achieved pandemic levels yet, or not to be as deadly as being touted, because usually the number of flu deaths should be netted off at the end. CDC records show that each year, between 250,000 and 600,000 people die of flu all over the world. COVID, despite the lumping up of figures, or the reliance on models with often crazy assumptions, has killed about 130,000 as I write. The number – according to the simulations – is meant to be at least 5 million by now, and eventually 65 million. An embarrassed Johns Hopkins University is trying to fight the fire. But some people look to Africa to supply the number. They say the many millions will come from here. It must never come from here. Look, if one million people will die in Nigeria, the rest of us will die from the stench and the infection. We cannot handle a million dead people. Not even 100,000 people. This is not 1912. However, luckily there are things we have today which we did not have in 1912. A much better education, communication and exposure for one. Access to sundry medicine as well. And I hope, a strong will to continue living. Even the ability to write something as strong as I have written today, was scarce in those day. I am not beholden to any white man and will stand up for my people any day.

The statistics bear some extra scrutiny. Some countries have not conducted many tests but have high fatalities. Yet others have conducted many tests with low fatalities. Australia has conducted over 370,000 tests with 63 deaths. Russia has conducted 1.6 million test with 198 deaths. United Arab Emirates, 648,000 tests, with 28 deaths. This means that clearly it may not be so fatal in some countries. But a country like France conducted 334,000 tests with over 16,000 deaths, Ecuador, 25,000 tests with 369 deaths (curiously it is this same Ecuador that is being used as example of dead bodies on the streets. Are they unable to bury 369 people?). Algeria has only performed 3,400 tests but has 326 people dead. South Africa has conducted 82,000 tests but has incurred 27 fatalities. The figures swing wildly, with more deaths occurring in developed countries with very advanced health systems. Are they mismanaging peoples’ health? Or are they reporting large figures just to gain people’s attention? Something is certainly amiss. Those who know how to juggle figures are free to look up the stats at worldometers.

The Economy Is Deadlier

From Agege to Otta in Lagos and Ogun State, we have seen young boys on the streets, robbing en masse in broad daylight and at night in a new phenomenon of urban banditry. Boko Haram started just like that before it became a monster. Once young boys taste blood, they hardly go back. These boys had been in society, often neglected or ignored. Their typical day is spent in dreamy stupor, from drugs and alcohol. Their nights even in more stupor in different bars and clubs. Nigeria does not have a very bad drug problem though, compared to some other places I have been to. But we have a problem. The population of those boys is a hard thing to control. We have also seen looting, not only by these cult boys, but by ordinary citizens, many of them children. A truck of bread or rice. Anything is up for grabs. We have seen families scooping palm oil from the gutters. We seem to have ignored for too long, just how quickly poverty can get desperate and grating in Nigeria. Like elsewhere in the world, most Nigerians live from hand to mouth. Perhaps a bit more than elsewhere. However, in Nigeria, there are no elaborate credit schemes that can allow you to buy whatever you want, no government to get your back if you are out of a job, and the dependency from extended families means that the little you have is spread thin, rendering you the lucky worker, poor. Until you are laid off that is. Right now, millions of Nigerians who work in any of the 41 million MSMEs in Nigeria are as good as sacked. I tried to convince a friend the other day to at least keep his staff for one more month. He said he will pay them off for one week (of March) and send them away. Many of such people, earning anything like N30,000 to N90,000 monthly, will fall straight into food poverty after the first month. If people who earn more, say N500,000 monthly, are unable to save (except if corrupt by doing deals), how much more these kinds of people. Then there are those who have been living on the fringes of life from time immemorial; those who didn’t complete their education, or are otherwise unlucky. Nigeria has millions of those, whom we must never ignore.

The economic challenge is for us the greater challenge, because it cycles back to the other challenges. A broke nation is unable to take advantage of a crisis such as this, except she gets very ingenuous, and very quickly too. A collapsed economy is unable to raise taxes, or even obtain liquidity from her natural resources.  Where is our crude oil today?  If the economy totally collapses, that is when we will supply the millions of dead bodies that have been demanded of us – because little ailments will become untreatable, malnutrition will drop our people’s remaining immunity against COVID and other diseases, and general societal malaise will have us running and bumping into each other, creating casualties along the way. Nigeria will do well to have a medium to long term vision, despite tackling the short term challenge that is COVID-19. Only the strong survive, only the wise excel… only the lonely, die slowly – MC Lite.

‘Tope Fasua, an economist, author, blogger, entrepreneur, and recent presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), can be reached through topsyfash@yahoo.com.

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