In our series of letters from African writers, the Nigerian novelist Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani reflects on the different attitudes of the rich and the poor towards the coronavirus.
Many Nigerians welcome the fact that Covid-19 targets primarily the country’s elite, particularly politicians, despite warnings that potentially fatal respiratory disease could also affect the poor.
The Nigeria Center for Disease Control has registered more than 600 cases since the end of February – most of those who were abroad and those with whom they interacted after returning to the most populous state in Africa , which has about 200 inhabitants. million.
Nigeria’s list of people who have been or died from Covid-19 so far includes President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief of staff, politicians, heads of government agencies, former ambassadors and their aides or relatives .
These are the kind of people who normally fly to the UK, Germany or the United States at the slightest headache because Nigeria’s public hospitals are poorly funded, dilapidated and lack adequate equipment.
Population of about 200 m
50%live in extreme poverty
70%have no drinking water and sanitation
69%city dwellers live in slums
49%children under the age of five are stunted, overweight, or overweight
23%of the workforce is unemployed
Source: World Bank, UN, Nigerian government and USAid
The 2020 government budget allocates only about 4.5% of health spending, less than the 15% target that the African Union set for governments in 2001.
Doctors frequently strike for wages not paid for months.
Many of them seize any opportunity to work abroad – nearly 2,000 doctors from the UK National Health Service are qualified in Nigeria, according to a report presented to the British Parliament last year.
Nigerians spent more than $ 1 billion ($ 800 million) on treatment in hospitals abroad in 2013.
President Buhari vowed to end “medical tourism” when he took power in 2015, but he himself spent more than four months in London in 2017 seeking treatment for an undisclosed illness, and then returning in the British capital for additional care.
But with the borders closed and each country haunted by its own Covid-19 nightmare, the great men and women of Nigeria are now forced to use their country’s hospitals, causing a tide of taunts and jokes.
“It’s your punishment for not investing in your country’s health care system,” some say.
“I thought our hospitals weren’t good enough for you,” say others.
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Some Nigerians also hoped that the “selectivity” of the virus could be the divine way to bring about change in their government.
They clung to rumors that Mr. Buhari, 72, had been infected by his chief of staff and was seriously ill with a ventilator.
The least wicked people wrapped their great hope in a prayer: “May the will of God be done.” “
“God fired fast”
Outraged by expressions of ill-will towards his boss, presidential spokesperson Femi Adesina said, “Why do some people talk about nothing but evil? misinformation.
“But God pulled a quick shot on them. He brought the president back, just like the rain. Haven’t they learned their lessons? “
The rumors finally ended after Mr. Buhari – in good health – was filmed during a meeting with senior health officials.
Covid-19 is certainly an area where the nation cannot afford equality
A day later, on March 29, Mr. Buhari appeared on television and ordered a 14-day foreclosure of the Nigerian Lagos shopping center, neighboring Ogun state and the capital Abuja, giving their 30 million residents only 24 hours to prepare to stay at home. .
Buhari later extended the lockout for two weeks, adding to fears about how the poor will survive in their overcrowded neighborhoods, without water, electricity and little food.
But all the jubilations could end quickly.
Covid-19 could spread more quickly beyond the elites, who could pass it on to their following of “servants” – drivers, cooks, nannies and security guards, among others – who in turn could infect their families and neighbors in slums found in every big city.
“Not for the wealthy alone”
Social distancing and self-isolation in a typical Nigerian slum are impossible.
Thirty families often enter a building, sharing the same bathroom and the same toilet. The potential disaster is unimaginable.
As Ogun Governor Dapo Abiodun said during the launch on March 30 of a Covid-19 isolation center in its state: “Contrary to misconception, this virus is not reserved to the wealthy or the elite. Everyone is in danger ”.
So while the lockdown causes a lot of inconvenience and hardship to all Nigerians, especially the poor, it helps maintain the vast gulf that exists in society, thereby preventing those at the top from transmitting the virus to those bottom.
Nigeria’s blatant inequality has often been rightly criticized, but the spread of Covid-19 is certainly an area where the nation cannot afford to have equality.
More letters from Africa:
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