There is, the poet says, a soul of goodness in things evil. The world is contending with perhaps its greatest evil this century. COVID-19 is evil. It surpasses sin in all its lurid colours. The virus is not only a serious global health challenge that has put many world leaders to the test by taxing their capacity to lead their people in front rather than from the sweet and somnolent side of power but it is also an unfathomable social challenge for individuals and families by making new rules on physical relationship. It is likely to turn out to be the greatest mind boggling economic challenge the world might experience in this decade with implications for the global economy this century. No small challenge.
In addition to worrying about surviving this pandemic, I suspect that national economic planners are beginning to worry too about the state of the global economy in the wake of the defeat of the virus. It would not be in a pretty shape, make no mistake. It would be worse for countries whose economies have had problems with finding a firm footing in the shifting sands of a social science that has a bad attitude and a capacity to disappoint experts and make them look inept.
Economic ruination stares individuals and nations in the face. Economic planners need to juggle the maths of the post pandemic survival and give the rest of us some hope that when this evil wind blows off the land into the sea or wherever, we could still pick up the pieces of our economic lives and move on, even if with a limp.
It seems patently foolish, jocular even, to talk of anyone finding a soul of goodness in this global evil that has gripped rich and poor nations alike and brought them down on their knees. But every evil that has befallen mankind has helped in one way or the other to advance the course of human progress and development. This too would not be different. Evil is thoroughly unwanted but it is a challenge. Life is all about tackling challenges. Without them, growth and development would be impossible in all human societies. So, let us lighten up a bit in this darkness and look, if we can see through the darkness, on the bright side of the challenge of COVID-19. I think it is possible to see a soul of goodness in the challenges it has thrown to world leaders and medical researchers and scientists.
To begin with, this is the first time a health challenge in our country has not seen the well-heeled hop into their private jets and head into foreign countries with developed health delivery systems capable of rescuing the sick from the jaws of death. They leave and they leave the toiling masses here at the mercy of public hospitals that remain mere consulting clinics and can only boast of out-of-stock drugs. There is no safe health haven in this pandemic. The stay-at-home order is forced on the rich because the citizens of those countries they normally run to are dying in their hundreds too from this strange virus in its relentless drive to cut down national populations.
Here is the soul of goodness in this. Our leaders would be forced to accept that the option of running abroad for health care is no longer much of an option. The only reasonable option is to put our health delivery system right to serve the rich and the poor. I am not naïve enough to put too much hope in that but I believe that leaders do not usually ignore challenges. Their response might be essentially political and designed for media sound bites but whatever response we get here would be better than the arrogant insouciance that has attended our health delivery system these many years. We may, indeed, look back to these times in the future and see that COVID-19 did for us what baskets of political promises failed to do all these years by giving us first class medical facilities to our medical tourism in India.
Crises make leaders just as they expose the incompetence of some others who lead without leading. Two men have so far risen from the darkness of the coronavirus to give us hope that our country is not cursed with mediocre leaders and professionals. There are bright stars in this dark firmament too, apparently. A national crisis, such as this, throws them up.
Babajide Sanwo-Olu, governor of Lagos Stat, is my first man here. He rose up to the challenges of the virus and immediately took a series of sensible, proactive and reactive steps to help save lives, precious lives. He leads and his fellow state governors follow. His constant briefing of the people on the latest situation and his measured response to it re-assures the people that he is concerned enough about the safety of their lives to lose his sleep that they might sleep. He is the hero among our political leaders today.
My second man in these challenging times is Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, director-general of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, a man in whom President Buhari is well pleased too. His immediate response to the virus and the steps that must be taken to contain its spread was professional, informed and level-headed. He helped to save the country from the crisis of a panic situation brought about by fear, ignorance and misleading information from exploitative quacks.
On the lighter side, let me give you some intriguing instances of those who have found a soul of goodness in the coronavirus evil. Here in Lagos, the police were instructed to release accused petty criminals from their holding pens to help reduce the spread of the virus. For them, coronavirus must be a godsend. Freedom came for them in a miraculous way. God is good.
In the US, some states have freed some prisoners and advised them to go home and serve their sentences. This must be a first in that country and indeed, anywhere in the world. For the freed prisoners, there is a soul of goodness in this evil called COVID-19. If, in the end, it impresses upon the authorities the wisdom of prisoners serving their time at home, it would have provided one good solution to prison congestion, not only in God’s own country but in the rest of the world too. If you have a uniformed prison living next door, it would help to reduce your fear of criminals and prisons.
In Abuja prostitutes have the presence of mind to serve their johns notice that they too are locking down. I think it is a good thing that they decided not to exploit this lockdown situation with its inescapable idleness and personal tension that would naturally seek some release in the hands of professional care givers. Their consideration for the health of their johns is a soul of goodness in this evil virus. At least, they have demonstrated a sense of social responsibility in their trade. After all, it is the oldest profession in the world. It should have garnered some wisdom by now.
The lockdown means that we have become home-bound husbands and wives. Staying at home is not as easy as you might think. Think of the children dragging you out of bed just when you are in the process of receiving the key to your new state of the art car – in your dream, of course. But look on the bright side. It is time for family reunion in a very special way. Residents of Abuja, Lagos and Ogun are collectively exposed to the family joy, tension and frustrations of staying at home in one fell swoop. It is possible that some of us may emerge from the lockdown with added flesh around the middle as a result of suppressing their frustration with bowls of pounded yam or eba or tuwo or fufu. It is also possible that some of us would lose weight from being subjected to hours of daily nagging. But look on the bright side.
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