SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the current pandemic that has its knee on the world’s neck, may not have scythed through our population as vengefully as it has in other countries, but it is a fair bet that we’ve entered a new stage of its progress, here. Initially, the reports of infections and deaths were largely anecdotal: “the papers reported that in ‘so-so place’, two persons died of complications suspected to be related to COVID-19”. The spike in Kano State a couple of months back was the most disturbing episode in that stage. Of late though, the fowls coming home to roost are of a vulturine kind. Now the infections and deaths from the new coronavirus are of persons that we know. And where the relationship isn’t immediate, it’s increasingly no distant than “once-removed”.
Yet the observable response to the pandemic has not changed, locally. I was at the branch of a bank last week and was appalled by the character of the queue. Chock-full it was. There were no markers for distancing on the floor. And I am quite certain that even if there were, the gathering was not minded to observe such restraints. For, even in that crush, a significant number had no face coverings on. Another category wore their face coverings slightly beneath the nostrils. Yet a different bunch, as if it were an ornament for the chin or neck – a choker. The contempt reserved for the “I too knows” in this part of the world, was the standard response to my insistence that the rule says you are not allowed into a bank branch without your face mask on. The one person who deigned to respond to my worry described how uncomfortable the mask thingy made her feel.
A rural branch on the outskirts of Lagos, and you could dismiss these as the failure of governments’ sensitisation and “conscientisation” efforts. But a couple of weeks back, I’d had cause to visit a much fancier office location on Lagos Island. And the insouciance was no less uneducated. Okay, so this other cohort had face coverings. But none had it over their noses. They might as well have had neckerchiefs on their heads instead.
I’m told that, at bottom, we’re not scared enough. That’s the reason for the cavalier attitude to the use of established prophylactic measures against the virus across social categories. Besides, it would seem that in order to be scared, one needs not just the information that describes a threat and familiarity with recommended threat-avoidance mechanisms. Far more important is the thought process that helps make sense of these two. One has got, through the latter, to come to terms with the former, up to that point where one is minded to act in her own self-interest.
And it’s here that those who indicate a system failure at the heart of all the troubles besetting Nigeria might be on to something. For you also hear this “not being scared enough” explanation repeated in conversations around why our leaders have successfully misruled the country for the past six decades. Lenin did argue that for radical change to take place, it is necessary that the people can no longer live in the old ways. However, that the leaders are no longer able to lead in the patterns with which they are familiar is the condition that squares the circle of the dynamic of revolutionary change.
According to this logic, our poor leadership persists because our people are not angry enough. And will remain until this anger reaches critical mass. Evidence of our leaders’ serial misrule abounds. What’s missing is an electorate that can properly process this evidence to drive positive change outcomes. In other words, an electorate that can take educated fright in the teeth of a pandemic that’s left a long trail of fatalities behind it, would have taken umbrage at the inadequacies of a leadership, which have made the pandemic that much difficult to manage.
At some point, once you describe this challenge – of reaching critical levels of fright and the dudgeon required to realise positive change – as that of bringing about higher levels of education amongst the people, this whole dialogue veers towards the chicken-and-egg dilemma. Put differently, an abysmal set of leaders, aware that the biggest threat to their position is a more informed populace, lack every incentive to invest in social infrastructure. Without such investment, a benighted electorate/population is unable to act in its own enlightened self-interest.
Still, isn’t there a further dialectic to this process? In Johann Fichte’s reading, the tension between contradictory quantities is often resolved in a higher qualitative state. Nonetheless, if the tension between an ill-bred people and its poor leadership will not result in a new qualitatively higher state for Nigeria, is there a reason why the currently flawed qualitative state prevalent in the country today may not resolve itself into its lower quantitative tendencies? Whatever the answers to this question, this pandemic will sorely test – whether as a health, economic, or social catalyst – the resilience of this polity.
Source: Premium Times