The Ebonyi State government yesterday disclosed that it arrested seven pastors for disobeying its restriction on ban on religious gatherings and other forms of assembly in the state. Confirming the arrests, Commissioner for Border Peace and Internal Security, Stanley Okoro Emegha said the arrest would serve as deterrent to other pastors who may decide to violate government’s directive.
Also in Kaduna, security agents arrested two pastors for holding church services last Sunday in violation of the lockdown order. In a statement issued by Commissioner of Internal Security and Home Affairs, Samuel Aruwan, the state government gave the names of the clerics as Ifeanyi Ojonu and Giniki Okafor who held church services at Sabon Tasha area of Chikun Council Area of the state.
To curtail the spread of coronavirus, the Ebonyi state government had banned wedding ceremonies, burial ceremonies, night clubs, sporting activities, religious activities, bars and gathering of over 50 persons other than essential service centres such as markets, rice mills and banks. Emegha said the pastors were arrested and handed over to the police for violating the ban on religious gathering noting that the arrest was not to witch hurt them but to save lives. He noted the pastors themselves know the situation at ground and how coronavirus is ravaging the whole world stressing that they should take the lead in protecting lives rather than flouting government’s order.
In Kaduna, the suspects were arraigned before a Chief Magistrate Court on Monday, April 6, 2020, adding that the suspects were charged with criminal conspiracy and disobedience to an order duly promulgated under sections 59 and 115 of the Penal Code. Also, no fewer than six youths were feared dead yesterday in Kaduna State after a clash between the police and traders.
Traders at the Sabon Garri-Trikania market had trooped out for business activities when they could no longer bear the brunt of the stay-at-home order by government. But to enforce the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown order, armed policemen were said to have opened fire to disperse them. Before the pandemonium died down, six of the youths had kissed the dust. Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Mohammad Jalige, said the state command got report of the fracas, but was expecting the report of the DPO in the area.
Meanwhile, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) has arrested 321 offenders for violating the social distancing order by overloading their vehicles. A statement by the Corps Public Education Officer, Bisi Kazeem, revealed that the arrests were made with from Sunday, 30 March to April 6, 2020 owing to the presidential directive on social distancing. Giving details of the arrests, he said, “Within the first week of the enforcement, the FRSC has recorded 321 arrests for overloading and violation of the social distance directive.”
Governor Umahi had earlier ordered security operatives to shoot any returnee that tries to escape from the quarantine and isolation centres on sight. The state government had at the weekend ordered immediate isolation of no fewer than 37 returnees that entered the state through the bush after the state government ordered the closure of its borders. He stressed that any of the returnees that try to escape from the quarantine centre where they would be subjected to medical tests daily for 14 days following Coronavirus pandemic should be shot on sight.
The state government had ordered that all the borders in the state be immediately shut down to prevent the Coronavirus from spreading to the state. But no fewer than 30 persons were said to have entered the bush and crossed to a boundary town between Abakaliki and Enugu where vehicles were already on standby to carry them to their various destinations.
The 30 escapees and seven returnees were later taken to a quarantine centre at the Abakaliki Township Stadium where Umahi visited them at 9 pm and ordered that they are subjected to a daily medical examination for 14-days. In a related development, Cross River State Governor, Benedict Ayade has recalled workers of the state-owned Garment Factory to work for mass production of the face and nose masks.
United Bank for Africa Plc (UBA) today announced a donation of over 5 billion Naira (USD14 million), through the UBA Foundation, to catalyse a comprehensive pan-African response to the fight against the Coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic.
The donation will provide significant and much needed support to Nigeria and 19 other African countries, by supplying relief materials, critical care facilities, and financial support to governments.
The UBA support programme will be allocated as follows:
N1 billion (USD2.8 million) to Lagos State Government in Nigeria.
N500 million (USD1.4 million) to Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
N1 billion (USD2.8 million) to the remaining 35 states in Nigeria.
N1.5 billion (USD4.2 million) to UBA’s presence countries in Africa.
N1 billion (USD2.8 million) for Medical Centres with equipment and supplies Free Telemedicine Call Centre facility.
The pan-African bank will fund a medical centre immediately in Lagos, Nigeria, with beds for isolation and ICU facilities, managed and operated in partnership with Heirs Holdings’ healthcare subsidiary, Avon Medical Hospital.
In addition, UBA is providing a free telemedicine platform, that is physician-led, to provide direct access to medical advice to citizens, in compliance with social distancing requirements.
UBA Group Chairman Tony O. Elumelu, stated ‘This is a time when we must all play our part. This global pandemic must bring citizens, governments and business leaders together – and quickly. As we see a rapidly increasing number of cases of the Coronavirus in Nigeria and Africa, the private sector has to work hand in hand with various governments, in stemming the spread of the global pandemic.
We commend the efforts of governments and we are keen to partner and contribute our resources to the collective effort, that will ensure the response to the pandemic is swift and effective’.
Operating in 20 African countries and globally in the United Kingdom, the United States and France, the United Bank for Africa has a strong record of supporting its communities, through challenging times.
In The Spotlight
Eerie silence shrouds the world, broken only by ambulance sirens, echoing down deserted streets in cities across nations which have virtually shut down. As covid-19 ravages the globe, more and more governments in many countries have imposed social isolation policies amid border closures and lockdowns. Hospitals across the world seem unprepared to cope with covid-19; exhausted health workers lack the most basic equipment and healthcare systems and hospitals have been overwhelmed. Then from nowhere, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, founder of LoveWorld International and Christ Embassy Ministries, emerges to peddle some of the most bizarre and insane conspiracy theories about covid-19 that has infected over 1,431,706 people worldwide, and killed at least 82,080 others and counting. Pastor Chris claims covid-19 is the “greatest deception” the world has ever seen; denying the existence of the deadly virus, saying it was a conspiracy by unnamed sinister actors to obfuscate the fact that 5G digital technology is responsible for all covid-19 deaths. The impropriety was pathetic, disgraceful and devoid of any perfunctory exaggeration. Doubtless, the insensitivity is simply mind-boggling, inexcusable and unacceptable from a man to whom much has been given, and from who much is expected.
In a video that went viral on social media, Pastor Chris, spotting an immaculate three-piece tan suit; unleashed a rambling monologue with halting grammar and syntax; spewing baseless conspiracy theories, ornamented with harmful grandiloquence and claimed the Federal Government ordered lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states including Abuja for 14 days in an act of covering the field in the war against covid-19 was intended to prevent Nigerians from mobilizing and protesting against what he said was the covid-19 hoax. By this singular act of civic callousness, dancing in mockery even as the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) announced six deaths from 254 confirmed cases, Pastor Chris advertised in dramatic fashion; a certain hollowness in morality that dragged Nigeria down to a hitherto unprecedented low in ethical degeneration. This is an unbelievable shame and Nigerians the world over, deserve full explanation for the embarrassment.
Given the decrepit state of our health services, even one confirmed case of Covid-19 in Nigeria is very bad. This is especially true given the highly contagious nature of the novel coronavirus. It may not be the deadliest of infections but the rate at which it spreads through human populations like wildfire is such as mankind has not witnessed probably since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918 and before that, the bubonic plagues of the 17ttcentury. Indeed, there is an obvious health emergency in the country as the lockdown imposed by federal and state governments translates into a stay-at-home with few exceptions including essential services and windows for provisions. Irrespective of whether its action is grounded in legal jurisprudence, the times demand some proactiveness on the part of governing authorities.
Because of the inherent fear of levels of compliance in what appears to be a life-and-death matter, law enforcement agencies are required to enforce the lockdowns. It is unfortunate that Pastor Chris will recklessly be inciting a public insurrection against measures aimed at saving lives. Whatever their limitations, covid-19 is not about obeying government shutdown orders; it is about maintaining public health. For the reason that government action involves an encroachment on the fundamental rights of the citizens apparently for the common good of all and more so that the pandemic being fought does not respect the natural right to life, it becomes obligatory to respect the stay-at-home order of the government in what might be called obligation of the citizens.
But it appears there is no limit to the odium Nigerians would endure in the hands of quack charlatans and sundry men of god like Pastor Chris who are propagating misleading spirituality over scientific facts and medicine. While no one denies the place of higher forces and efficacy of prayers in dire situations, what the world is confronting in covid-19 is more of a human and medical problem that should be dealt with accordingly. Rather than lampoon the coronavirus as a subterfuge to foist 5G on Nigerians, the expectation is that religious leaders like Pastor Chris, besides prayers, should use their pulpits to preach personal hygiene, practical safety measures like social distancing, hope and patience, as their social responsibility to the collective survival of Nigeria and the global community.
The video of Pastor Chris parodying renowned global scientists, medical doctors and WHO experts, exposed in spectacular fashion; the amateurish, senseless, unimaginable, buffoonery of a self-seeking moron who chose to plumb the abyss of self-degradation by insulting the collective intelligence of Nigerians. This impropriety was a great disservice to the courageous doctors and nurses who are on the frontlines of battle against covid-19; it is an unbelievable shame and the nadir of gracelessness. It is even more grievous, that the whimsical, disdainful and mundane craving by the self-aggrandizing charlatan who dropped out of Ambrose Alli University, Edo state, where he had enrolled to study architecture, would have the temerity to challenge virologists, epidemiologists and infectious diseases experts on an issue with such grave consequences as a global health pandemic. It illustrates another poor dimension of the stature of these so-called men of god and the amplification of the absence of good personal leadership example, exemplified by the life of Jesus Christ; in whose name they hoodwink and exploit gullible followers seeking spiritual gratification.
Certainly, no modicum of morality or decorum supports Pastor Chris’ reckless display of ignorance and insensitivity, but some pertinent points need to be made. One is that the character and greed of these traffickers-in-faith has been exposed, in spectacular fashion, to the whole world. At this most critical time of unprecedented but clear danger, the common feature is religious leaders debriefing their followers, and like true commanders-in-chief, they are encouraging first-line responders and preaching hope in speech and conducts, cooperate with authorities, be our brothers’ keeper and have faith. That is real leadership from behind, not pestilential perfidy from a pastor who commands a global following and wields enormous power.
With over one million followers on Twitter and almost two million on Facebook, Pastor Chris is one of the most famous figures in Africa. His ministry’s LoveWorld TV is the first 24-hour Christian satellite television network to broadcast from Africa to the rest of the world. The LoveWorld Convocation Arena in Lagos has a 17,000-capacity and is one of the largest churches in Africa. His daily devotional Bible called Rhapsody of Realities has been translated into 950 different languages. Pastor Chris also has two international Healing Schools in South Africa and Canada through which he rakes in millions, holding seasonal sessions that offer divine healing experiences to thousands. Pastor Chris has a flamboyant imaginary self-concept with a very luxurious lifestyle for an international man of god. He owns two private jets and a conspicuous fleet of cars and a million-dollar mansion in Nigeria.
While some will dismiss the odious act of Pastor Chris’covid-19 denial as simply bizarre, desultory and even comical, the brazenness, callousness and audacity of the act, is a bad joke taken too far. It is surprising that this indiscretion escaped the attention Nigerian government officials who are employing unorthodox means to force Nigerians to stay home in order to contain the spread of the deadly virus. The hubris oozing out of Pastor Chris and his twisted logic, even after telecommunications operators globally, including the Association of Licensed Telecoms Operators of Nigeria (ALTON), have denied any link between covid-19 and the evolving 5G technology is reason enough for the Buhari administration to throw the book and ensure that this act of brigandage by Pastor Chris should not go unpunished. And the reprehensible action has no redeeming value, as it is neither edifying to his ministry, nor to Biya’s image as a religious leader. A majority of his followers with a conscience have been left to wonder how such a man like Pastor Chris can be so imprudent.
Whatever the case, this debauchment is a clear demonstration of how low the image and reputation of Pastor Chris has now gravitated. Indeed, more sinister motives can be inferred from this buffoonery given that the shutdown has hit the global economy and the bottom line of religious establishments; but far more than anger or anything else it engendered, questions must be asked: what manner of man indulges in such despicable and irresponsible conduct? What goes on in the mind of such a person? Pray, how could Pastor Chris indulge in such high level rascality and imprudent display of leadership? How can anyone justify such a willfully unscrupulous and vainglorious desire to raise your nuisance value by propagating baseless lies over such a life and death issue as covid-19? What did Pastor Chris smoke?
The motive aside, this sad episode advertises a certain pettiness by someone who, by moral authority and public trust is saddled with the responsibility of leading by example; but decided to do the improbable. This is a tragedy. By his perfunctory action, Pastor Chris impoverished and diminished his credibility and personal integrity in ways that ridiculed not only his image, but his entire ministry; he embroiled in spiritual anomie. This was an affront to the international community and Pastor Chris must retract his statement, apologize, own up to his ignorance and hide his head in shame. Finally, Nigerians may have borne the insult with equanimity, but let Pastor Chris not be in any doubt that his followers at home and abroad have been mightily and contemptuously insulted. And never again should it happen.
In The Spotlight
Nigeria announced its first COVID-19 case on February 27 - an Italian who came into the country on February 24 and displayed symptoms of the disease while visiting Lafarge Cement Company in Ewekoro, Ogun State. He has been treated and discharged. Since then Nigeria has recorded a total of 111 cases, as at the time of this writing, with two reported deaths. The Nigerian government has introduced a number of measures: monetary measures by the Central Bank of Nigeria, and fiscal measures by the Federal Ministry of Finance. State governments and the private sector are also taking steps to contain the virus, treat the affected and prevent an escalation of the disease. But of all the measures taken so far, it seems to me that not enough attention is being paid to the psychological impact of COVID-19 and its effect on the mental health of Nigerians. Psychology is very important to our management of the pandemic. I am beginning to observe very unusual behaviour among Nigerians. People are responding to the Corona Virus pandemic in very unusual manners that may have a worse effect than the pandemic itself, such that long after the disease may have receded, we could have a large population of damaged persons who may be struggling with the after-effects.
COVID-19 pandemic is probably the biggest scourge and uncertainty that the world has faced since the Spanish Flu of 1918 -1920 and the World Wars of 1914 and 1944. Uncertainties induce stress. People respond to change in unusual manners and coping mechanisms may be different and elastic. Nigerians don’t seem to be handling the psycho-social implications of COVID-19 too well. With the two-week stay at home order that has now been announced by President Muhammadu Buhari in Lagos, Ogun, and the Federal Capital Territory, we may be dealing with something fatal. How will people cope? How can they be helped to cope while staying at home to prevent a community spread of the scourge?
I first noticed the psychological crisis that we face when immediately after the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Federal Ministry of Health announced that sanitizers, face masks and gloves can be used to protect oneself against COVID-19. Nigerians didn’t take chances. They bombarded all the available shops and super markets. When President Donald Trump assumed the role of a scientist and further announced chloroquine as the clinical solution to COVID-19, many Nigerians bought up all the chloroquine tablets in the city of Lagos. Long before President Buhari announced a two-week lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and the FCT, Nigerians had also already begun to stockpile all kinds of items. It was worse a day after the Presidential address. Even street corner shops had long queues of persons, buying things they may not need, or perishable items that they can do without. A week ago, I went to a confectionery, I saw people struggling to buy bread. One man bought 20 loaves of bread! When he was accused of greed and insensitivity, he told his accusers to shut up. After all, he was spending his money. At another super market, I saw a guy struggling with three trolley loads of toilet paper. I saw him as he loaded the toilet paper into the trunk of his car. I was actually also going into the same supermarket to buy toilet paper. Afraid that the fellow may have emptied the entire store, I didn’t know when I blurted out:
“Oga, na wa for you oh. Wetin?”
“What have I done?”, he responded.
“Oga, look at all these packs of toilet paper. Na only you dey shit for Lagos?”
“Man, you can’t blame me. Have you not seen what is happening in London? People are stockpiling food and other essentials. I advise you to do the same. Buy whatever you can buy because we don’t quite understand how this Corona thing will turn out.”
When I got into the supermarket, I was confused. Entry was controlled, the managers having adopted what they called a “Q” system. Despite the fact that there was no crowd inside, the few persons allowed in at a time were busy buying every available item as if the world was about to end. I saw a lady with a trolley- load of eggs. I ended up observing other people. I really couldn’t buy as much as I wanted. I felt as if I was surrounded by persons suffering from what psychiatrists call obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or better still, anxiety disorder. COVID-19 has turned so many persons into mental health cases. Fear has driven the people into all kinds of strange behavior. The fear of dying and suffering is probably at the root of man’s survival instinct. My doctoral research in thanatos and thanatomimesis showed that the fear of dying is perhaps worse than death itself. See, for example: Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Illyich (1886); Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924), and Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying (1969). In the face of COVID-19, many are dying silently out of fear, panic and anxiety. Who will save or help such persons?
Perhaps the biggest psychological indication that I have observed is the crisis of “over-confidence” fuelled by the illusion of control, dangerously complicated by ignorance of an African peculiarity. Over the weekend, I was in Ogun State. I was shocked to see the markets bustling with reckless energy and stupid community spirit. Nobody was observing social distancing. I saw young men hugging each other, shaking hands and carrying on as if COVID-19 was a foreign tale told by idiots. At a point, I had to challenge a group of youths, huddled together, playing draughts (that is - checkers), excitedly, without a care in the world.
“Eyin boys, what you are doing is not right. Have you not heard of Corona? You should observe social distancing. This is not the time to play draught, back-slapping, sitting close to each other. Corona Virus kills,” I said.
“Baba Alaye, e gboju n be. Corona is a big man’s disease. It cannot do anything to us. It only affects corrupt people. Awa o je gbi, a o le ku gbi. We are not corrupt. Corona cannot touch us. Let the elite deal with their problem. Corona for where? Me sef, I be Corona. If Corona see me, we go look at each other Coro, Coro. Oju koro ki i pa oju koro je.”
I tried to offer some information. I didn’t want to antagonize them, so I put the blame on the Ogun State Government, not doing enough to sensitize and mobilize the people to see reason and respect Science. I talked about the supremacy of Science in these strange times… It didn’t work.
“Egbon, oro alakowe le n so yen o. We local people have a solution to it. I know the herbal concoction that will drive Corona Virus away, by the time I use herbs, with incisions and spiritual meal, Corona will pick race so fast, it will find itself back in China. Awon a ti tani. Egungun be careful.”
I was perplexed. Corona Virus is a matter of life and death. It does not respect geography. It does not distinguish between members of Nigeria’s political parties: it doesn’t know whether you belong to the Peoples Democratic Party or the All Progressives Congress. It is a contagion, a deadly, infectious disease. The smartest scientists in the world are struggling to understand what it is. Some characters sit in Nigeria’s rural communities and insist that they have a herbal formula or a spiritual formula that can cure Corona Virus. If Corona Virus moves from Nigeria’s cities to the hinterland and rural areas, we should expect death on a ferocious, Italy-like scale.
I mentioned ignorance earlier. There are also some religious leaders going about telling the people that Corona Virus cannot touch Christians or Muslims. One popular Pastor even preached on Sunday that whoever goes for testing is likely to be infected and so, no Christian should go for testing because Corona Virus is a manifestation of the anti-Christ. In Katsina, one Muslim cleric insisted on holding Friday prayers in defiance of official directives. The State Task Force on Corona Virus dispersed the crowd. What followed was that some of the members of the group stormed a police station and burnt down the vehicles in the compound. They said they were defending their right to pray and assemble. They are mad. Every Pastor or Imam who violates the rules on the containment of COVID-19 should be arrested and made to face the full wrath of the law.
Some Corona Virus lawyers have also been quoting the law and insisting that government does not have the right to shut down borders or states or ask people to stay at home. You see: the psychological aspect of Corona Virus should be addressed! Law is made for man, not the other way round. Corona Virus is a threat to human existence. No responsible lawyer should insist on those rights that can accelerate the extermination of the human race. Whoever is not happy should go to the courts and test the law: there are enough laws and precedents to sustain a counter-argument.
Along the spectrum of the psychotic disorder that COVID-19 has generated is the growing community of hypochondriacs and germaphobes. Have you met anyone like that in the last few weeks? I have. I am talking about the “don’t-touch-me” “don’t-come-near-me”, “maintain-social-distance” crowd. These are overnight scientists. When they step out every morning, it is as if they are approaching a war zone armed as they are with face masks, sanitizers, and sanitary wipes. One even sprayed me before I could say “good morning”. They have become obsessed with COVID-19. They soak in every piece of information on social media, particularly WhatsApp where a unique type of psychosis is on display. Every minute you are likely to get a forwarded message saying one thing or the other about the disease. I can’t fully recall all that I have read - from conspiracy theories to jokes to treatment advisory: turmeric, ginger, lemon and all sorts.
Ordinarily, human beings are tactile. They like to relate with one another. We like to touch each other. All of a sudden, we are being told that we cannot touch, hug, kiss or do all the things we ordinarily do. Social distancing has disrupted our lives. I try to imagine what life would be like after Corona Virus. We simply have to re-learn the habits that used to govern our lives. Even the way we speak has changed. Corona has affected human language and may find its way into the English Language dictionary. One famous phrase today is COVIDIOTS – persons who refuse to self-isolate or respect official health advisory on Corona Virus like the Pastor who says the disease is anti-Christian and the Imam whose followers attacked a police station in Katsina. You may also have heard of the word CORONIALS. These are children who may be born in the season of Corona Virus, products of love and passion in the time of COVID-19.
I recall meeting a lady the other day and somehow we started talking about Corona Virus, the key subject of the year. She told me:
“My biggest problem is that my husband is now always at home. He likes to watch football, but there is no football anymore on TV. All the European Leagues have been suspended. He has become restless and demanding. I don’t know how I will cope with him.”
“Madam”, I said as quietly as I could. “Don’t worry. You will be fine. The worst that can happen is that in nine months’ time, we will come for the naming ceremony of a CORONIAL baby.”
“Me? I reject that. I am done. What do you think I am? A baby-making machine?. You can’t sexualize me. I am a professional,” she thundered.
I didn’t push further but a big concern about the Corona Virus lock-down is that nine months from today, we may end up with a spike in Nigeria’s population. Husbands are being forced to stay at home with their wives. A week ago, commercial sex workers in Nigeria were already complaining that Corona Virus is not good for business. The stock exchange in that sector has crashed, far worse than the spot price of crude oil, and the crisis in the foreign exchange market. All the customers are now at home. They are not allowed to keep roaming about, sowing wild oats.
In Germany, a state official committed suicide because of Corona Virus. SUICIDE! But perhaps we should also worry about substance abuse. Across Africa, people are abusing drugs, herbs and alcohol. I have seen young men in our local communities who insist that Corona Virus cannot survive in an alcoholic environment and so from sun up to sun down, they are busy taking alcoholic drinks to attack any virus that may find its way to their throats. To the best of my knowledge, the only link between alcohol and COVID-19 is the advisory that we must all use alcohol-based sanitizers. I have also heard the tale being bandied around that Corona Virus is an evil spirit and that marijuana and cigarette will neutralize it. I don’t think that is true. But of course, the COVID-19 crisis has created a virtual and physical industry in myths, conspiracy theories and fake news. The way I see it, the world is going crazy and we need to deal with that.
Governments, in countries, where it is possible, should not just mobilize doctors and nurses, they should immediately mobilize psychologists, psychiatrists, mental health experts, and counsellors who can help stem the tide of global psychosis, before and after COVID-19. The latter is even more important because the pandemic is disrupting the equilibrium of households and livelihoods. It has also made small scale entrepreneurs who are hiking prices for opportunistic reasons crazy. Unfortunately, the emerging poverty and hunger viruses may last longer than Corona Virus. We are certainly in a tight corner. Beyond social distancing, we should reach out to one another as a community and as friends, families and colleagues. The short and long term solution to this plague probably lies in collective strength, co-operation and good leadership at all levels.