Tea. Yam. Eba. Beans. Bread. Food, food, food. Eat. Eat. Eat. I’ve begun to feel guilty, like I felt as a boy, and being fed by my mother. I tell this story to my children to discourage them from yielding to the snare of gluttony. On many occasions, my mother would whip me with her tongue, and the words from it sliced my pride and made me to bleed guilt. And it’s about food. She would say, “you eat like a hen whose bill is constantly on the ground, picking all sorts of grains from morning till night, but would not belch or accept it’s full.” So, as I was locked down in my house, food kept flowing from the kitchen to every corner as my wife and children took turns to cook, and everyone, in their attempts to please me, would ask me to have a bite. And, to please them, I would not just bite but also swallow the food. But this morning, I had to crush and swallow four tablets of antacid to deflate my bulging stomach.
To shed weight and sweat, I briskly walked the two kilometres distance between my estate and Dakwo village, in Galadimawa. It helped, as I actually sweated both ways, and rejected offers of free ride by commercial motorcyclists who thought I needed help. I made a discovery. Dakwo was apparently a different world, not exactly part of FCT, as life there did not respect the spelling and meaning of the word ‘lockdown.’ Young men in their numbers played football on the primary school field; people held hands, walking leisurely in an apparent oblivion of the deadly implications of that lifestyle. It was crowded like a market. It was a sharp contrast to the situation in US, Italy, Spain, UK, and other societies where lifestyles have altered to avert the deadly plague that has sent thousands of persons to the morgue. Here, instead of a sober moment of reflection, I saw through the conducts of the people that the two-week lockdown was an unsolicited holiday, which they must enjoy with swinging of waist and arms; relishing in funny jokes; and making up for visits they should have made several months or weeks earlier.
“Life is normal here. You know, Dakwo is stubborn,” I overheard a woman tell another in a loud telephone conversation.
Indeed, it was not only Dakwo that was stubborn. On my way to work that afternoon, I saw a half-hearted police checkpoint. Half-hearted because at Galadimawa roundabout, four tyres, as usual, were arranged to create a barrier that made vehicles approaching it to halt for a check. But what the policemen did was to wave ‘good afternoon, sir’ at me and permit me to drive on. That was not scandalous. As I turned to negotiate the road to Jabi, I found about a dozen hawkers of all sorts of wares brandishing them at drivers. Then, ahead of me I found many vehicles on Umaru Musa Yar’adua Expressway between City Gate and the airport.
For those without private cars and who must move from one part of the FCT to another, it was a season or day of agony. I saw men, women, groups of four or five persons trekking along the road at intervals, some of them waving motorists down for a lift. But no sensible private car driver would succumb to the emotion of assisting those who trekked, because such help would give security operatives ideas and expose the driver to an elongated interrogation. Their conditions were made worse by the hostility of policemen towards taxi drivers. At some checkpoints, I found some of them being forced to park, answer multiple questions and made to discharge their passengers as the price they would pay for their freedom.
I noticed one expression on the faces of policemen, men of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps (NSCDC), Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs), and other security outfits mobilized to enforce the lockdown. That expression, I interpreted as frustration and fatigue. I suspected that they may have been sent on this special duty, but, the corrupt system may have failed to pay their allowances; and if paid, such payments may have been so satanically peeled and pilfered by those who hold the knife. My suspicion was confirmed when I read a WhatsApp message alleging that even health personnel on the frontline were grumbling about the lack of transparency in the payment of special allowances to them. If policemen are made to stand in the sun from morning to evening, but are denied their special allowance, we’ll be fighting a deadly disease with ill-motivated forces.
But herders had the city to themselves. In several places, their herds of cow occupied both grassland and the express way. Like pilgrims who belong to a different kingdom or world, the herders and their cows neither bothered about the lockdown nor were they worried about vehicles plying on the road. Were they aware of coronavirus? Did anyone alert them on the need for social distancing? Do they listen to radio to know that death lurks in careless interactions with people?
Perhaps, the ‘I-don’t-care’ attitude of Nigerians to the pandemic originates from the fact that they do not feel enough warmth of love from government or the authorities. At Piwoyi community, off Airport Road in the FCT, there was an announcement that government was visiting the area with palliatives in kind. I understand an agency of government promised to give rice to some 2,000 residents in the area. Anxious and expectant, the people assembled at the football field of Piwoyi Primary School. The authorities killed their excitement later that evening when a police van arrived to announce to those who held to the butt of hope that the distribution on palliative items had been postponed indefinitely. Twenty-four hours after, the people heard something from government; they heard disappointing silence and forlorn.
My worry? The lockdown is being weakened in diverse ways. The distribution of palliatives is trending on social media but it is not trending in the lives of the people. Testing of persons for coronavirus is trending on television and social media, but it is not trending in the neighbourhoods where the ordinary people live. So, coronavirus pandemic is real in the elite sphere but still abstract to the people. As it stands today, we are yet to wear the fighting gloves and spirit to confront coronavirus in the boxing ring.
We need to get serious.
Author: Theophilus Abbah
I’m a journalist, writer, researcher and trainer. I hold a PhD in English Language with specialization in Forensic Linguistics – Language and Law.
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