An emergency family meeting was called to apprise all eight people in the house of our health circumstance and the precautions we had to take. The moment I announced a two-week quarantine and treatment, the house keeper who had been looking forward to travelling home to Akwa Ibom State at Christmas to bury his father muttered something which I didn’t hear. But my son, Oluwakorede, apparently heard him. “Can’t you hear what daddy said? We all have Covid and you say you want to go to your village to bury your father. You want your family to bury more people?”
While my 17-year old son has always been known for his mischievous sense of humour, I was also certain he had been conditioned for this sad news by the traumatic experience of the previous 48 hours when an armed robber terrorised everyone in the house between 2.30am and 4am. The robber had pointed a gun at his head and asked for his PlayStation and games. So, he must have reckoned that if we could survive the terror of a gunman who ransacked the entire house and went away with valuables (including forcing my wife’s wedding band off her finger), we were more than prepared to deal with whatever COVID might throw our way.
I will save the gory details of how the twin-evil we confront in Nigeria today (insecurity and the pandemic) came right to my doorstep. The lesson of course is that one can never be too careful these days. While we are still not out of the woods with Covid, there are enough signs to show that the worst is already behind us. Incidentally, when Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq asked two weeks ago when my family would be in Kwara for Christmas, I told him we would not come this year because of Covid. What I did not reckon with at the time was that the Covid we were running away from was already right in our living room.
Having read so much about the pandemic and the havoc it has wrought this year, I was overcome by panic, anxiety and fear when it finally hit. Despite all the prayers in the house, I am not ashamed to admit that my faith failed. But my wife was strong in her conviction that we would all pull through and so were other members of the family. The armed robbery attack seems to have prepared them, causing everyone to band together to cook, watch Netflix movies and turn the ritual of taking medication into a fair. They sang. They danced. And last Saturday when I was going through a tough period, they practically dragged me out to cut my 22nd wedding anniversary cake they baked. And when I reflect on it all, it is perhaps their ‘madness’ that has kept me sane.
Not every wound is visible. The most important of life’s battles, as David McKay reminds us, is the one we fight daily in the silent chambers of the soul. Now, I understand the feeling of emptiness and despair that can engender loneliness even in the midst of a loving crowd. Those who have experienced Covid-19 will agree that it is more than a disease. It is something that can take the afflicted to dark haunting places where they question whether life is really worth living. I have been there. Since we were all infected, my family couldn’t understand why I have taken it so badly.
Most of us come to our wit’s end over difficult issues at some point. And in such periods of anguish and uncertainty, we all need encouragement. My family has been very lucky in that regard. Waziri Adio, Ola Awoniyi, Simon Kolawole, Bolaji Abdullahi, Koyinsola Dickson, Tunde Ahmadu, Florence Egopija and Mustapha Dennis Onoyiveta have been there for us. So have Emeka and Ebere Ihedioha. In kind words. In prayers. In supplies of essentials. The CEO of Metro Bakery, Mrs Sandra Adio has not only been sending food to the house, she has been preparing and supplying herbs as well. In fact, if there is anything the past two weeks has taught me, it is that many of my friends are closet ‘herbalists’, given the range of their anti-Covid herbal prescriptions! And just as he did when the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (to whom he was ADC) was sick, Mustapha has been a master in crisis management for my family. On a lighter note, Ola kept urging me to watch football as a way to keep my mind free. What he failed to understand is that if I took his counsel, as an Arsenal fan, Coronavirus would have combined with Arteta to send me to ‘relegation’!
I thank God for the network of friends He has blessed us with. Joshua Ocheja was always available to run errands for us whenever I called. Even my chairman, Nduka Obaigbena has become a motivational speaker: “You are sounding down because of Covid? It is not a death sentence. You and your family will pull through. Just take your medication and you will all be fine,” he assured me. Caverton Chairman, Mr Remi Makanjuola was always on phone to ask after each one of us and to offer his prayers. We have benefited immensely from the kindness of good people.
However, through it all, my biggest appreciation is to our Pastor, Evaristus Azodoh and his wife Ngozi. Shortly after the armed robbery attack, it was to Pastor Azodoh that I sent a message. He immediately visited with his wife. They prayed for us and his wife gave my wife two pairs of earrings. And when Covid hit, the first thing my wife said was, ‘Please call Pastor.’ And he has been there for us medically and spiritually.
A few people already know that my pastor is a retired colonel and one of the foremost consultant urologists in the country. But he is much more than that. He is the one everybody calls when in trouble. And he is ever available whenever we call. He is the first in church and always the last to leave. And this is a very busy man, a hospital owner. In his piece, ‘Encouraging the Encouragers’, Kegan Mosier reminds us that we all have people in our lives who consistently encourage us or are somehow involved in our holistic growth and health, yet, “we don’t do a very good job of expressing our thanks, gratitude, and offering words of life to them.” Mosier argued further that “Without proper self-awareness, and often unconsciously, people use their pastor, nurse or counselor as a ‘punching bag’ or the target of their grief, anger, and pain.”
Because of a few bad eggs whose primary motivation for coming to the ministry is money, Pastors are not very popular in our country today. But Nigerians hardly talk about genuine men of God who invest their time, talent, energy and resources into the ministry. For many families in our country, the comfort they draw from their pastors in times of distress makes all the difference. I have observed Pastor Azodoh over the years. I have seen him get tired. And sometimes burned out. But despite all that, he was always available whenever church members needed him. Yet, it takes a special grace of God to respond to the challenges of others when you are going through your own issues. To the Azodohs, this is to say a very big thank you!
Meanwhile, there are several theories as to why Covid has not killed as many people in Africa as it has on other continents. My hunch is that perhaps it has to do with our sense of community. The pandemic is not something to fight alone. And sometimes the only difference between going on or giving up is the network of support and encouragement we can draw from those around us when we are weak and weary. A critical casualty of the pandemic, according to Victoria Atkinson White, is social isolation, whether mandated or optional. “When we live in isolation, our world, our view and our values can get smaller and more inward focused”. And in such moments, it is easier to ignore the bigger picture and succumb to pessimism and gloom.
Sadly, the second wave of Covid-19 has hit the country. That we are not prepared to deal with it is the real shame. I have learnt a lot in the past two weeks of the different methods to fight Covid-19 that many people adopt. Most of the concoctions and herbs that people make to beat this disease are not new inventions. Heat immersion and steam baths with cooked mango and dogonyaro leaves and a cocktail of other materials including ginger, lemon, garlic and turmeric were some of the preventive and curative health practices that served our traditional societies quite well in the past.
When Covid first hit early this year, former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo posed the question, ‘Can Africa really afford lockdowns, and can they be effective?’ His thesis was based on whether people on the continent could successfully and sustainably defeat COVID-19 by copying the template of the Western nations. “While the U.K. and others are experimenting with vaccines, you never know if an Africa herb might be the cure. Necessity is the mother of invention, and only those who dare, succeed,” Soludo wrote in his well-circulated paper.
It is instructive that our policy makers paid scant attention to Soludo’s suggestion. This is despite the fact that it came at about the same time that China’s National Health Commission revealed that about 90 percent of their nationals infected with COVID-19 took some form of traditional Chinese medicine to treat their symptoms. These traditional remedies, according to the Chinese authority, helped to alleviate symptoms, reduced the severity of the virus, improved recovery and reduced mortality rate. Growing up in the village, most of us took these concoctions that are now becoming popular, so we are well aware of their efficacy. What I find most disturbing is that there are people who still doubt that Covid-19 is real. I plead with such people to believe me. While many are coping well with it, some may not for different reasons, so prevention remains the best cure, especially with the second wave.
In all, the year 2020 has been extraordinary for everyone, even with our diverse experiences. But we are now at crunch time. Christmas is a season of community, a time when families gather either to celebrate or to mourn together. This year, Covid is depriving us of those communal rituals. It is but a small price to pay to survive these troubling times. While we all have stories to tell, 2020 has been harder for some than others. But through it all, we still have enough to thank God for as we look to the future with hope and promise.
I wish all my readers Merry Christmas.
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