Coronavirus : Letter From Okunola ‘Biodun - THE DAILY CRUCIBLE

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Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Coronavirus : Letter From Okunola ‘Biodun




Dear Nigerians,

I write this letter from my self-isolation in London. This is a period in human history where money, status, wealth and power have combined to fail us all. Many powerful countries have discovered how powerless they are and developed economies are badly hit but they are comforted because they have saved for days like this. We have a culture of always borrowing despite the vest resources under our feet. The people in countries like Canada, the United States, Italy, Germany and United Kingdom are badly hit but are proud to be citizens of their countries because they know that they will not be abandoned. I am here in my isolation knowing that if anything happens, the child of rich men will not receive treatment while I am abandoned somewhere to die. If I have to die, I will know that there was possibly nothing the system could have done to help and I will be glad to leave. 

This letter is inspired by the short conversation I had with my mother very early in the morning of 20th of March, 2020. My mother is a poor widow who runs a small kiosk in Ibadan. Seeing the impact of the corona virus pandemic in London, I sent her some money in the middle of the night to buy some food should the situation get worse in Nigeria, she will not starve to death. When she woke up in the morning, I called to tell her that I had sent money for her to make sure there was enough food in her house. I asked her to lock her shop and go to the market.  She simply told me that there was no need because she was going to pray and the pandemic will stop. I was worried. As her first son, I ordered her to lock her shop and go to the market right away. She asked me one simple question: "my husband, if I buy all these things you’ve asked me to buy and my house is filled with food, it will still finish. If I see children who are hungry around me, I will call them and make food for them and it will finish in less than one day. There is no amount of food you can give me that will be enough for me and others if there is crisis. All we can do is pray". Those words made me realise how poor we really are because we only think about ourselves. Those words made me realise that the rich who think they have enough because they have stored food in the house and embezzled enough money for their families do not know they are in grave danger when people around them have nothing to eat. I began to realise that my mother cannot eat freely when every other person in her community are hungry – one day truly, there will be nothing left for the poor to eat except the rich.

If you think you can ruin the state to build your own empire, you have failed to realise that your empire is within the state and it will fall when the state falls. You may think that you have power because you control a number of police and army, but I want you to know that when they are hungry, they will kill you with the same gun they used in protecting you. Many people are in politics to become emergency billionaires but this pandemic is making us understand that a time will come when money makes no meaning. We are beginning to understand that it is not enough to have the funds to go abroad and have foreign treatments but to fix our health system.  

We have allowed our once celebrated educational institutions to become the mockery of the world, our scientists that should be carrying out laboratory tests and researches are fashion designers; brilliant graduates are okada riders and public health experts now driver cabs in major cities. Now we can all see that it is to our detriment and not theirs. We pay our doctors close to nothing, many of them have relocated abroad having to unlearn and relearn to practice in a developed economy. You saw the data the other day didn’t you? It is said that 70% of all black doctors in the United States are Nigerians. We sent them packing now we need them, don’t we? We invest in comedy and beauty pageants and abandon the education and health sectors but the cure for corona is not in revealing dresses and laughter.  

I am sure our citizens and leaders have begun to see that there are no social services in Nigeria. We run a system where people want to become rich through the misery of others. I strongly weep for Nigeria. I have come to the understanding that Nigerians are the most resilient people on earth. Yet they are the most unthinking. We need to stop celebrating thieves and begin to own our government and stop selling our votes to some corruptionists whose agenda is to enrich their fifteenth generation through an economic model of enslaving others. In the next election, if you like, sell your votes or sit at home and say that it is none of your business. This one, virus only bought corolla and it is this bad; when it acquires a Bentley I wonder what will happen. 

Let me ask you a question. If this virus spreads in Nigeria and the markets and jobs are closed, how will you feed? Oh! That is sorted? You can say that because you have some money in your savings. You can get some money from your uncle who has never touched his salary for over a decade because he steals enough from us. But a time is coming when money will make no meaning. You can say that you have bought enough food for yourself and your family. But what about that old widow who lives next door? What about those people who live on their daily sweat? What about those unemployed young people who have all the energy to work but cannot find? They can die if they want? They will not die alone I promise you.

When nobody goes out, the Okada man, danfo driver, the pure water sellers, the conductors, the market woman, the recharge card seller, the zobo hawker, the drycleaner etc. will all stay at home and watch their children die of hunger (God forbid). I am in this isolation wondering if we Nigerians will begin to think and own our country. This corona virus should set us all thinking that we need to take the country back from local colonial-viruses. 

While other countries are busy caring for their citizens, saying words of succour and encouragement to keep the population calm, announcing economic measures to ensure that their citizens do not lose their jobs, Nigerians are waiting on God and praying. After this, many will be out of jobs, many will find it difficult to feed their families, small enterprises will shut and the already weak economy will become weaker (God forbid). I plead with the Nigerian government, let's govern, let's save the lives of our people and let fix the system so that many of our citizens will know the meaning of being alive. For now, many only merely exist, they are not living. I have not escaped the wrath; we are in it together – sad!

Okunola 'biodun  writes from 309 Regent St, Marylebone, Westminster, London.

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