President Muhammadu Buhari disappeared into thin air without trace. Malam Abba Kyari, the defacto ruler of a democracy-driven Nigeria also ran aground due to COVID-19 attack. Social media was awash with speculation. The nation was inflamed with fault social and politically self-destructive construct. And in a political culture as profoundly anti-intellectual as that of the Nigerian Government, it is easy for misinformation to masquerade as common sense, especially during a period of great national dilemma.
In the last couple of days, Orwellian doublethink quickly became the norm. One narrative says that COVID-19 attack has shipped out Buhari to Cuba. Another says that Kyari is in the UK. Aso Rock media high command lazily brought out a still picture frame of the President working hard in his office to convince a skeptic nation that the number one citizen has not done a runner on us.
What has been lost in the rapidly evolving covidisation media management is this: in an era of post-truth, where reliance on social media as a source of information about the world is becoming the new normal, people can now affirm truth or lie as choices, depending on their mood swings. Nigerians in their millions believed that truth was throttled in the last few days and that President Buhari was never in town. Sunday night evening broadcast was too late; too tokenish and too adulterated to minimize the damage already done to a nation under siege from COVID-19 pandemic.
This state of callous mistreatment of Nigerians is all symptomatic of the rampant misinformation impunity that has been simmering in Nigeria for decades and has now boiled over, thanks to COVID-19. However, whether COVID-19 found President Buhari and Kyari, the Chief of Staff, as easy targets or not, there is no escaping the fact that we are in it together. Governance impunity is one. Another impunity that is becoming a standard norm in our society is the wholesale and barbaric assault by security forces on Nigerians who are slow in their acceptance of the reality of COVID-19.
The Nigeria Police Force is this nation’s most fragile and bastardised institution. There has never been any swift, proactive, conspicuous and determined action to retool and re-equip it to meet the global standard of a modern police force. Successive Inspector General of Police only made gestures without any action. So since independence we have been saddled with a security institution that was built on a faulty and tottering foundation.
Therefore, in their daily action and interaction with Nigerians, the uniformed Nigerian Police personnel always answer to imperious, inhuman, rude, arrogant, oppressive and brutal pathologies in their determined zeal to enforce social compliance. When the all-purpose demon called COVID-19 landed in Nigeria, it was more than a cathartic challenge to our social, cultural and traditional ways.
COVID-19 is a provocation. As President Buhari said last night, it is an enemy. It is a raging wolf that ravages in the night and leaves nothing for the morning. COVID-19 is a leveler. It is the most inconvenient virus that brought global disruption to what we know as living. There is no anti-virus yet to cut through the babel of its homicidal power. It is an unseen and weaponless killer.
In Nigeria, we shrug it off. The narration was that COVID-19 was not a black man’s disease. We lived on false consciousness. Then the truth began to dawn that COVID-19 is actually a leveler that has no respect for leaders, colour, religion, race, status, sex, nationality, height or wealth. Even though news of mass devastation in China, South Korea, Spain, Italy and to a lesser extent US and UK have been filtering in, the Nigerian hormonal reaction was let-us-wait and-see.
Then Lagos. That epicenter of excellence became epicenter of COVID-19 breeding city. The new orientation now is to persuade doubters that COVID-19 is real in spite of its complex explanation. Immediately, all our earlier blustering and rejection of COVID-19 disappeared and now the pandemonium set in. In a nation of 200 million people who do not know their algebra from geometry, state governments began to issue order of lockdown with no deeper understanding of our own peculiar social evolution.
Millions of business people in Nigeria make their money on the streets. Political impunity and lack of vision have both combined to make millions of Nigerians jobless. The jobless must survive whether we like it or not.
Market women are locked out. Okada riders are locked out. Clubs, or the gig economy, are locked out. Transport workers are locked out. Virtually all businesses except the media, supermarket, pharmacy, security personnel and essential workers are all locked out in Nigeria where there is no social security benefits after the whole cloud is cleared out.
Then the barbaric police impunity set in. They go about braking bottles, smashing heads and beating already saddened people into coma in order to force a social compliance to the lockdown order. Why are we a society of stupidity and violence? Why this heavy handedness against Nigerians who may be facing serious financial bereavement after the war on COVID-19 is won? Why this covidisation of brutality and lawlessness?
An incident in Lagos sent to me on WhatsApp was particularly galling. It was very enraging and it showed that our law enforcement personnel believe in punch up rather than benign and gentle persuasion when dealing with the public. I was shocked to see a barbaric act of wild abandon of bottle smashing and complete destruction of a beer parlour business. The action was nothing but inflicting gunshot wounds on the helpless owner of the business.
I imagine that scenario in the UK. Armless officers on such assignment will most possibly speak to the owner of such business with respect, courtesy and advice the owner to close shop in few hours. They may even offer to help the business owner to pack up. Job done. No animal zealotry. No barbaric impunity. No smashing of heads to enforce covidisation impunity. No bloodletting. No bullying. No smashing of bottles on the ground to endanger the life of the business owner. No inflicting financial ruin on the business owner. The Bible says that a gentle word can break any bone!!!
Bala Elkana, the Lagos State Police Command spokesman, has made known that policemen involved in the bottle-smashing and power rascality action have been arrested. To say that they should be dismissed is to say it nicely. They should face the court for assault to cause bodily harm, harassment, destruction of property and public disorder. In other words, this ugly police covidisation police impunity must not go without a jail term. It is high time Nigerians are protected from some hooligans in uniform who desecrate, disgrace and bring our force to ridicule, shame and disrepute.
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