COVID-19: Executive Denialists at Work

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In the time of virtual reality, alternative facts and a raging pandemic fueled by an infodemic of like intensity, it is no surprise that denialism is also on the ascent.

Not skepticism, which is a healthy antidote to dogmatism, but flat-out rejection of evidence and experience, of probability and possibility, and of the manifestation of things. Skepticism is often rooted in superior knowledge. The denialist disdains knowledge and mocks expertise.

According to a recent survey of some 20,000 subject across Africa conducted by a public-private outfit, one of every 25 respondents stated categorically that the coronavirus could not touch them. There is doubtless a hint of denialism in this, but I would rather put it down to fatalism and superstition, or sheer conceit.

I am here reminded of the fellow who used to be my driver. He never tired of declaring that “disease no dey kill African man.” Not once did I hear him say “disease no dey land African man for hospital,” though I always had to pay his medical bills.

For the sign of these times, look no farther than the on-going coronavirus epidemic.

The denialist-in-chief is of course Donald Trump, president of the United States.  With the coronavirus claiming more than more than 2,000 lives every single day in the United States and counting, and with hardly any let-up in the rate of transmission, Trump has all but proclaimed victory and moved on, with all the instrumentalities of his mighty office, to his reelection campaign.

Now, the really compelling task is to make America greater still and to build in place of the depredations wrought by the coronavirus the greatest economy the world has ever seen and will ever know, far surpassing the one he had built in just three years in office – two years actually, allowing for the distractions of the bogus Russian election interference probe, and the impeachment farce, and much more.

There is also the challenge of getting the numbers up again for the stock market that its envious detractors call a casino. They say it is driven, as all casinos are, by fear and greed. They are welcome to their ignorance, but what would America be without a super-heated stock market and a runaway Dow Jones index?

Trump has not been peddling quack remedies lately, nor has he been trumpeting the imminence arrival on the scene of a vaccine that will cure coronavirus disease or protect people from its insidious trajectory.  The malignant disease, he has assured us, will vanish even without a vaccine.

This, however, is not another excoriation of Trump whose response to the epidemic was characterized this past weekend by his predecessor, the unfailingly even-tempered Barack Obama, as “absolute chaotic disaster.”

Rather, I am thinking of his Nigerian executive disciples in denialism. I am thinking of Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, and the Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade. I was going to join to the duo the hysterical Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike.

But I see that he has since lurched to the other extreme, chasing out of town persons he suspects to be potential transmitters of the disease and personally leading a wrecking crew tear down any dwelling in which such persons may have spent some time.

To be fair, Bello and Ayade are probably not the only coronavirus denialists in Nigeria’s executive ranks. There are those who acknowledge that some “mysterious” deaths are occurring in their domains all right  —Bauchi, Yobe, Zamfara and Kano come to mind — but are loath to accept that the deaths resulted or could have resulted from coronavirus disease.

But Bello and Ayade are different.  Both are frank, matter-of-fact, denialists. But Ayade, a former university professor (microbiology, just imagine!) manages to come across as someone with whom you could have a polite conversation about the virus.  Not so, Bello, his Kogi counterpart, a trained accountant.

And although each is unyielding that the coronavirus has no business sneaking into or being detected in any form or shape or manifestation in his domain, Bello’s denialism is the more arresting.  It is in-your-face, militant and uncompromising, as officials of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and Prevention discovered during an inspection visit to Kogi last week.

In the state capital, Lokoja, the team’s leader, Dr Andrew Noah, had allowed professional courtesies to prevail over strict compliance by shaking hands with the state’s protocol chief who had welcomed the team and passed on the microphone to him after a brief welcome address.

That slip sent Bello into a rage.  He ordered Noah to be quarantined for 14 days, failing which Noah and his team should depart the state immediately and head back to their base.  And to make sure that they did not further compromise Kogi’s environmental immunity, he detailed security officials to escort them into the territory of state across the boundary.

The quarantine order did not apply to the state protocol chief since he, being a Kogi resident and an official of the state’s government to boot, could not possibly harbor the coronavirus or be susceptible to it.

Bello explained that he was taking that step to ensure that “the laid down procedure for checkmating the scourge” was strictly followed.  Kogi did not want to be accounted among the states that have corona cases when it had none.  Those states that wanted the benefits accruing from that status were welcome to their harvests of death and misery, but please count Kogi and its executive governor out.  They have nobler ambitions.

But why would the virus that spares not princes, prime ministers, emirs, nor yet principalities and powers:  why would it exempt Cross River State and Kogi?  This is no idle question. For the answer may well point the way forward and help avert a recrudescence.

What is it, then, about Cross River State, it is necessary to ask, that has made it impervious to the virus?  Is it Tinapa?  Or the Calabar Carnival?  Or the Obudu Ranch Resort, the retreat in the skies? Or Mary Slessor’s long shadow?  Or Calabar’s storied place in Nigeria’s colonial history and politics.   Or its famed cuisine (think edikan ikong).  Or its languid clime? Or the spirit of the ancestors?

What has kept the ravenous, equal-opportunity predator at bay in Kogi State?  Mount Pate?  Frederick Lugard’s long shadow? Echoes of Samuel Ajayi Crowther’s benedictions?  The confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers? The ghost of the Royal Niger Company determined to keep Kogi safe for commerce and investment?  Or the Ajaokuta steel plant rearing to go into production after so many sputtering starts?

It may well be that the virus has decided to stay severely away from Kogi, knowing that it has no chance against the fortifications the dynamic and far-seeing authorities have erected, and that the testing centres, isolation wards, containment rooms, and the stockpiles of ventilators and personal protection gear already in place, will render it dead on arrival if it has the temerity to even sniff the Kogi environment.  I say nothing, of course, of the most formidable array of medical expertise ever assembled in one place.

But if, despite all this, and despite Bello’s grandstanding the coronavirus, being no respecter of persons, systems or structures, were to insinuate itself into Kogi, dealing death and misery in its wake, Governor Yahaya Bello will have a great deal to answer for.

Credits: Olatunji Dare | The Nation

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