The sky was light blue and the clouds fluffy like smoke pellets from a blacksmith’s fire bellows, overhead the northern sun shone brightly, and just underneath the clouds, you could see low flying birds hovering lazily in-between white clouds, chirping in birdy tunes about the warm weather and other birdy affairs.
The air was hot, even the air conditioning from the slow moving sedan could not combat the terrible heat that my body was trying hard to contain. Every pore on my skin oozed salty, fast flowing droplets of sweat and they each formed little streamlets on the torso of my fake Louis Vuitton polo shirt.
From my days as a student, Gwagwalada has always been one very hot town, but somehow,I managed to adapt to the weather. But just three years after graduation my body had de-acclimatized and I could tell from the way sweats quickly trickled out of my skin pores.
My mission here was simple, observe and report.
Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, cities across the world have been shut down, with death toll rising rapidly amidst the fast race amongst scientists of different nations to find a vaccine or cure that could help put a stop to the spread of the virus. In the meantime however, the whole world agreed that the best solution was a total lockdown, a stay at home order was issued by governments across the globe, each according to the severity of the situation in the affected country. This was because, the virus being, well, just a virus, could only survive in the body of a host and spread only when host or carriers move from one place to another.
When the virus hit Nigeria, as expected, it first touched down in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial city from whence it spread rapidly to other states of the federation, prompting the federal government led by his Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari to issue a lockdown on hotbed states like Abuja, Lagos and Ogun. Soon enough, other state governments followed suit, especially since multiple deaths were recorded in Kano, one of Nigeria’s most populous cities.
However, with the lockdown came devastating economic effects, prices of crude oil (our main Source of revenue) crashed like a pack of dominoes, inflation surfaced and hardship stared the people hard in the face especially since the majority of the population were self-employed .
Without an alternative to the biting hunger and impending socio-economic doom that was bound to hit the nation should the lockdown continue, the presidency issued a lift-off, restricting movements and allowing some part of the population to resume their daily business, whether this was a wise decision to make, only time and chance would tell.
To combat the spread of the virus and treat people who had contracted the virus, isolation centers were built in Abuja, the nation’s capital. As home to the best specialist hospital in Abuja, and Nigeria, it was only natural that Gwagwalada was chosen as the site for the two isolation centers in Abuja.
Work began in earnest and soon enough, the isolation centers began receiving patients and case studies from all over the country.
As a town with active cases of coronavirus,one would expect that the ambience here would be different from what is obtainable in other parts of the country, considering the fact that they (the inhabitants) are neighbors to the isolation center and that any breach in protocol or security at the center could lead to a city-wide infection .
But alas, the reverse is the case here, as observed by my humble self.
Getting into the city was business as usual, the security post leading into the city was manned by two soldiers who went about their business of checking vehicles for security risks.
Once our vehicle was cleared and we drove into the town, life went about as usual (As experienced pre-Corona), leaving one to wonder if the inhabitants were ignorant of the health threat hanging all around them.
Each side of the two lane road leading to the heart of Gwagwalada was lined by new generation banks, eateries and small businesses. From the inside of the tinted Toyota sedan, I could see hundreds of people at least at each bank premises, each individual trying to trample upon another in a frantic bid to get into the banking halls for whatever transactions must have brought them there in the first instance.
From where I sat, I could see that most of the struggling customers had no mask or any other form of Protection, each person apparently hanging their safety in the hands of their ‘chi’, hoping that chance and fate would keep them free from the deadly coronavirus.
Getting into the heart of the city, the sight was unexpected. Life went on as usual, there was buying and selling, hugging and shaking with a very small number of persons observing the much needed social distancing.
Schools were closed, including the prestigious University of Abuja, but aside from the schools, almost every other business remained open.
The almajiri kids were not left out as each struggled to outdo the other in seeking for alms, a few wore face masks made of clothes while others just ran about, unconcerned.
I got there round 1 pm, the peak of the day so I had ample time to observe happenings around the city.
From phase 1, to phase 3 and even by the customs college, hundreds of young men and women gathered in small groups ,playing games, smoking or sitting idly under huge canopy trees, trying to pass time and wear away boredom.
Although a good number of the inhabitants are aware of the dangers of the COVID-19 virus, the people still go about their daily activities unhindered. Throughout the city, there is absence of any sensitization material, enforcement officials or regular door to door testing as would be expected from a city playing host to an isolation center.
By exactly 6:45 p:m when the sun was almost home in its resting place, I could see women and children already roasting yesterday’s catfish in today’s fire.
Around the phase 3 primary school down to phase 1, by the end of the faculty of law gate, hot coals bellowed smoke as oil from delicious looking catfish smeared in plenty oil and pepper poured in droplets upon the hot coal, making a hissing sound peculiar only to burning charcoal.
I dropped from the car and walked closer to have a clearer view.
‘Oga fish dey, catfish, croaker fish self dey”, a young girl of about 15 years screamed right in my face, she was less than 1 cm away from me, I quickly stepped back a little…to observe social distancing.
Walking past the gang of roasted fish sellers, I saw a string of bars lined up on the left side of the street bordering the primary school. Surprisingly, each bar was opened and more than half of it was filled to the brim with fun loving Nigerians who came for the sizzling fish and ice-chilled alcohol.
I was perplexed, I didn’t understand what was going on, I thought bars, churches, mosques and certain businesses were still prohibited from opening shops?
Is nobody in government aware of the health risk this opened businesses are posing both to themselves and the society at large?
I get it that we want to make money, I understand the need for self-survival, after all, the palliatives we have been hearing of, no one we know of has received or seen any, but then, in the face of impending death and suffering, why can’t we observe a little restraint, endure a little suffering till this all passes away?
Of what use is money when there is no life?
I was curious, so I sat down on an empty table and watched from a respectable distance to see if any law enforcement agent(s) would drive in, in a commando, james bond style and bundle all the risk takers to an isolation centre. I left there by exactly 9:15 p:m and till I left, the bubble and enjoyment was still at its peak with no sign of anyone or anybody putting a stop to the situation.
Prior to this moment, I had spoken with ten persons, to find out what they thought of the situation in Gwagwalada as regards the Coronavirus and from the response I got, it was obvious that majority of the people still do not understand the gravity of the impending danger facing us as a country should the situation spiral out of control.