Nigeria

Reflections on the coronavirus crisis

By Donu Kogbara

Illustrative, Medical staff

LIKE everyone else, I was caught unawares by the global coronavirus crisis. One minute, we were being told about a deadly new zoonotic disease that had originated in the wild animal kingdom and was terrorising human inhabitants of the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The next minute, coronavirus or COVID-19 became a worldwide pandemic. And we are all watching in utter shock as government after government embraces extreme preventative measures such as shutting down schools, banning large gatherings, rejecting flights from other countries and forcing people to stay at home.
We have witnessed mass closures of restaurants, bars, shops and offices. We have seen big sporting events and conferences and concerts and theatrical performances being cancelled. Religious ceremonies have been suspended until further notice – even in the Vatican; and the 2020 Olympics have been postponed until 2021.

Panic-buying of hand sanitizers

There have been multiple deaths. Hospitals are in emergency mode. Medics are working round the clock. A mortuary in Central London is being expanded to cope with an escalating fatality rate. There is manic panic-buying of toilet rolls, hand sanitizers, food and so on.

The fear is palpable. For a long time, many Nigerians, including me, were complacent. Because Nigeria didn’t have any official records of individuals who had been infected by the virus at a time when there were plenty of casualties in Europe, Asia and North America, some of us believed that COVID-19 could not survive in our hot and humid climate…and/or that we possessed super-resilient African DNA that immunised us.

In fact, I was so sure that I’d be much safer here than in the UK that I ditched a planned trip to the UK 10 days ago and pleaded with my London-based son to come and stay with me in Abuja. There were prophets of doom who regarded my optimism as delusional and insisted that corona must have been alive-and-kicking here for several weeks…and that we simply didn’t know that it had been quietly wreaking havoc in our midst because our healthcare authorities were too inept or ill-equipped to spot infected persons.

Well, it turns out that we are not less susceptible to coronavirus than those from distant lands and races. So far, over 50 infected persons have been identified in Nigeria; and the Federal and state governments have decided to take no chances and impose draconian precautions that are already causing a lot of disruption.
While all this is going on, let me share an important lesson that I have learned from the coronavirus crisis, being that those who have a choice should always be prepared for the worst possible outcomes.
Life is unpredictable and you never know when disaster will strike. And disasters come in different shapes and sizes.

Whether you are a self-employed freelance whatever or have a “secure” job, you can suddenly lose your livelihood for all sorts of reasons. You can, for example, fall ill and lose the ability to work. Your employer or client can, for example, suddenly conclude, without warning, that your services are no longer necessary. You and those you work with and work for can, for example, suddenly become victims of unforeseen natural or medical disasters like earthquake, tsunamis and pandemics that destroy entire economies.
If, like me, you have no savings, you are only a paycheck or two away from bankruptcy and will be catapulted into a financial nightmare if your income streams grind to a halt or are significantly reduced.
One of the ways in which I supplement my modest journalistic earnings is by assisting people who are organising events and packaging sponsored publications for foreign media outlets. And I gotta tell ya that I’ve been hit hard by multiple cancellations of various conferences, exhibitions and special supplements.
At times like this, you survey your pitiful bank balance, remember the luxuries you could easily have lived without and wish that you had, while the going was good, put money aside for rainy days. My advice to Vanguard readers is this: If you earn enough to save even a few paltry pennies every month after you have paid crucial bills, make sacrifices, defer gratification and be prudent!!!

Do not (as I did) foolishly take the view that you might as well enjoy yourself whenever the opportunity arises “because life is too short and it’s not like an extra pair of earrings will ruin me”!

It’s good for the soul to sometimes cheer yourself up by treating yourself to nonessential items like extra earrings; but if you pamper yourself less often and prioritise parsimony, you may still panic when your income takes a hit. But you will at least have a safety net to fall back on while you are struggling to get over the crisis in question.

Trust me, when you are compelled to ask a solvent friend or relative for a loan because you don’t have a safety net, you will look at those earrings with a jaundiced eye – and loathe yourself for succumbing to all of your other mindless extravagances – if you have any pride.

For some of you, being careful with money comes naturally. But it’s taken me decades to learn this kind of commonsense; and I say to any Vanguard reader who is a slow learner like me to take heed!

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