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Random thoughts on lockdown in Abuja

It’s 7.30am. I am getting late. Work starts by 8am to 12pm on Fridays. I am not bothered as I won’t be long in the office. My anxiety rises. I am in the most important period where I need to use personal things. But my car, which I have been very grateful to have is failing during this pandemic. Oh! I get it now. It really wants me to stay at home. Such a caring car. Anyway, I had to go to the office. I have some work emails I could only access from my workstation. And I needed to turn in my monthly report (the only way I could get paid). And the last of them all. My contract with the company expires on 31st March. Will I get a job in this pandemic era? What job would be ideal? A life coach? A volunteer with NCDC? I don’t even know. My anxiety rises as I request for a ride with Bolt. The welcome message on the Bolt App says windows will be down throughout the journey as a precaution to COVID-19. He turned on the AC and wind up the windows. The driver obviously didn’t learn about this message. I wind mine down. He followed suit.

 As we drove, I started to read my book “Talking to Strangers” by Malcolm Gladwell. Two seconds in, I quit. I wanted to think for a minute and see how the Stay- at -Home Protocol is changing Abuja. There are less cars on the streets. It was like the first week of New Year. When many people are out of town. But today, many were around, but just indoors. Then the absurdity of the day happened as we drove through Central Business District. I could not believe what I saw. Many boys. Shirtless. In shorts. In socks. In boots. About 16 of them I guess. They were not playing discus. Not baseball. They were playing soccer. This is coming a day after the President said all non-essential workers and level 12 workers should stay at home.

A day when Kaduna State Governor ordered a 24 hour indefinite curfew. A day after Kano State locked all entry and exit roads in to the State. A day that COVID-19 killed 500 people in Italy. These young men were playing soccer. My thoughts were interrupted by an arriving public bus from one of the satellite towns. it was filled to capacity. Then I realised maybe I was overreacting. Maybe, there isn’t actually no cause for alarm. That I am the over-cautious type. Because these people are not as cautious as I thought they should be. But no, I am not over-cautious. In Kaduna, only two people could sit in a row in the bus before the curfew was imposed. They were practising social distancing even before any confirmed case was announced. But my citizens of the capital city either have more than one life or have a magic portion to cure them. Perhaps, they have contacts with babalawos or mallams. We are in a period where any slight symptom of COVID-19; fever, dry cough, difficulty in breathing, etc. leaves you paranoid. “Do I have it or not?” is the question on the minds of so many people. There are only six testing centres for 200 million Nigerians.

They won’t test you until you show excessive symptoms. And this leaves me worried. But it doesn’t bother so many others I observed. On a certain night, I was taking my 10pm walks when the streets were more deserted. And I noticed a construction site with people working. It left me wondering again. Do some people have titanium-COVID-19-proof bodies? Later that Friday, the Juma’ at prayers held at Wuye Central Mosque. Many people attended I heard. Religion is indeed a way of life, and the means to death for so many people. I was once again, taken aback by the events happening before me. Just the way I ignore going to the mosque. I cannot even remember the last time I went to the mosque. I decided to ignore, again. Such is the way I ignore and disbelieve the number of reported cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria. Even John Hopkins University in the United States reported that COVID-19 data is under-reported in the US. Then why are we relying and acting on the data here? Instead, we should act as if the data is 99% under-reported. No, wait. Act as if it is 999% under-reported. This left me wondering how it is very easy for human beings to believe. Not all of the people who shook hands with the people who received the viral handshake from the Chief of Staff to the President or Governor of Bauchi State have been tracked and tested and Nigerians updated about their status?

Days before today, I was on top of the international news. From US to Europe and China, following the most followed topic on Quora, COVID-19. Learning about the different experiences in those regions and if any scientist somewhere has had a eureka moment of finding the cure. We need a miracle is all I sing silently these days. I was also on social media, following trending topics, nationally and globally. People are still divided along cultural and political lines. Right now. I am only thinking about how everyone can survive this. Some are still selling cars and shoes. Some are getting married. My friend got married in Kano.

Meanwhile, he was in Kaduna not looking anything close to a groom on his wedding. He shared with me the WhatsApp video sent to him of the wedding taking place in his absence. His wife will be delivered to him that day. Such a lucky boy! When I asked my friends on WhatsApp what they will like to do after the pandemic is over, many mentioned they will get married. Some mentioned they will love their family more. One said he will visit Saudi Arabia. Another said she will do her nails and get a massage. A friend told me one of their High School colleagues posted in their group’s platform, he will organise a reunion, appreciate everyone and pray a congregational prayer to God for keeping them alive and he will foot all the bills. As for me, I don’t have anything to do particularly different. Instead, I will just ensure to keep working on the goals I have set for the year. Write a book and fix non-functional boreholes. With those two, I think I will be safe. But my dad called me and said when the virus is over, I should visit home. Emphasis on ‘over’.

When I spoke to my mum yesterday, she asked, “what am I still doing in Abuja?’, I said: “obeying the Prophet’s order of not leaving a city where a plague has broken”. I later realised my productivity during the week has declined, because of the anxiety of following the news and the pandemic. Then I started ignoring. I don’t even want to know how many cases are confirmed. Who or what celebrity or high profile person has got the virus? COVID-19; infection of the rich and of the people who are close to the rich. Later that day, I spoke with friends in the UK, Canada and Lithuania. They have been staying at home for the past 9 days with the exception of the Canadian. They only go out occasionally for a short walk to get some fresh air. They were all couples and Nigerians. They are doing okay. I hope we will all be. In Sha Allah. It is not the end. It is not our end. It is an opportunity to begin differently.

Sadiq Abubakar Gulma works from home in Abuja
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