Coronavirus 419 is not a new, deadlier and more insidious strain of the coronavirus Covid-19, the ravenous predator that has carved a trail of blight and despair and desolation and misery on a Biblical scale, claiming as of last week some 400, 000 lives worldwide, among them 342 Nigerians, the latter probably a gross undercount, given the nation’s notoriously shabby recordkeeping.
Coronavirus 419 is not even a virus in the epidemiological sense. Drawing on the familiar meaning of the suffix in our statute books and in our common usage, I coined the term to subsume the scams, the swindles, the knavery and the buffoonery that have coalesced into a growth industry around COVID-19.
Hereafter, we shall call that industry COVID-419, to distinguish it from the epidemiological manifestation.
No prizes for figuring out the undisputable runaway winner of COVID-419 sweepstakes in the global category: Donald Trump, the man-child who wears the garb of president of the United States, a disgrace to that office and withal a person who defiles everything he touches and brings into disrepute every cause he embraces.
He denies its existence, plays down its menace, blames everyone except himself for the heavy toll it has taken on American lives – 110, 000 at the last count; peddles sham cures, prescribes junk but life-threatening medication, raises false hopes that a sure-fire vaccine is on the threshold, bullies medical experts into silence or hounds them into retirement.
Having run out of stunts that it would be courteous to call infantile even as the coronavirus tightened its malignant grip on America and widened its destructive path, Trump declared victory and turned his ever- fleeting attention to reopening the greatest economy in the world that it had taken him just three years in office to build, only for it to be pulverized by the Coronavirus.
Last week, he was declaring victory on that front as well, based on a phenomenal job growth that defied rhyme and reason. The aftermath of the gruesome murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minnesota was still roiling more than 175 cities in the United States and dozens more across the world but Trump thought nothing of invoking Floyd’s memory to celebrate a phantom uptick as a happy development for everyone, Floyd especially.
Nobody has ever accused Trump of decency.
The first-place prize for COVID -419 in the African category will have to be awarded to President Andry Raejolina of the Indian Ocean nation of Madagascar.
No sooner had the coronavirus attained pandemic status than Madagascar announced sensationally that it had developed a herbal medicine cure for coronavirus. He had challenged experts in his country to produce a local remedy and they had delivered in record time.
At the colorful product launch, Raejolina had gulped down a judicious amount of the bottled drink, COVID-Organics, and authoritatively pronounced it safe for all, including children. He said it had been tested certified by the Malagasy Institute of Applied Research.
Two individuals had participated in the test, and the concoction had flushed out their bodies whatever was ailing them in three short weeks. And the tests had produced clear and unassailable evidence of the efficacy and safety of the medicine in just seven days. Nor was that all. It has the unique merit of doubling as prophylactic and curative for coronavirus disease.
The packaging, from the elegant bottle to the arresting label, was slick. I have no doubt that when the medicine becomes available shortly as an injection, the presentation will be no less captivating. Full marks to the product managers on those scores which have been the bane of Africa’s export trade.
Rajoelina had a word, a preemptive blow of sorts, for the doubters and denialists whom we shall always have amongst us: Do not denigrate this pharmaceutical breakthrough just because it is from Africa. Had it been produced in France or Germany or even Korea, would they turn their noses at it?
In the spirit of African brotherhood, Rajoelina ferried shipments of COVID Organics to some key African countries. Nigeria’s allotment was presented to President Muhammadu Buhari at a solemn ceremony in Abuja by the visiting President of Guinea-Bissau, Umaru Sissoco Embalo.
Even in Africa, there is no free lunch these days. And so, the bill arrived shortly thereafter: $170, 000, or about N68 million, for a product that Nigeria had not asked for, and the efficacy and safety of which are yet to win iron-clad international certification. That amount, by the way, is enough, to build and equip a primary healthcare facility in a rural area, even allowing for the usual shenanigans, I gather.
And, mind you, not a whiff of the concoction had yet titillated the nostrils of the principal officers of state; not a drop had landed in the test tubes of the certifying authorities before the bill collector came calling. That is un-African, sir.
This marketing by ambush, not COVID Organics and the properties claimed for it, is what has earned Madagascar’s President Rajoelina the first-place prize for Coronavirus 419 (or COVID 419) in the African category.
The first-place winner in the Nigerian category, I can now report, is by the grace of Attorney-General Abubakar Malami (SAN) and our wayward courts, the Executive Governor of Kogi, the Confluence State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello. Why, by the way, does he have that startled look of a deer caught in the headlights of a vehicle at night in the stock picture that runs with stories about him in the media?
Bello, it is hardly necessary to recall, had without fear and without research, declared his domain impregnable to the coronavirus and off-limits to the disease it spawns, though it has a common border with 10 of Nigeria’s 36 states and is the gateway to the nation’s capital Abuja and the North.
Other than a special app he implausibly claimed to have developed and distributed throughout Kogi, he has been unable to furnish any reason for Kogi’s special dispensation in the matter. It is as though he regards it as an abomination for any state to harbor a single case of the affliction that kills far fewer people than malaria fever does.
To mention Coronavirus disease and Kogi in the same breath almost renders him apoplectic. To Bello, that is the epidemiological equivalent of treason.
Then, last week, the bubble burst.
A case of the affliction was reported in my hometown Kabba. Bello went ballistic, placing the entire area in a “total lockdown,” effective immediately, for the next two weeks.
While it lasted, no movement would be permitted even from one house to the next, for any purpose whatsoever. No movement of vehicles would be countenanced. Medical personnel would go from house to house to administer tests for Coronavirus. Relief materials, alias palliatives, would be distributed in like manner. The police would flood the area to enforce strict compliance, and the media would furnish in-depth reports.
In a moment of sobriety, Bello announced that the total lockdown would now start the day after, to allow residents to stock up on food and supplies and withdraw money from the banks, and conclude transactions in progress.
In the event, the lockdown ended the day it began. The alleged index case has tested negative, and so had members of his family. No other persons were tested. The state had neither the personnel nor the equipment. It had no palliatives to distribute. The whole thing was bluff and bluster.
Nevertheless, case proven beyond a reasonable doubt: No coronavirus in Kogi, officials exulted.
Bello must be running out of stunts. But his first-place prize in the race so far for Coronavirus 419 (or COVID-419) in the national category was well and truly earned.
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