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Nigerian students deny reality of coronavirus

Mass communication students in their final year at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, seated and ready for lectures with no social distancing. (Belssing Udeobasi / YJI)

Nsukka, NIGERIA – With most people neglecting all protocols stipulated by Nigeria’s Center for Disease Control and the environment seemingly not conducive to preventing the spread of covid-19, people here seem to have forgotten the coronavirus exists.

As of mid-May, there were 49 new cases of covid-19 across the country with 22 new cases in Enugu, the state in Southeast Nigeria that is home to the university of Nigeria, Nsukka. This is in addition to over 7,000 active cases as updated by the country’s National Centre for Disease Control.

When the virus first hit the country, facemasks were compulsory, with law enforcement agents positioned to ensure strict compliance. Officials banned social gatherings and temporarily halted church activities.

But as time went on, the lockdown was eased and people went about their various activities. Schools re-opened without proper provisions for the prevention of covid-19, markets were also re-opened and churches began activities once again. 

All these were done without proper provisions for the prevention of the virus – social distancing, regular handwashing, infrared thermometers and other facilities as stipulated by health authorities. 

One of the reasons for the decline in the observance of covid-19 prevention protocols is that most Nigerians think that the Nigerian Center for Disease Control data about the virus and infections is false.

Most people say that seeing is believing and so they want to see someone they know exhibiting symptoms.

Amarachi Agbo, who studies economics at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka said that even when people hear of increasing number of cases right on their doorstep, they feel it’s all fake because they’ve not seen a picture or name of at least one person suffering from the virus or testifying to it.

Neither have most people seen someone they know exhibiting the symptoms of covid-19, Agbo said, which is one of the reasons she thinks Nigerians are not taking it seriously. 

At the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, students can be seen moving freely and going about their daily activities without paying much attention to the possibility of contracting the virus. 

With a large population of students made to fit into classrooms not big enough to contain half as many students, proper management of the virus seems close to impossible.

Some departments have at least 150 students in a class meant to accommodate only 50 students, and these students are forced to squeeze into the classroom by squatting near one another. Others stand on walkways just to attend lectures.

Under these circumstances, wearing of facemasks is as good as useless since it is impossible to maintain social distancing.

Lecturers do not also help matters at all, as only about 10% of them attend classes with facemasks. 

Maintaining covid-19 protocols has become an official duty for most people at the University of Nigeria, as students only obey them when they want to enter offices. Students leave their masks in their school bags and only remember to bring them out when they get to the entrance of offices where masking is mandatory. 

For Steve Sonni, who studies mass communication at the university, observing social distancing has been a difficult task. No matter how hard he tries to do otherwise, he finds himself in a crowded classroom as he cannot afford to miss classes just to maintain social distancing.

According to him, over 280 students are meant to fit into a class built to contain just about 60-70 students. 

Sonni said that despite being aware of the existence of the virus, he rarely uses a facemask since the pandemic is no longer trending.

Before resuming classes, schools were asked to provide stipulated covid-19 prevention requirements, such as infrared thermometers, hand sanitizers and water for washing hands at the necessary places.

Schools were supposed to adopt online learning for most of the courses to limit physical contact. But upon resumption, none of those were made available to students and the school environment was almost the same as students left it before the pandemic.

Online classes have been difficult in most tertiary institutions in Nigeria.

A poor supply of electricity, internet access and an outrageous student population are obstacles to online learning which would help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

“My class made an attempt at online classes using Google meet shortly after we resumed, but it was unsuccessful as students found it difficult utilizing it so it was scrapped after about a week,” Sonni said. 

Agbo said her department tried online learning but discovered it was not feasible because some students do not have the devices and data subscription to connect to the internet since the school wifi is not readily available at all times and all locations. 

Agbo said she does not believe in the existence of coronavirus. She said she made efforts to keep herself safe when the virus first hit, but later relented and now observes social distancing or wears a facemask only when she’s going to church or the library just because it is compulsory there. Every other place, especially her classroom, is usually overpopulated, leaving no room for social distancing. 

Similarly, Marian Obiefule, who is in her final year studying history and international studies at the university, said she rarely wears a facemask. Along with many other Nigerians, Obiefule doubts the existence of the virus, she said, because of the initial approach given to it by the Nigerian government.

Obiefule said the government used the pandemic  as an avenue to loot public funds meant for curbing the spread of covid-19. She claimed it manipulated figures of confirmed cases.

Her department, Obiefule said, found online learning unfeasible and did not make any attempt to do it. 

According to the World Health Organization, Nigeria has had more than 166,000 cases of covid-19 and more than 2,000 deaths from the disease.

Blessing Udeobasi is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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