By Tobore OVUORIE
NIGERIA is one of the countries that have been hit by a second wave of the COVID-19. Currently, the country struggles to curb the spread of the virus as figures of infection rates soar each day.
TOBORE OVUORIE who visited Delta, Lagos, Ogun, Anambra, Sokoto states and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja reports about COVID-19 survivors’ tales of recoveries and deaths. She discovered that while many Nigerians still believe COVID-19 is a myth, others think the infection no longer exists in the country. She also observed that stigmatisation and discrimination against persons who have contracted the virus are rife.
Nine survivors, all from diverse backgrounds, spoke with her.
Here are their stories.
When gold trusts
December 13th, 2020
Wetlands Hotel, Ughelli North Delta State
We were all dancing; bodies wriggling stylishly in different directions, hands thrown in the air with reckless abandon, but in sync with melodious tunes that rent the air. Mouths and eyes half-opened in momentary ectasy. Some raised their legs well above the ground. Others had their waists to the ground but not out of tune. Even the aged swayed their tired bodies to the rythm of the of the music.
The well-lit palatial hall filled to the brim was on fire!
“The DJ sabi work well o,” the middle-aged man standing to my right sheepishly smiled at me while I was observing and filming activities in the reception hall.
“The guy b-a-a-d mehn! See as he wan make people craze trowey cloth,” I responded in Waffi, a South-South Nigeria variant of Pidgin English.
“Money good o. Akpo!” That sheepish smile and sleepy eyes of his, though!
But honestly, he was right. Only the rich could host such a crowd of wedding guests at an expensive reception hall in Wetlands Hotel, Ughelli North, Delta state.
And, yes, Prince Oghenetejiri Peter Uloho; the groom, was not only the son of Delta state’s All Progressive Congress (APC) Chairman, Ughelli North Constituency II; Chief Austin Uloho – a senior chief of council to the Ughelli Kingdom – Teejay, as he is popularly called, is a Senior Legislative Aide (SLA) to the Deputy Senate President, Senator, Omo Agege.
It certainly explains why heavyweight politicians from the state, and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, turned up at the occasion.
In attendance were Chief of Staff to the Delta state governor, Chief David Edevbie; Special Adviser Youth Development to the Delta state governor and Ame 1 of Ughelli Kingdom, Chief Emuoboh Gbagi; Former Delta state House Of Assembly member representing Ughelli Constituency, Hon. Taleb Tebite; Honourable Member representing Ughelli North, Ughelli South and Udu Federal Constituency, Rt. Hon. Rev. Francis Waive; Son of Amori Ighoyota, Onome Amori and SLA to the Deputy Senate President, Hon. Godstime Majemite, all of them in boisterous spirit, with their hairs let down. No facemasks. No social distancing. No observing the COVID-19 safety precautions.
The number of the guests not fewer than 500 was grossly against the COVID-19 safety rules which requires not more than 50 guests at a large gathering.
COVID-19 and wedding rite reality
Although the COVID-19 regulations allow a maximum of 50 attendees at large gatherings such as wedding and funereal ceremonies, many families organising social functions disobey this regulation in Nigeria.
This is against experts’ warning that reckless social gathering could be partly responsible for a wave of new and increased cases of infection in the country.
Health experts say the novel coronavirus also called COVID-19, mostly affects the respiratory systems with catastrophic consequences in various body organs. It is however more severe in the elderly and people with underlining health conditions. Many aspects of the novel virus remain unclear.
The Nigerian government, like other governments elsewhere has recommended that physical distancing of humans should be observed because it is an effective measure in reducing transmission of viral diseases, such as the COVID-19. But at the gathering of people in Nigeria including those who make the rules, the Covid protocol is often violated, as shown in the photos and videos of the wedding taken at the parties held in December 10 and 13, respectively.
Further investigations in the FCT where I visited for this story revealed that the physical distancing guidelines are not being observed in the cities, hinterlands, rural areas and religious centres.
While on the field for this story, I observed food and water are shared indiscriminately, while people sit and stand very close to each other exchanging pleasantries. I also observed cultural practices being complied fully, such as escorting a bride as tradition demands but at very close proximity by the women in the family, worse still, without using facemasks. But public experts warn this present an opportunity for the virus to be contracted and spread.
I also observed that covering of the mouth using mask is not being strictly applied, and there are much singing, vigorous dancing and spraying of cash at weddings. Again, available COVID-19 researches indicate these are opportunities for the spread of droplets containing the virus.
To hell with COVID-19?
I moved around the party venue and observed there were no hands sanitizers or hands washing facility at the entrance nor anywhere in the immediate surrounding of the party, as directed by the Federal Government in the fight against the virus in the country.
Again, there was no space between guests as we all sat close to one another. Guests who were trying to make their way to their seats kept hitting my head with their hands and other body parts. I had to resume my photographer duties early to prevent leaving the party with a headache.
The groom who is a psychologist had no facemask on and his pregnant bride Mercy Ejaita Saturday, who is a recent graduate of the Delta State University, Abraka never used a facemask during their traditional wedding which held December 10th, 2020 at Agbarha-Otor, Delta State nor at the church wedding at Christ Apostolic Church, Ughelli, December 13th, 2020.
The bridal train members who ushered the couple into the reception hall with stylish dance steps, had no facemask on, as well.
Both mothers of the couple and their friends who danced into the reception hall with energetic dancing steps also threw the COVID-19 safety precautions to the winds.
COVID-19 is a disease caused by a new strain of coronavirus. CO stands for Corona, VI for Virus and D for Disease, says the World Health Organization. The COVID-19 virus is a new virus transmitted through direct contact with respiratory droplets of an infected person. The global health body says it could be fatal if not detected on time, especially among persons with pre-existing medical conditions.
One of Nigeria’s most brilliant engineers certainly came in contact with these respiratory droplets. Unfortunately, he had pre-existing medical conditions, while the COVID-19 was not detected in him on time.
“Not being able to say goodbye to him physically hurts deeply”
It has been four months since Mr. Bob Osazuwa, aged 76, lost the battle to complications activated by COVID-19, but even persons whose path crossed with his few times while he was alive, are yet to recover from his sudden exit, let alone family members like Ivie Akenzua, a researcher.
Fondly called Uncle Bob, he was an engineer, father of two children who are in their twenties and the younger brother to Ivie’s mother. He was a lover of egusi soup with well-pounded yam or eba. Though not a nerd, he was a very brilliant engineer from Edo state, and worked all over the world; in Nigeria, Russia, United States, amongst other places and was still being paid until his demise to work at different parts of the world.
He is remembered by his family and others who had met him for making them have value for themselves.
“If he related with you or were around you, he will help you appreciate or bring out those things that you didn’t even know that you possessed,” Ivie narrated when I engaged her to talk about him.
For instance, he was a mentor, backbone and someone Ivie looked up to; not just an uncle. “He was a good, decent human being,” she said in a very emotional tone.
Every time Ivie had a new publication, she would share it with him and he would critique it. He encouraged her by giving other dimensions she could have applied in her research.
Ivie had phoned him sometime in August this year and he said he had a very bad cold and was recovering from malaria. Later that day, he was admitted at a private hospital in Surulere, Lagos where he subsequently suffered a renal failure band had to undergo dialysis twice before it was discovered the complications were as a result of COVID-19.
Uncle Bob was then transferred to the Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, which was used as one of the isolation centres in Lagos. The Osazuwas were limited with what they could do because Uncle Bob’s family lives abroad, while Ivie who lives in the Federal Capital Terriotry, Abuja and Delta state respectively, was recovering from a major surgery at the time and travels were not allowed. However, they ensured he was well cared for. He had the best of medical treatment.
The Osazuwas kept praying and hoping for the best. Ivie always prayed for his healing to be complete and perfect. He looked far younger than 76, so she was very concerned that having prostrate issues, renal failure and COVID could lead him to become dependent on other people to survive. She didn’t want him in a vegetative state.
His driver who was always around him was tested for COVID and his result returned negative. The family is not sure how he contracted the virus because he lived alone and had been working from home since during the lockdown. He was very finnicky about social distancing and use of facemasks.
But he succumbed to the COVID-19 two weeks after being admitted in the hospital and isolation centre.
“I spoke with him the day he was hospitalized and he died two weeks after. It was that period he had a renal failure because he already had an enlarged prostate,” Ivie said when I prodded further about his last moments.
It’s not been easy for the Osazuwas. Ivie now returns to Uncle Bob’s WhatsApp messages sent to her. She has no plans to delete them. She wants to go back to them always.
“It’s something I treasure. I just want it to be me and the messages. It’s my way of connecting with him. Sometimes I cry and you can only imagine what it’s like for his (immediate) family,” she said.
His wife misses him phoning her to prepare egusi soup ahead of his returning home.
This year’s Christmas is already extremely tough for the Osazuwas as it announces his eternal absence.
Cultural funeral rites debate
The extended family members at their hometown in Benin city, wanted Uncle Bob’s corpse to be brought to Edo state, South-South Nigeria. This was despite the cause of death. They claimed tradition demands so.
Ivie says it was explained that even bodies of persons who didn’t die as a result of COVID-19 are not allowed to be moved around the country, how much more that caused by COVID-19.
The extended family wanted the deceased’s wife to return to the country to perform some traditional rites. His corpse, too had to be physically present. Ivie and other relations in the city warned them that if the bickering continued, the government will bury him on their behalf. This hit them hard.
Only five persons were physically present at his funeral. It was performed via zoom and was quite emotional. His family preferred not to be a part of the live streaming. They requested for a video recording of it sent to them which they would later watch.
“Not being able to say goodbye to him physically hurts deeply. Everything happened during the peak of the pandemic. But two cousins were at the funeral, alongside staffs from the IDH. He was buried at a private cemetery in Yaba,” says Ivie.
Uncle Bob’s funeral brought closure; healing has started and is still ongoing. It was quite tough debating with the extended family members who reside at the village.
Uncle Bob was quite passionate about young people and invested much of his time in them. He was daddy, friend, uncle and paddy to every young person in his life. He mingled with young person easily notwithstanding his age.
Not being able to further impact the lives of young people before he died would be his major regret if such were permitted in the life after.
Not first COVID-19 case in the family
Uncle Bob was not the first person in the family ro contract the COVID-19. Ivie’s elder sister, Oghogho who is a banker in Lagos State did. And, she was quite outspoken about it. She was tough on everyone who tried to stigmatise her. This sort of prevented any sort of stigma when Uncle Bob’s case came up.
The family has received so much support, love and care from everyone.
“Nigerians should not just sit down and fold their hands and think all is paradise,” she said.
COVID-19: Father and daughter battle for life
Victoria Island, Lagos
“It was a crazy experience. It was scary and I do not wish it for anybody. I could see my dad dying. He was already going. His skin colour had already changed. He was out of breath; could not talk and when he opened his mouth, he couldn’t. Oh Jesus!”
I sat across the table in the palatial office space watching and listening to Abidemi Martins narrating their COVID-19 battles. Yes. Father and daughter contracted the virus same period and battled for their lives.
Two months later after their ordeals, the 28-year-old accountant who also owns a furniture production company in Lagos was still visibly shaken by the experience when I interviewed her.
Their survival battle began September this year. She ignored the fever, headache and slight cough she was having because she was quite busy trying to meet production backlogs caused by the lockdown. Her father too had taken ill that month. She was shuttling between caring for him at home and her factory. But by October first, her father’s condition became critical and he almost died. Abidemi and her siblings ran around in commotion moving him almost unconscious from hospital to hospital. He was then tested for COVID-19 at a private government approved hospital at Ikeja, Lagos. Positive, his result indicated.
Abidemi promptly headed to a private screening centre in Festac, where she got tested for the virus because she had been the primary caregiver. Her result was same as her dad’s.
“When I discovered I had COVID, I was not scared, I was just concerned and worried. I had all the symptoms but I was too busy to take note of them,” she disclosed.
The private screening centre sent her result via WhatsApp messenger and simply recommended she isolated at home. She was responsible for her treatment. She went to the pharmacy by herself to buy the medicines her personal physician prescribed on informing him about her test result. She continued with the malaria medicines she was already started taking. She used the medications meant to treat the COVID-19 for 16 days but was on cough syrups for much longer time because she had a very bad cough. On the 14th day of treatment, she was still feeling very weak with a pounding headache.
No official from any of the government health agencies reached out to Abidemi for contact tracing though her details were forwarded to the NCDC by the centre where she was screened. “Nobody from NCDC called me and I don’t know why,” she said.
“I just got a visitor from Lagos state government who contacted my husband asking him how I was faring and if I was out of breath,” she continued.
Unlike Abidemi, her dad was managed at a private isolation centre in Ikeja. It is an hospital that treats mainly COVID-19 patients. Her dad was there for 10 days, while his treatment and medications were quite expensive. His recovery was not fast. He was on oxygen for six days.
Her family was scared because their father’s condition was critical. Her friends were worried but they all put up a front that she would be alright since she is younger and with no underlining ailment.
Since her recovery, her sense of taste is yet to return fully, while she now has mental health challenges as she now has some weird dreams and has shortness of breath when she walks for long. She never experienced any of these until she contracted COVID. She still has headaches from time to time, while an inhaler was recommended for the shortness of breath.
A lot has changed about her dad. He is still trying to recover because he lost so much weight and still coughs. He also is experiencing shortness of breath and has to wait to recover his breathing while climbing the stairs. He now uses oximeter to check his oxygen level.
Since he survived COVID-19 and returned home, he has been indoors. “He doesn’t believe anything should take him out of the house because he defeated death,” Abidemi said.
“My dad is fine, all thanks to God,” she added.
Abidemi’s friends and family members are still free with her. “But outsiders that know are a bit careful but my friends and family are actually back to normal,” she looked me straight in the eyes for the first time.
He had been on multivitamins long before he contracted the coronavirus. William Obubo, unmarried and a regional manager for a beverage company, on a Wednesday in September this year, thought he had malaria. But by Sunday, the indigene of Bayelsa could not perceive the smell of anything in his apartment in Abuja. He suspected he had contracted the virus.
That day, he visited the websites of the World Health Organization and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) to look up all the symptoms of COVID-19. It dawned on him that all he had been feeling were actually symptoms associated with the virus. He got in touch with his company’s doctor who advised he should get tested for the virus.
William drove to a paid-for private laboratory for his test because he did not want to go to an isolation centre. He preferred to self-isolate in order to be in control of his space and work from home. He had actually been doing that since the commencement of the lockdown.
His suspicion was right.
“I was not afraid initially but I was more anxious,” he said confidently.
William routinely using the prescribed medications by his company’s doctor as well as his personal physician self-isolated at home. He religiously followed every directives both doctors recommended. His loss of smell lasted five days, the fever was on for three days while the cough he had been battling with lingered the most. He recovered after 21 days. “I will not say it was fast because the cough lingered on the most,” he said.
He did his own contact tracing himself because he had been very careful since the lockdown started. He could identify everyone he had been in contact with up till the Wednesday he exhibited the first symptoms. The NCDC were never directly involved in the contact tracing.
William’s biggest challenge since recovering from contracting the virus have been his lungs capacity. William who has been actively involved in sport activities almost all his life now feels tired easily, has challenges with breathing, while his cardiovascular endurance has diminished a lot. “That has been the biggest change in my body; that slight loss of breath,” he said.
He has had massive support from his friends and family, while his experience convinced many persons in his circles about the reality of COVID-19 for he was the first person they knew who contracted the virus. He received much prayers from well-wishers his dad had told that he contracted the virus.
Speaking with me during the interview in Abuja, William said he now has a stronger sense of need to be very cautious. The reality of COVID got amplified in his circle as a result of his contracting it. He is glad that his experience has birthed such positive reaction because there is now a deeper sense of alertness amongst his associates and friends to making sure that everyone is safe.
Father and son tested positive to COVID-19, but did not fall ill
He quickly presented himself to be tested for COVID when he learned that two persons, he has had contact with had died as a result of the virus.
Abdallah El-Kurebe, a journalist who works and lives in Sokoto state had no symptoms whatsoever. After a couple of days, a doctor phoned to inform him that he tested positive and needed to be isolated.
Abdallah’s wife drove him to the isolation centre situated within the specialist hospital in the state.
Abdallah was not afraid. When the virus was birthed in Wuhan China, as a science journalist, he started following every detail about. He was prepared. He wasn’t scared but his wife and family members were worried and afraid because it was like any new deadly disease.
They were eight in his ward and were given medicines thrice daily. But there were times when the medications were either incomplete or not available. He had to buy his own vitamin C. There were times when certain medicines were skipped. Their meals, too.
People were allowed to visit but not go beyond a certain point. They were allowed to only leave food items at that point, not see their loved ones.
Abdallah says he’s still the same person before he was admitted in the isolation centre. Nothing has changed. He was asymptomatic with no ailment whatever.
“I only went there to keep my colleagues, friends and general public from contracting the same from me. I didn’t have any feeling that I had COVID-19.
“I was always speaking confidently, even at the isolation centre. So, other patients took courage from me. They were happy they had me,” he disclosed.
Many of the persons at the centre with him were afraid. The fear increased when two patients died, respectively at different times. This was made worse when the corpses were left in the ward with other patients for over 10 hours. This includes through the night after their demise.
After 10 days of receiving treatment at the centre, his sample was taken for a repeat test. His result was negative.
By the time he was leaving, four patients had been discharged; two from his ward, and two from another male ward.
Since his return home, he has never been treated with disdain by anyone. Rather, his colleagues, family, friends and neighbors have been quite welcoming.
ANOTHER FAMILY MEMBER AFFECTED
Abdallah was not the only person who contracted the virus in his family. His wife and son were tested for COVID-19. While his wife’s result returned negative, his son was positive.
Both father and son were at the isolation centre together but he was discharged before his son. The young El-Kurebe, a final year student at the Uthman Danfodio University, Sokoto, was asymptomatic like his dad.
The El-Kurebe family was not reached for contact tracing until three days after he was discharged from the isolation centre.
He is still in touch with the people he shared the ward with at the isolation centre.
Post-COVID survival belief
William does not believe that COVID-19 is a global propaganda. “I have suffered from it. I also know friends who have suffered from it and unfortunately, I have also lost a former colleague from it,” he said.
He highlighted the fact that many Nigerians do not use the facemasks and hand sanitizers, even in public spaces. “We have dropped our guards; almost as soon as we came out from the lockdown COVID ended. That should not be the case. My advice to Nigerians is to increase efforts to be safe and always ensure that we are adhering to all the COVID protocols,” he stated.
Abidemi now uses the facemask religiously. Many persons around her do tell her to take off the facemask because COVID-19 no more exists in Nigeria. But she tells them outrightly that it is untrue.
“COVID-19 is deadly. It is real and it is killing faster than people even know because we most times tend to overlook it and see it as normal malaria; which it is not.
“My advice to Nigerians is: please, wear the facemasks, observe the safety rules. In fact, left to me, I’ll prefer another lockdown. Let everybody be in their house. Having survived this thing, I tell you, it is a 50-50 chance. You actually nearly see death and turn back.
“Having COVID-19 is either two things: you die or you survive,” Abidemi warned.
Abdallah now creates awareness about the COVID-19 as a guest speaker on radio stations.
“I have done a couple of radio programmes to create awareness about the COVID-19,” he says.
He also partners with radio stations to let Nigerians in his state of residence and surroundings, know that COVID-19 is real.
“Many persons across the country don’t believe COVID-19 is real. It’s the belief system in Nigeria that is responsible for such thought. I believe we should take precautions from it because it’s real,” he stated.
Dr. Ebubechukwu Ogbuagu, General Practitioner, Ufor Hospital, Ughelli, Delta state in an exclusive interview said many persons who contract the COVID-19 and recover may develop life-long complications. He said some may fully recover with no complications whatever.
Shedding more light on the life-long complications, he said they are life-long injuries; however, complete and perfect recovery is not impossible.
Addressing the various health challenges the various survivors in this story and the first part said they are experiencing, Dr. Ogbuagu after asking me for each survivors’ date of recovery during the course of the interview said it is too early to know if these are long-term complications. He noted that most people recover from the breathlessness but to know if their various challenges could be long-term effects, he advised they wait for at least six months after the day of recovery but must pay their doctors regular health visits in order for them to be properly monitored and managed.
This report was facilitated by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under its COVID-19 Reality Check Project.