Covid-19: Of Dirty Hands and the Fake News Wars

Ifedayo Babalola


– By Ifedayo Babalola

These are the days of great unravelling. A new empire is rising as the old fumbles its way down a dark, uncertain alley. Elements of the much-celebrated global village have become separated by overnight executive walls, while families are locked as far apart as the east is distant to the west.

There is a dawning reality that nothing can be taken for granted anymore. Yes, you heard me! Absolutely nothing, from the mundane to the very philosophical. Goodbye, the good natured ‘Bless you’ expected from a compatriot when you sneezed, (for no cold is merely a cold in these corona days). Even the free movement of labour, goods and services within your immediate location is no longer considered normal, and the sanctity of such ancient wisdoms as truth being the first casualty in any war can no longer be guaranteed.

Truth was indeed not the first casualty of the COVID-19 war. Months before the battle between her and fake news became the frontline, the hand was already battered. I watched in horror as this versatile human appendage was demonized at the war declaration stage and pilloried from the first shot. The hand, it is now official, is a new evil:

‘Do not shake hands! Do not touch your face with it! Wash your hands as frequently as possible, each time, for a minimum of twenty seconds! You don’t have a stopwatch, did you say? Not to worry. Sing ‘‘Happy birthday to you,’’ a couple of times as you wash and that should take you past the twenty seconds mark. You are asking me who you should wish happy birthday?  Well…., I suppose there’s always someone on Facebook, isn’t there? Not ordinary soap, please! Yes. Only antiseptic or antibacterial ones will do. Use antibacterial wipes as well! No, stupid! To wipe your hands, not your __! Occasionally, touch things up with a little hand sanitizer, that is, if you ever again come across some. Exactly! It is your soiled, infested, virus-breeding hands we are talking about here! …..You want to know if you can use a washing machine? Hmmmm….? I see what you mean. No! No! No! You will still engage the ancient mechanism of both filthy hands scrubbing each other. Yes… Cleansing evil with evil, you might say. That’s right!…much like the attempt to cleanse The PDP’s iniquities with The APC….’

And as The Easter season approached, I pondered very briefly how Jesus must have felt with those thieves right and left of His crucified self. Poor Him! Why not? I can say that, of course. He was quite poor on the cross. But that was then. He is richer than words can describe now for a fact. But I digress. Good thing is that the Son of God did not have to tolerate those robbers for long before it all finished. It was His call anyway. He could have decided it was finished whenever He wanted.

As for you, friend, you get to keep the hand you are dealt. As things stand therefore, you will be stuck between your virulent hands today, post-COVID-19 and for evermore. Grim, isn’t it? Now, how will you look anyone in the face ever again and utter those self-exonerating words: ‘My hands are clean, eh?’ That prospect gets even more worrying if your audience happens to be the Pearly Gate angels throwing the good book at you on the final day. Can you now work it out that where the current narrative is headed is not merely the last day of a four-week lockdown?

Here is one thing that gets me really angry about this saga. What is really in the nature of man?  Why the innate desire to break rules? It doesn’t matter if it is a man-made regulation or the law of God. Apostle Paul lamented that what he purposed to resist, he found himself doing, and what his spirit desired, the flesh resisted. Ever since I was banned from touching my face, the desire has grown stronger to do just that. I admit that many of the moves were, and still are, involuntary. It is quite humbling all the same that despite several decades on this earth and much knowledge acquired, it takes a virus to show me the strong affinity between two geographically distant parts of my body – my hands and my face. Inseparable collaborators they have been, albeit to the best of my ignorance. So intimate they are that it feels as if my hands were created from the ribs of my face – a match made in heaven that, sadly, must now be put asunder over the new virus.

‘What about you? What game do your hands habitually play on your face? Let me warn that you too are a conveyor of fake news for not divulging what your hands get up to during those numerous flights to your facial port. Do your forefingers probe any facial orifice to dislodge some stuck dry mucus?  Okay, let’s be straight. Do you sometimes pick your nose? Probably biting fingernails is your preference then? Never? I see… Big boys don’t do such things, abi? All you ever do is arrange your moustache, scratch your beards and retouch your make-ups? Welcome then to the certified fake news era, the year of the deadly coronavirus.’

It is so disheartening that in spite of all the trouble, washing of hands proved to be no magic wand so far as the virus continues to spread throughout our global Egypt.  Like the Biblical plagues, it keeps multiplying, not even sparing the fortified courts of our modern day Pharaohs. Maybe in times like this, the world needs not scientists and their big brother governments. The world most probably needs prophets. And then, as suddenly as the virus spread, you’d realise what a blessed generation this is.  For, unlike the days of bearded, stammering Moses and his sidekick relation, Africa unaided has more men of God than the world requires to exterminate the virus. ‘For such a time like this!’

Quite disappointing however, the smooth-talking spiritual megastars are off the television radar. They have dissolved into self-isolation in their expansive auditoriums. I will let them be. Better not to dwell on any deserters in these very demanding times.  Besides, being starved of congregations must be quite punishing for these mortals whose ventilation depends on masses of fawning, drooling spiritually gullible. They will be back, when the dust has settled, to spice The Good News with doses of self-aggrandizement.

I will rather now talk about ‘Pandemic’, the trending word… Am I the only one who thought an epidemic is the worst that can ever threaten our human race? And despite the infectious usage of this word, am I also the only person who has refused to visit The Thesaurus Mall to shop for its meaning? Not that it matters anyhow. In these days of social distancing, avoiding malls of any kind may be the most sensible thing.

Seriously, these are times when you need to be contended with your self-discovered meanings to life and to words. Even the most worldly of humanity are going philosophical. So I made something up, as unashamedly as medical scientists make stuff up these days. An epidemic must be something local to Africa. Smallpox, for example, or Lassa fever.  A pandemic, being global, is obviously bigger. ‘The meaning of Pandemic is an epidemic multiplied by ten,’ I therefore contented. I must warn you, however, that my choice of figure ten has no scientific basis. It is just that ten, as I learnt since my elementary school days, is a convenient number on the multiplication table.  Furthermore, as things have progressed, I have also kept revising my self-inspired definition. Hence, a pandemic, with current realities factored in, is today ‘an epidemic multiplied by fifty, and still counting.’

Yet, you must not despair. You must resist all self-condemnation over the state of your hands. Do not succumb to the machinations of the world governments, multinationals and the mainstream press as they try to make you the villain in this war. I swear you are only an isolated, quarantined, house-arrested victim like most people. You must also be thankful you are not your next door neighbour who works at the coronavirus hospital without the proper PPE.

Let this comfort you further that governments around the world are also currently engaged in a frantic washing of hands, albeit of a different nature. To them, buck-passing is familiar grounds. Since the times of Pontius Pilate and beyond, governments and their functionaries have hardly taken responsibility for any disaster. It is therefore no wonder that China, from where COVID-19 originated, is now shopping for scapegoats; The US, whose President initially described the pandemic as fake news, is today blaming The World Health Organization; The UK government is keeping mum on its earlier fatal herd immunity policy while the Nigerian government will never admit that the medical infrastructure it has long failed to provide puts the lives of the people in serious danger at this critical time.

Let government functionaries all over the world continue to do what they do best. When they are not playing the blame game, they mount the rostrum and preach from the moral and wisdom high grounds. They tell you what to do and what not to do in order to stem the pandemic. Still, from the way this virus outbreak has been managed around the world, never have both high grounds been more depressed. This is especially so regarding the befuddling measures reeled out daily on how the COVID-19 war will be fought and won.

You are told to trust the words of their scientists and to stay away from the social media. Yet, scientists have told us nothing we can run with. As things stand, every country has its own COVID-19 science, and a very important country like The US has multiple sciences. From China to Italy to The United Kingdom to The United States and to Nigeria, it is a cacophony of scientific opinions on prevention, symptoms and possible cures. Alas! Science has lost its white coat exactitude. In replacement, it now dons the multi-coloured garbs of literary appreciation and entertainment.

Yet we are told to dismiss social media information as fake. Put your trust in governments – including the Frankenstein Chinese variety and The UK’s with its inaccurate daily COVID-19 death figures. Trust the government of The United States, a country where so far, the management of the outbreak is a totally confused and pugilistic process. Pin your hopes on the Nigerian government that has a penchant for copying every procedure from abroad only to apply them haphazardly and half-heartedly at home.

Anything, they say, as long as you stay away from the social media and its torrent of ‘unverified’ COVID-19 prescriptions. No less an important personality than President Buhari’s deceased Chief of Staff echoed this line on his way to Lagos for additional tests and observation.   He is reported to have advised in his final memo: ‘…..Listen to good advice from the proper authorities: pay no heed to quack cures or fake news from social media. ‘  Very prophetic, isn’t it?

We are similarly told the vaccine is six to eighteen months away. Eighteen months is a year and a half, for God’s sake! So, what must be done as we wait in hope? Nothing really. Just let your body fight it off. Immunity is king! Let the weak get eaten by the virus. The few survivors will inherit the earth and really get busy afterwards with the highly gratifying business of fruitfulness and multiplication.

Here comes the critical question. Do you want to be one of those survivors? Do you want to witness the post-COVID-19 world, even though you may presently be in the condemned, at-risk and disposable group that will be too old to reproduce and replenish the imminent Eden?

Just remember that whatever they tell you, you have choices. When this is all over, when the story of The Corona War is finally told, millions would have survived by desperately looking out of the box for evidence on what works. Most survivor stories will be narrated from outside the hospital wards by people who dared to take those measures that the big gamers counsel you to shun. And I should know, because I have been there; but that is a story for another day….

Here then is the bottom line. The control of world information flow – lies, truth and all – is a turf governments, multinationals and the mainstream press have occupied exclusively for too long. Now, there is a new kid on the block. It is called the social media, and it is here to stay, for this sky is big enough for four birds to fly.

-Ifedayo Babalola –