When local authorities in Wuhan first announced the coronavirus outbreak in January, Mrs Edo Lilian Chioma, a Nigerian entrepreneur, panicked not just because she is resident in China’s COVID-19 hotspot, but also because she was alone in an environment where there are not too many of her compatriots or foreign nationals.
Nigerians in locked down foreign lands share their experiences.
“It hasn’t been easy I must confess. The lockdown has a way of draining one psychologically, emotionally, physically and especially at the thought that one may be infected at any little weakness experienced, whether related to the symptoms of flu or not,” Mrs Edo Lilian Chioma recounted in her tales of life in ‘solitary confinement’.
The coronavirus, now wreaking health havoc across the globe, has claimed over 90,000 lives, infected more than 1.5 million, restricted freedom for some four billion people, wrecked the global economy and upended society.
The Chinese government, in a bid to curb the virus, sealed off the city of 11 million people on January 23 and confined people to their homes, and the transport and industrial hub resembled a ghost town, with streets deserted except for police patrols and emergency vehicles.
To avoid body fatigue, Chioma engaged herself in a series of exercises. “I know my body will find it challenging to adjust to the new episode of redundancy,” she said.
Family and friends, she said, were also supportive during this period as many of them kept in touch which helped to overcome boredom sometimes.
On measures to manage essential personal effects, she said, “the local authority took the initiative then to ensure food supplies are made available in all housing estates.
“Where I live, I only need to go out well-protected from the virus and within the perimeter of my estate to purchase food items that I need. Medicine was a difficult challenge for me, but I had to manage the little first aid kit I had at home.”
Chioma added, “the Federal Government of Nigeria, through the Nigerian Embassy in China, the Ambassador and some good Samaritans helped in alleviating some of the challenges by providing disinfectants and funds to help buy supplies that were needed.”
Muhammed Tasiu, a Masters in Economic Management student from Wuhan University, said students in china have learnt to adapt to the new changes.
While they are staying away from the public, Nigerian students are making the best use of the time by catching up with studies.
He said the Chinese government had given them stipends, approximately N100 000, which they use to buy basic needs from stipulated shops.
Tasiu said now things are beginning to come back to normal and the fear and anxiety many Nigerians had at the time is beginning to reduce.
‘Obedience to lockdown order saved many’
For Musa Abdulraheem, a Ph.D. student at the Zhongnan University of Economics and Law, Wuhan, surviving the lockdown was difficult because there were panic and rumours.
“The Chinese government was able to educate us on precautionary measures and I fully adhered to it,” Abdulraheem said.
As the situation in China improves, he feared for the safety of his family and friends in Nigeria. “China only conquered this virus due to strict obedience to civil authority. I pray we can also imbibe that culture in Nigeria,” he said.
Stephen Besnstove, who lives in New Jersey, believes the lockdown is aimed at protecting him. “A lockdown under the Covid-19 is aimed at protecting me. Life is not difficult, because most of what I need is provided, and government trouble shoots their decisions before pronouncement. I have basic electricity and running water, grocery and pharmacy stores are open in case I need more, gas stations are operating and we are encouraged to obey all instructions. “Palliatives are on its way to us, with the approval of $2trn to support working families and businesses. At the last count, base on information from Nigeria Consul-General in New York, four Nigerians have lost their lives to Coronavirus, two doctors were among them. When, the disease is under check, I look forward to coming home, I will not run away from Nigeria. I want Nigerians to understand, that the Coronavirus is real, they should realize they have to respect the government.
‘Lockdown for our good’
Kayode Ogundamisi, an activist and social critic, acknowledged that the lockdown has affected many in ways they couldn’t have imagined. “But knowing it is a needed painful sacrifice to stop the spread of this very dangerous virus, we have to comply. It becomes scary to know that we have lost thousands of people in the UK to the virus. Many Nigerians here have lost members of their families and community and are trying to cope.
A lot of Nigerians who work in the UK health care system are frontline members of the NHS. We pray for them and their colleagues. Some of us have had to work from home while some have sadly lost their jobs. We are taking the advice of health experts seriously by observing social distancing and washing our hands.”
‘We survived by getting food on e-commerce platforms’
Dr. Ayodeji Idowu, a Nigerian resident in Wuhan, was surprised by the outbreak of the deadly virus in a city basking in the euphoria of hosting the World Military Games in October 2019 and had all its infrastructures revamped.
“I do not think anyone could have imagined that the situation would turn out to become an epidemic and even worse, a pandemic. It was a city running on brand new engines. So, for the outbreak to have stretched the city the way it did show its severity,” Idowu recalled.
To manage essential personal effects, he said “When the lockdown entered its strictest phase, during which we were no longer allowed to step out of our homes, we resorted to getting our food through various e-commerce platforms.
“The government had mandated the estate managers to coordinate our needs through the use of online groups such as WeChat groups. Each resident places their order for an item in a specific group. For example, a group for frozen food, a group for vegetables and fruits, a group for rice/wheat/ flour, etc.
“The management engages with the sellers who have been accredited by the government to purchase our orders in bulk and the delivery is made to our doorstep accordingly.”
As life gradually begins to return to normal in China, Idowu, however, worried about how long it would take the world to completely nib this virus in the bud as well as the socio-economic impact of the lockdown on Nigerians.
‘Lockdown was psychologically and emotionally stressful’
“The first two weeks of the lockdown was quite difficult and intense with lots of information on social media which caused a lot of panic,” said Barr. Justina Obaoye-Ajala, the Acting President, Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NiDO) China.
The lockdown was psychologically and emotionally stressful, though it created an opportunity to connect with families and friends, she said.
“I was able to cope because there were a series of activities online to engage in. They kept me busy,” she added.
She however fears for the post COVID-19 effect, which she says is gradually setting in. “I have to adjust and blend to the life after the lockdown.”
On the welfare of Nigerians, the NiDO acting boss said the organization played an immense role in facilitating support for Nigerians in China, especially those in Wuhan.
“The organisation disseminated updated information on social media platforms and also created awareness to sensitize the people through flyers and animations, constantly checked on the well-being of Nigerians and collaborated with the embassy in ensuring their safety. We also had a series of activities online which were quite interesting and interactive,” she added.
Online classes for students
“In the beginning, we were confused and confined in one place. The lockdown was not easy, but for our safety, we had to stay indoors,” said Abdulsalam Aji Suleiman, a PhD student at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan.
To survive the lockdown, he said some schools distributed meals to students in their dormitories, while others provided groceries. Even with a lockdown in force, Suleiman said there were online classes as well as remote monitoring of students writing a thesis.
“Most of us in Wuhan are postgraduate students, we used the free time to continue our thesis research and writing,” he added.
Abdullahi Mudashir Mustapha, who is about rounding up a masters degree in Electrical Engineering in one of the universities in New York said since the outbreak, lectures and seminars are done visually.
He said he took his project defence online on Thursday and with that, he is officially done with his masters program.
Abdullahi said the pandemic has warranted everyone to stay at home and observe improved hygiene, making him miss home since he wasn’t around family in the US.
Economic hardship, people may suffer
Chinenye Anokwuru, a Canadian-based Nigerian journalist, thought the deadly disease would disappear in a few days when it first spread to the North American country.
“It was not until Monday, March 16, when the government declared a state of emergency, ordering everyone to stay at home that I knew this was a serious issue,” said Anokwuru, who works with Global News Canada in Regina.
She said the lockdown was the least “we can do to support the health care workers and reduce the risk of the virus spreading, and eventually flatten the curve.”
For Anokwuru, surviving the lockdown wasn’t unbearable besides the mental strain.
“The stores are still open for grocery shopping but shoppers are mindful of social distancing. Some restaurants are closed, but a good number is open for pick-up and delivery only. Clinics are also closed, but consultation with a doctor is available by phone for prescription medications. If the doctor decides that you need further medical care in the clinic, they’ll ask you a series of questions on the phone first to make sure you are not at risk of the virus,” she said.
Her biggest fear, she said “is the economic hardship people are suffering because of the virus in terms of job losses and a possible world recession. Then, that feeling of ‘when will I see my family again?’ creeps into my mind sometimes. But I am hopeful that the pandemic will be over soon and the world will heal eventually.”
Anokwuru looks forward to returning home “to hug every member of my family again.”
‘My dad was a living legend’
Perhaps, the highest profile victim of COVID-19 among Nigerians living in Britain is Dr Alfa Saadu. He was a former medical director at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Essex and Ealing NHS Trust in the UK. He died from the disease two weeks ago.
Described as a ‘living legend’, Dr Saadu spent nearly 40 years, saving patients both in the UK and in Nigeria before his death in London at the age of 68. His son Dani Saadu says: “My dad was a living legend; he worked for the NHS for nearly 40 years, saving people’s lives here (in the UK) and in Africa.” It was a measure of Dr Saadu’s fame that he received praises from many prominent figures including the former British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former Nigerian Senate President Bukola Saraki. The current chief executive of Princess Alexandra Hospital, Lance McCarthy, says Dr Saadu “was well-known at the trust for his passion for ensuring our patients received high quality care.”
There are many other Nigerians in the UK, too, who succumbed to the virus, and many more who are struggling with its other consequences such as the lockdown imposed in the country since March 23.
Musa Ibrahim, a student who lives in Manchester, says the lockdown is frustrating as it restricts him from doing a lot of things and confines him in his tiny studio. But, he adds, “I do understand the need for it and have gotten used to it – not really much of a problem for me now.”
He says he receives his lectures online, does most of his studies in his room, and goes out every day for a walk. “Because the internet connectivity is very good here, I’m not missing much in terms of learning and even entertainment. And I go out for a walk and I do get my food supplies regularly,” he says.
The lockdown for Alistair Soyode, Founder and CEO of BEN TV, has been an amazing experience, he said. “Though one never expected it in today’s world of amazing technologies, since the whole world is facing the same problem, I adopted a simple approach and reorganised my thoughts and schedules so as to have less to worry about.
“I’m looking forward to a return to normal life. But life may not be normal as in pre Covid-19. The current lifestyle is not easy, and anyone who is not building their own lifestyle for their betterment and for the future may not find post Covid-19 easy.”
Anne Antony, a Nigerian resident in Toronto, Canada, says the lockdown is choking. “It feels like prison, especially as I was meant to travel during the period the crises escalated, causing cancellation of flights and closure of airports.
Speaking on the palliative measure embarked on by the government there, she says, “the government knows we need more this period and is giving assistance to everyone, especially the kids. We received support for families – $200 per child from provincial government and we’re to receive $300 per child from the federal government next month.”
Availability and ease of online shopping
Life under lockdown in the UK is less worrisome, says Wahab Bello, a Nigerian who resides in Birmingham. “I do almost all my shopping online. I don’t need to go out and buy anything,” he says. “What I really miss is going out to meet friends. That’s bad. The feeling of confinement is also bad.” His friend, Yusuf Ade, expressed similar views. “My main concern is boredom. I am tired of staying at home. It’s more worrying when you are watching all the horrified figures of deaths being read on television,” he says.
Returning home not an option
But despite the discomfort brought by the lockdown and the rising cases of coronavirus victims in the UK, none of those interviewed feels that the situation warrants returning to Nigeria. “It is much better to stay here than to rush back home,” Musa says.
The vast majority of Nigerians living in Britain, including students, show no interest in returning to Nigeria.
Kayode Ogundamisi, activist and social critic, also believes returning home isn’t an option for now. “Britain has become a second home to many of us, so we cannot abandon a country that has offered us so much opportunity during a period of crisis. Returning to Nigeria is out of the question for now. Besides, this is not the time for people to be traveling, as this may help in spreading the virus and make the pandemic worse.”
Tunde Oyedoyin, a social worker, who spoke to Daily Trust Saturday, said “My job is in social care and so, one of the country’s essential workers. I’ve been working at least five days a week during the lockdown. Though, sometimes I feel scary on the tube (underground train) and the over ground train, thinking the virus might be out there, but one just keeps going by faith. l always feel encouraged since I know it’s for the good of the society that I leave the house to go work with vulnerable people.
While comparing the lockdown situation abroad and in Nigeria, Ogundamisi says, “I particularly feel for the people of Lagos, Osun and Abuja, the lockdown in those cities will affect people who depend on daily outings to feed. Sadly, Nigeria does not have an effective social palliative system like the UK, so the inconvenience we, Nigerians in the UK, feel is nothing compared to what Nigerians are going through at home as a result of the lockdown.”
Anne Antony also said, “I will like the Nigerian government to know that as a country, we are very fortunate in terms of the spread and the mortality rate. We cannot say same here. Secondly, this lockdown has made me realise the importance of a very structured society and the need for proper management of tax payers monies. Everyone here, as long as you have a permit to work in the country, as well as citizens are being catered for this lockdown period with social assistance.”