COVID-19: The New Normal
By: Deji Yesufu
A video is circulating the internet that has a young man explaining to Nigerians the dire situation that private school teachers are in at the moment. This man, with tears streaming down his face, pleaded with us to help this particular section of the Nigerian work force before, perhaps, hunger, not COVID-19, snuffs out the life from them.
The COVID-19 total lockdowns in Nigeria began towards the end of March. Most schools were already rounding up second term examinations and were heading for the holidays when the Nigerian government called on them to shut down immediately and indefinitely. If the lockdown had not happened, these schools would have concluded the term at the end of March or first week of April and be on break for most of April, observing the Easter celebrations. They would then resume school in the first week of May for the third term. What it means is that most Proprietors of schools would pay March and April Salaries as the second term ends. And then use the money that comes in when school resumes in May to pay May/June/July salaries. I know this to some extent because I worked as a private school teacher for two years (2006 – 2008) and I operated at management level for about year. In short, salaries in private schools are wholly dependent on fees paid. School owners do not take loans to pay salaries.
When COVID-19 happened, however, what many Private School owners did was to pay March salaries and to withhold April salaries – which normally would have been paid if there was no lockdown. I believe that the school owners suspected that the lockdown was going to be long and rather than expend whatever resources were available to pay salaries, they simply kept the monies for their own personal sustenance. So by the end of July, some private school teachers would have gone without pay for four months. This is the reason for the video by that young man.
The question is this: what is the way forward?
I had long argued that prolonged lockdowns is not sustainable anywhere in the world. What we have today, with the COVID-19 pandemic on our hands, is what some have described as a “new normal”. Our world is no longer normal; we now have a ravaging disease out there and it is likely to be with us for a very long time – perhaps forever. Therefore continued lockdown of the economy is practically impossible. What it means is that every one of us, including our children, would soon be heading out of our homes to go out and confront this disease outside. What it also means is that in the process of doing this, some people will contract the disease and die but the good news is that others will survive and carry on with life. Or else, the economy of our country will nose dive and everyone will begin to make cry-cry videos – calling on the outside world for help.
When the lockdowns began around the world, and many state governors began to imitate the Western world in their feverish shut-down of their economic space, some of us felt that there was too much hurry in the whole thing. I am personally thankful to the Oyo State Governor, Engr. Seyi Makinde, who in spite of stringent criticisms, stuck to his decision not to shut down the Oyo State economy. His argument was that even without lockdown, people were already suffering – what then was going to happen with a total shutdown of the economy? Oyo State is a state where most of the inhabitants live by whatever they make in a day. If you lock these people up in their houses, while they may be spared of Coronavirus outside, hunger will kill them inside.
The new normal is this: there is death on our streets. We have a biological warfare on our hands. And if hunger will not kill us inside, we must go and face the Coronavirus outside. Some will die and some will live; but hopefully, all of us will not be killed inside our home – which is a very likely outcome if we continue shutting down the economy of the country. Everyone, including the children, must be taught basic things they must do while they are in the public. The children should wear both face masks and shields while they are in school. They must be taught to wash their hands, often. For now, playing at the school playground should be curtailed or minimized. Adults would have to head out to work while wearing their masks too. The elderly would be enjoined to remain at home as much as it is possible, while their children provide for them – as it should be normally.
Our world is no longer the same. We may never know a world free of COVID-19 again. Some will die but, hopefully, majority will live if we adhere to health guidelines. And, that again, is the new normal. This is the only way to save the economy. The biblical admonition that he that would not work should not eat stands to reason here. If our private school teachers, whose only sustenance come from school fees, will find food to eat, schools will have to resume and work will have to be done so that they can have resources in their pockets. There is no amount of hands-down that can help the situation with private school teachers. Whatever is given them now will only be a drop in an ocean of needs. The only solution will simply be ending this lockdowns and everyone getting back to life as it used to be. While at the same time remembering that our lives will never be as it used to be. We live in a COVID-19 infested world now; it is our new normal.