The idea of writing my first book titled, ‘My Lockdown Diary: Reflections on Nigeria and COVID-19 Pandemic,’ was inspired by the forced lockdown and compulsory isolation in order to minimise the spread of the ravaging and deadly coronavirus. Interestingly, the lockdown scenario has also inspired other ideas. I have been writing articles since my undergraduate days at the University of Benin, Benin City but not many people know I have my first degree in mathematics. Late Professor Tayo Fatunla, a distinguished mathematician, thought leader, thinker and strategist taught us “Numerical Analysis”. He was also my final year Project Supervisor. When Prof Fatunla was Head of the Mathematics Department, I was the President of the University of Benin Branch of the National Association of Mathematics Students of Nigeria and he was very supportive. May his soul rest in peace.
I wrote mainly sports articles for the Nigerian Observer in Benin City but the thought of compiling my articles into a book never occurred to me. I remain grateful to Akido Shittu, the Sports Editor at the time; Austin Allens, Bright Bayour and Segun Joseph – all of the Sports Desk — for their support and encouragement. When the lockdown set in, I employed myself as a public affairs commentator without any salary which made me a bad customer for the tax man. But my wife provided the pillar of support that I needed badly to forge ahead and she will forever remain special.
Writing gave me additional oxygen, adrenaline and energy to keep body and soul together. It was quiet and lonely, like being on a lonely road without company but accompanied by an eerie feeling. I admired the birds through the glass wall as they chirped away and engaged in mating maneuvers. Most of the time, I stayed awake until 2.00 am writing; it was a therapeutic and soul lifting experience Being an invisible enemy, it was not easy dodging COVID-19 attack but we thank God that we are alive. The second wave has become even deadlier.
This time, it occurred to me a book should come out of what was essentially a creative effort during the lockdown. I told my wife and she agreed. This book has, to the glory of God, inspired two more books that will be released next year. One of my mentors and prolific prose writers, Mike Awoyinfa, wrote this: “Congrats Ehi. A new book is the equivalent of giving birth to a new baby. A child of your brain. As a father of many books myself, I know the thrill and ecstasy that come with seeing your book out for the first time. This is the first hurdle. There are more books to hurdle. I used to be a hurdler in school. Hence the hurdle imagery. May you not stumble as you write more and more books. I will find time to read and write about this gem.” Thank you sir for your kind words of encouragement.
‘My Lockdown Diary’ will be launched on Sunday November 22. It will be a virtual event. I’m thankful to Tony Elumelu, CON; Chairman of United Bank of Africa (UBA) and serial entrepreneur, for his thoughtfulness and kind acceptance to Chair the event. So, warm up for the launch. I have decided to share the Preface to the book — it is a sneak preview. Here we go …
Preface to ‘My Lockdown Dairy: Reflections on Nigeria and COVID-19 Pandemic’
As the world prepared for the New Year 2020 to usher in a new decade, I was busy setting personal and business goals. There was no indication at the time that a novel coronavirus, COVID-19, will spread from Wuhan, China; upend the entire human race and make our future uncertain. Some of my goals required trips overseas and I was lucky to have travelled to the UK (January 22) and Canada (January 27) before the borders were closed due to global travel restrictions. I returned to Nigeria on February 5 and travelled again to Ghana on February 13 for three days with members of my Rotary Club (Rotary Club of Lagos, District 9110) for a Rotary Fellowship Exchange visit.
By this time, the world was becoming more aware of coronavirus as a deadly disease but my gut feeling then was that the virus will not spread and become a pandemic that would threaten our common humanity. From our Ebola experience, I was confident and hopeful all would be well. The last thing on my mind was a global lockdown to fight an invisible enemy wreaking havoc across the world.
On our way back from Ghana on February 16, our temperatures were taken at Kotoka International Airport, a signal that it was better to err on the side of caution. Such initial precautionary measure for COVID-19 outbreak was becoming popular. Meanwhile, I had other scheduled local trips: Lagos – Port Harcourt (March 12); Port Harcourt — Abuja (March 15), Abuja – Lagos (March 19) and Lagos – Benin (March 23). While I was in Abuja, the use of hand sanitizers was encouraged but social distancing was not practiced. On my way back to Lagos on March 19, the departure lounge of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport was congested and I became worried. Coronavirus had become a hot topic in every conversation, especially on social media. I wanted to join my family in Lagos as it was two days to my birthday.
Will the National Sports Festival hold in Benin City as scheduled from March 20 – April 1, 2020? It was a question no one could answer because, at this time, a harvest of deaths were being recorded across the world from COVID-19 disease – the expectation was that the sports festival could go on with safety measures put in place until President Muhammadu Buhari directed that the event should be suspended. That was how my trip to Benin was aborted and, since then, I have remained in Lagos.
When the lockdown began, it meant compulsory isolation to stay safe and avoid the risk of coronavirus infection. One of my goals during the lockdown period was to write at least one article every week and get them published in printed and online newspapers. On the night of Saturday May 9, 2020, I told my wife about publishing a collection of my articles during the COVID-19 lockdown, adding that we can sell the book through bookshops and e-commerce platforms such as Amazon and Kindle. She instantly agreed with me, adding that it was a good idea. I suggested the book title and continued watching CNN. By this time, I had written seven articles and decided to write more with each article forming a chapter.
The following day, I briefed Kanayo Libuwa Ume, an Art Director and long standing associate, to come up with cover design options for the book. What he produced blew my mind away. In arriving at the choice for the cover design, I asked my wife and our children (my community) to review the two options and decide – it was our own democracy in action and they unanimously voted for the masked face.
My photograph on the cover is a selfie which I took with my phone on May 8, 2020 inside the VIP Lounge of Adna Hotel in GRA, Ikeja, Lagos which I had converted into my temporary office. My wife and I were quarantined here without guests; the hotel was shut down in the last week of March based on directives from the Lagos State government as part of the containment measures to combat COVID-19 outbreak.
Life took on a new meaning and devolved into a simple routine: wake up, warm the cars, walk around, read and write, monitor the news, eat, drink coffee and make telephone calls. Zoom meetings/webinars became popular and I participated in some of them including our weekly Rotary meetings. The major concern was that the world may never be the same again – what was the future going to look like? The challenges of economic survival were front page news all the time due to millions of jobs that have been swept away by the global pandemic. It became evident that most businesses on forced lockdown may not be able to bounce back. Meanwhile, scientists were busy working round the clock to develop vaccines for COVID-19.
The lockdown afforded me the opportunity to stay focused and put my thoughts together. What you will therefore find in this book are 32 articles written during the lock down period defined for the purpose of this book as April – July, 2020. I have taken the liberty to include eight articles I wrote before the lockdown (February – December, 2019) to form the last eight chapters. Since every article forms a chapter, this book contains 40 chapters. My commentaries were largely on public policy issues and events as they occurred in Nigeria. I explored themes such as effective leadership, building a better society, options for a vibrant economy, the new normal and Nigerian heroes. I also examined COVID-19 pandemic from different perspectives as well as our struggles to adapt to the changes taking place in a “brand new” world. The chapters on the advertising boycott against Facebook and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, United States, were deliberate because of the significance of both events. All the articles from Chapters One to Thirty-Two written during the lockdown were presented in a chronological order.
Apart from keeping me busy, this book also helped to keep my creative juices flowing. I was fully in control of my time and, in the process, I was also able to work on other projects with support from Akpandem James, my friend, brother and associate on some of the projects. James, an experienced journalist and communications consultant based in Abuja, was very helpful in reviewing my articles and he even offered to do a final proof reading of the entire manuscripts.
Being my first book effort, I reached out to three of my mentors — Dr Emmanuel Sunny Ojeagbase, Executive Chairman of Complete Communications Limited and Success Attitude Development Centre, publishers of Complete Sports and SuccessDigest respectively; Ken-Calebs Olumese, the irrepressible showbiz impresario and proprietor of Niteshift Coliseum and Mr Samuel Akinyemi Akeju who was my boss at Ideas Communications Limited, a corporate promotions and event marketing company, where I worked as Media Relations Manager and subsequently as General Manager.
Dr Ojeagbase, by the way, gave me my first job in Lagos as a reporter for Sports Souvenir, the all-sport newspaper; Complete Football, Climax and International Soccer Review magazines. Shortly after he received my message, he called me all the way from Atlanta, Georgia, USA to pray for the book project. He also accepted without hesitation to write the Foreword to this book. Olumese (we call him Guv’nor of Niteshift) also called to wish me well. Akeju who gave me my second job in Lagos said he couldn’t wait to get copies of the book. I’m thankful to them for their love, kindness, friendship and mentorship.
Another friend and brother of mine, the “monumental” Dr Reuben Abati, a prolific writer of note and presenter of The Morning Show on Arise TV, published my articles regularly when he was Chairman, Editorial Board of The Guardian. We have related well as buddies since our days at Niteshift Coliseum. Each time Abati sees me or when we speak on the phone, he chants “Foxy”, my nickname from our heydays, in a deep throated voice. Then I would remind him to come for his plate of fresh fish pepper soup at Adna Hotel and we would both laugh together.
When I asked Abati to write a companion piece to this book, he promptly agreed in spite of his busy schedule. Being a popular and versatile commentator on national issues himself, his task was to review the scope and breadth of my articles, explore the various themes and connect the dots for their relevance and impact in the context of a changing society.
Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)
Aledeh News is not liable for opinions expressed in this article, they’re strictly the writer’s