July 19, 2024

Less we forget: ‘Covik One Nine’

  • June 12, 2024
  • 4 min read
Less we forget: ‘Covik One Nine’

By Ibiso Graham-Douglas

A particular image of my mother lingers in my mind. She is in a car, being driven
home from a hospital that had refused to admit her after she tested positive for Covid-19 in Abuja. The hospital claimed it could not treat any Covid patients. They handed her a bag of medication, which included vitamins and malaria medicines, and sent her home.

Ten days after that incident, my mother passed away. She was an asymptomatic
patient, and despite receiving a full dose of Remdesivir, she succumbed to the illness.
The devastation I felt was immense, particularly after already losing her two brothers earlier. As can be imagined, Covid-19 had a profound and harrowing impact on my life.

Thus, I am deeply disturbed by the current dismissal of Covid-19 by those who
propagate conspiracy theories about the pandemic. I believe this mindset dishonours the lives lost, the dedication of medical professionals, and the government’s efforts worldwide. This sentiment inspired me to edit an anthology to commemorate that challenging period in our collective history. For me, the concept of memorialisation is most vividly illustrated in the biblical story of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River. God instructed them to collect stones as a lasting sign: “To serve as a sign among you…These stones are to be a memorial
to the people of Israel forever.”

A few nations have established some covid memorial to commemorate lost lives. The UK, amongst other commemoratives, has a commission on Covid commemorations, a national Covid Memorial Wall, and a few anthologies in poetry and prose. In South Africa, there is a memorial wall commemorating the lives of all the nurses who died and a memorial garden for lives lost. In Nigeria, I am unaware of any such or similar memorials. The only one that has come to mind is from the Urban Tree Renewal Initiative, which sought to plant 1,000 trees in a 2021 report.

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Therefore, it became imperative to commemorate the era, and as a publisher, I chose to do so through an anthology of stories and poems. I wanted to depict life beyond official directives, statistics, medical records, and international reports, as such retrospective examinations can feel abstract, unreal, and detached. For instance, while over 26 million Covid-19 vaccines were administered in Nigeria, it does not convey the reality that early recipients, like myself, sometimes had to wait in line for up to 10 hours to receive their shots. Official statistics often overlook these personal experiences.

With the anthology Covik One Nine, I sought to capture our collective mood, essence, impressions, aspirations, and reflections on life during that period. Thanks to the contributions of seven other writers, including the award-winning poet laureate Obari Gomba, acclaimed authors Michael Afenfia, Chimeka Garricks, Olukorede Yishau, and emerging talents like Dolapo Marinho, Shehu Zock-Sock, Michael W. Ndiomu, and myself, we have crafted poems and stories that reflect our perception of the pandemic era, a microcosm at best.The anthology serves as a mirror of society, highlighting the small, forgotten realities of Covid-19, such as the limited number of guests allowed at funerals—a memory that has almost faded. In “Smoke and Ashes,” Marinho explores this and how Covid-19 exposed our years-long secrets.

The pandemic also underscored the onset of another crisis, the mass exodus known as “Japa,” where talented young people left for foreign lands in search of better opportunities. This movement often overlooks the harsh realities migrants face,
especially those who went before the pandemic. Yishau, in “The Good Doctor”, addresses this in his story, depicting the challenges faced in the United States
when government aid often excluded undocumented migrants, leading to severe
hardships. In my story “God Abeg,” I grapple with the concept of elective cosmetic surgery and the potential serious medical complications—experiences compounded by the pandemic when all health efforts are focused on Covid-19.

Also, Afenfia’s “Aproko” is a humorous story about the perils of social media and its effects on relationships. Garricks revisits characters from his acclaimed novel Tomorrow Died Yesterday, alongside newcomers Zock-Sock and
Ndiomu. Our stories show how the pandemic severely impacted mental health, breaking lives and relationships as a result of the isolation of lockdown.

This book does not attempt to encompass the entirety of these experiences—an
impossible task—but instead, it affirms that Covid-19 profoundly affected Nigeria, altering lives in numerous ways. These stories and poems are reflective, poignant, and insightful, capturing the era’s struggles, challenges, triumphs, and victories. Most importantly, they cement in our history the reality of Covid-19, a time that called us to resilience and hope. Gomba’s poems encapsulate the origins, impact, and hope, concluding with his powerful words: “This pestilence will not be the end of us./We shall rise if we fall to rise, fall to rise again.”

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