UNTIL the emergence of COVID-19 pandemic many Nigerian communities did not take hygiene to heights demanding hand washings at frequent intervals.
Personal hygiene has been an issue in Africa and Nigeria is not excluded. In fact, much of diseases attacking people of the continent are traceable to poor hygiene and poor social culture; according to WHO report.
Arguably, some schools of thought may say malaria is the most rampant disease giving Africans much to contend with. However, even Africa’s malaria mortality is a product of high breed of mosquitoes thriving in dirty areas within the environs.
Malaria alone kills more than two million Africans in a year; World Health report further reveals. A cross survey of drainages in many cities in Nigeria will reveal why malaria will be endemic if nothing new is done to address certain obnoxious habits that jeopardise safer and cleaner social environment. It could be as well said that lack of innovativeness has stalled Africa’s development of vaccines that could exterminate mosquitoes and keep the environment free from this malaria vector.
While a day when the sounds of mosquitoes may no longer be heard is waited, other social practices have continued to drag Africa and her citizens deeper into health crisis.
It is not news that Africa and Nigeria, particularly cherish communal life a great deal. While this is not a bad idea, certain elements in the practices need re-evaluation to keep the social community safer and more habitable.
Until the pandemic called COVID-19 hit the world and spread into Africa, not many could imagine a social setting devoid of handshake, especially from the Nigerian climes. The place of handshake in the social system is very significant as it symbolises social acceptance and friendship amongst individuals and groups. This practice is as old as time. Even some classes within the social strata who do not engage in handshake have other intimate ways of expressing their feelings and warmth to friends and associates. Such may include but not limited to embrace, prostrate as well as other varieties of gestures.
In fact, handshake has been the simplest way to express social accommodation and friendship. The religious world as well as sports makes use of this tool effusively.
In certain situations of conflict, a handshake usually herald mending of fences and return to the path of peace and friendship. The origin of this culture is not clear but the practice is common across many social settings the world over.
While this age-long practice is savoured, Ebola virus came and threatened it. This is after the culture had survived other contagious diseases such as Chicken-pox, small pox, leprosy and others. With the emergence of Ebola, the place of handshake as critical point of friendship expression developed strong cracks. Bearing in mind the deadly nature of the disease and its highly contagion too, avoiding handshakes became primary precaution anybody wishing to evade the health crisis had to adopt. By and large, the spread was contained and the handshake tradition returned immediately.
Apparently, the society did not learn much from the period or probably the chain of culture could not be broken by foresight in that realm.
Not long after Ebola had gone, the world is faced with a pandemic called COVID-19, requiring not only avoidance of handshakes but constant washing of hands to save individuals from infecting both themselves and others in the environment. The government, through its Health Ministry has designed protocols aimed at curbing spread of the pandemic in collaboration with other relevant agencies. Included in the protocols released by the federal government and adopted by state governments are regular hand washing, use of alcoholic based sanitiser, wearing of face masks, social distancing and ban on all social gatherings and travels as well as curfew.
The hope is that with all these social restrictions, the pandemic will ebb with minimal damage to the populace.
Arguably, if the pandemic could take the number of casualties as it has done across the globe and Nigeria particularly, despite these stringent measures, then the question concerned minds would not fail to ponder is, “what would have been the magnitude of devastation if those steps were not in place? If the society eventually quits the pandemic era, what lessons would the society draw from the incident to retain or discard some inherent cultural habits with a view to wading off future occurrence? Would the hands tucked-in now that the pandemic is ravaging, stick-out for the usual carefree exercises that inadvertently spread disease in the social community?
A public affairs analyst, religious and community leader, Emmanuel Okpara views the development from stricter perspective. To him, the best that can happen to Nigerian society is maintenance of the hygiene culture COVID-19 enforced on the populace even after the pandemic had gone.
“I would advocate that some of the protocols be allowed to remain as part of the people’s daily routine. If pupils would wash their hands not less than four times in school and not head home without washing their hands, chances of even catarrh spread could be reduced. When they internalise this, they will unconsciously take the practice to their homes and everybody will be influenced with the habit. It will simply become a culture.
Now, social gathering is another issue. Citizens exist in a social environment and one cannot stop social interactions. However, the handshakes during these interactions should drop forthwith. Nothing will happen to the society if handshakes are removed as part of their courtesies. They are mere habits that can change with orientation and time.”
One hard-push of COVID-19 lockdown on people is restricted social gathering. This limited to a very large extent the cluster of interest groups and indulgence in practices that may not promote the level of hygiene that can battle infectious disease spread in a given community. This may come on the form of sharing the same cup, plate or clothing or even incision items as the group may attach values to the practice. Observations reveal that some people despite warnings disregard calls for precaution and engage in handshakes and some other communal engagements.
Fact remains that society pays for their actions and inactions. To create a change, there must be a shift from existing system. This must be championed by a discerning view which sees something out of place in an existing order.
This is time to beam searchlight on certain aspects of the people’s social behavior and sift the worthless from the invaluable. It may sound strange to advocate elimination of handshake in the people’s exhibition of courtesy but observing from the lenses of victims once plagued by negatives of handshake will position the mind to call for its abolition without any harm directed at societal ethos and values in any way.