By Innocent Duru
Palpable fear rules the camp of more than 55,000 Nigerians resident in India following the exponential spike in the number of people testing positive for COVID-19 and dying from it in the Asian country.
India, home of some notable manufacturers and exporters of COVID-19 vaccines, has been recording more than 200,000 cases daily since April 15, well past its peak last year when it averaged about 93,000 cases daily. The country has consequently overtaken Brazil and other nations to become the second worst hit country globally.
Following the rate at which the pandemic was spreading, curfews were initially announced in some areas but when the plague would not abate, many states went into lockdown.
The ugly development, according to findings made by our correspondent, is making Nigerians and other Africans resident in the country to panic. And they face ugly prospects because they are not entitled to palliatives and also cannot go out to earn a living.
Malik Ali Paul, a Nigerian resident in India, said: “The major challenge now is that there has been a total lockdown for two to three weeks in Delhi, which is the capital of India, and also in Pune City of Maharashtra state, and there is no movement.
“The implementation of the directive is very, very strict. We don’t even have the ability to move out of our homes. People are always indoors, and if you need anything, it has to be brought to you.
“The whole situation is disturbing. A lot of Indians are dying like fowls. The death rate has gone up tremendously. I have some brothers here who have also gone for the COVID-19 test and came out positive.
“They just went for check-up, got tested and came out positive. As a result of that, a lot of them are scared. In all this, we thank God that there is no African that has been reported to have died of the pandemic.”
Mrs Janefrances Fortune, who operates a restaurant in India, bemoaned the ravaging effects of the pandemic on their businesses, saying: “This COVID-19 is on the verge of disorganising our businesses and life here in India. It has not been easy for us as business owners. The number of infected people keeps increasing every day. We no longer go out the way we used to, business is very dull.”
She added: “Some of us who are with kids no longer feel safe again going out with our kids. These days, I leave my kids with their dad at home to take care of them while I run around to get things done in my shop.
“Sometimes, most of our customers prefer home delivery because they don’t also feel safe coming out to a public place. We all pray that with time, this too will pass and things will be normal again.
“We know that people back home are worried about us. They are really worried about us. But about returning home to Nigeria this time, I can’t risk that. We are also concerned about our loved ones over there. We always call to check up on them.
“The Indian government is trying their best to control it. I really commend their efforts. Indian citizens respect their government and always abide by the rules and regulations, unlike we Nigerians.”
Faustina Ebube, a Nursing student, decried the effects of the pandemic on her education.
She said: “We are only doing online classes for now. We don’t have to go to the hospital or school, and because of this, we are not doing practicals; we are only doing theories.
“But they say practice makes perfect. Without the practical aspect, you cannot learn and perfect what you have been taught.
“I am worried about my mum and my dad and siblings. People here at a point took COVID-19 for granted as if it had already gone, but it came back with so much force.
“Nigerians are putting up the same attitude. If the same thing happens in Nigeria, I don’t think the government will be able to do anything to save the people.
“In spite of the fact that the hospitals here are very big and well equipped, beds are no longer available for patients. I am really worried for my people back at home.”
Also lamenting the effects of the lockdown on the cost of living in India, Ebube said: “Prices of goods have increased because of the pandemic and it is not all the shops that are allowed to open. Only businesses that are into essential services are allowed to operate, and their prices have been very high.
“I don’t eat Indian food and have to buy things from African market to make things for myself. But most of the things are not coming again from Nigeria because of the surge in the pandemic. The ones available here are very expensive because of the increase in demand, and it is not fair to us as students here in India,
“I am not willing to return home because of the security challenges at home. The only thing that can make me want to come home is my family. Seriously, Nigeria is not safe. I have been reading the news lately. Nigeria is not safe at all.
“I am always checking up on my family to know if they are safe. If I have the power, I will do everything to take them out of Nigeria. Seriously, I am not willing to return to Nigeria.”
A former Public Relations Officer of All India Nigerian Students and Community Association (AINSCA), Samuel Dickson, said the COVID-19 pandemic in India has been a very horrific experience.
“We fear for our lives each passing day,” he said. “There is huge fear among Nigerians here in India. Our parents are waiting for us back home. So we fear for our lives. We have been following the guidelines in order not to contract the deadly virus.
“As things stand now in India, this second wave has spread very fast. It is spreading wide, but we keep praying that God will help the government to combat the pandemic, because they have been working tirelessly together with their researchers, doctors, scientists, including law enforcement agencies, to stem the tide.
“Here the citizens obey instructions and the law.”
Going down memory lane, he said: “In March 2020, there was a lockdown which lasted for six months before the government started relaxing it. When the second wave started, the government imposed a curfew from 10 pm to 5am.
“Later on, they introduced a fresh lockdown for 10 days starting from April 26. But when the cases kept rising in thousands, they extended the lockdown till May 2 with a probability that there may be complete lockdown subsequently. Now there are a huge number of deaths and new cases coming up every day. For me, I fear for my life, those of my friends, and others. The experience is very horrific.
“Social and economic life has not been the same again. Imagine yourself staying at home during this lockdown. We have bills to pay. This is not our fatherland. Here we live in rented apartments. We buy food and water and pay for electricity.
“It hasn’t been easy. It has been a very tough one. As Nigerians, we can no longer socialise as we used to. As it stands now, not more than 58 people are expected to be in any gathering. For now, there is no gathering of Nigerians.
“We don’t even go to church or go out for the purpose of earning livelihood. It has affected us enormously. There is a shortage of beds and oxygen because of the large number of cases they are having every day.”
Like other respondents before him, Dickson said: “There is possibly no way for us to come back home. We also fear for our families back home because of insecurity. There is also the problem of high cost of living in Nigeria, which is highly uncalled for. It stresses the citizens. It is just so frustrating for us.
“In terms of the vaccines, they are made available to everyone by the Indian government. Last year, our association gave palliatives to Africans in different states in India. The Nigeria High Commission also gave out palliatives with few individuals making contributions to that effect.”
One of the leaders of the Nigerian community in India, who identified himself simply as Bakare, said they didn’t expect what is happening in the Asian country now.
Bakare said: “This second wave of the pandemic here in India was unexpected. It is spreading like wildfire and people are dying.
“It is really affecting the Indians because of their population and because of the way they gather together during their festivals. In our own case, we have stopped going to church or mosque and even meetings.
“Our people back home are worried and we are also worried. Because of the situation back at home, we are scared of coming.
“In spite of the situation here, this place is more peaceful. Nigeria is not worth coming back to for now with the unpleasant stories we are hearing about insecurity and scarcity of food, among others.”
Nigerians shun hospitals, fear they could be injected with virus
For many Africans resident in India, particularly Nigerians, going to hospital to complain about any kind of ailment is out of it for now. Some of them fear that any African that goes to the hospital may be injected with the virus as they have grown envious that the black communities are not affected by the pandemic.
Licoln, a business man said: “We are scared of going to some hospitals because they are not happy that blacks are not contracting the virus. No black person, from my findings, has contracted it. It is just that any black person that is sick should just be careful because they can be labeled as carriers of the virus.
“Anybody that dies right now of either kidney failure or whatever, they see them as Coronavirus patients and would have their bodies cremated. It is a dicey situation. We are all at a standstill.
“We are calling on the Nigerian government to see what they can do. Our embassy is not working properly. The new ambassador that has been posted here is still in London because of the pandemic. We are just in the hands of God.”
He further said: “When the second wave started, you would see people walking on the street and falling down. The opposition party is saying that they should go on full lockdown but the prime minister is begging and asking that they should see how they can administer the vaccines which they have been selling to other parts of the world to enable their economy to thrive.
“Their economy was badly affected in 2020. Now the pandemic is growing at an alarming rate.
“Our family members and friends back at home and other places are calling to check on us. But there is no case of a black person or Nigerian contracting the virus. The Nigerian government has to look into the area of getting its citizens protected.”
Asked if he would be willing to return to the country, which has a very low record of the pandemic, Lincoln shared pictures and videos of killings and news of kidnappers asking for ransom in Nigerian with our reporter and asked: “Is this where you want us to return to? If we are asked to return home, I don’t think any Nigerian will be willing to go back.
“I have been seeing some gory pictures, some horrible videos from Nigeria. The situation in our country is so pathetic. Nigeria is not safe, my brother. People are not willing to come; I will not lie to you.”
Another respondent, Ann, also nurses the fear of being infected with the virus if she goes to any hospital over there.
“I am also scared of going to the hospital because I don’t want them to infect me with coronavirus. They restrict us from doing so many things here because we are Africans. I have financial problems because it is not easy getting money from Nigeria.”
Nigerians shun vaccines, resort to local measures
Africans in India, aside from adhering to the COVID-19 preventive protocols, are said to be depending more on local preventive measures to avoid the deadly virus.
Malik, a resident, said: “We are actually taking preventive measures as African communities here. We are always enlightening ourselves on what to do whenever we feel any symptom.
“If we decide to go to the hospital, you know what it means. We are also applying our local measures. We use dogoyaro leaves with ginger and garlic. We boil them together and consume them for prevention purposes.
“Pune City has a high rate of COVID-19 infection rate, yet they are the ones producing the vaccines. Many are actually taking the vaccines but they are still dying. I don’t think the vaccines are working.
“Meanwhile some Africans are not taking it.”
Maik added: “What we are hearing in the news is that beginning from May, they will embark on a strategic plan to make sure that everybody takes it. So many people have taken it already.
“The pandemic wiped out three Indian families in just one week in the same Pune City where the vaccine is produced. The safety of the vaccine is minus 100 per cent in my own view.
“I don’t know what the plan is now for May 1 when they will be embarking on a very serious vaccination exercise.
“Many Africans are not going to take it; I am sure of that. If that would be the case, many would just have to go back to their country.”
As part of Nigerians’ strategy for staying safe, Bakare, a leader of the Nigerian community in India, said: The elders and the executive of Nigerian communalities always caution our people against going out anyhow. We have stopped meetings in all our communities. I don’t think any African community is having problems with the pandemic. It is only the Indians that are facing it.”
Why we can’t evacuate citizens yet – FG
The Nigerian authorities said they cannot evacuate the citizens until there is a request to that effect.
The spokesman of Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), Rahman Balogun, said: “Evacuation of Nigerians is a policy matter. You have to ask the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is when it is decided that Nigerians are under threat that the ministry would direct us to work out the modalities for evacuation.”
Contacted, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ferdinand Nwoye, said: “Evacuation is done on request. It is when the people there indicate that they are helpless in most cases. It is not like the federal government goes out to evacuate; we just coordinate it.
“They will pay for their tickets and, through the embassy, we profile them. I don’t think there is any request, to my knowledge.”