Covid-19: Why Nigerians should be careful of face masks - Opinion by Busuyi Mekusi

Covid-19: Why Nigerians should be careful of face masks - Opinion by Busuyi Mekusi

Editor's note: In an attempt to slow down the spread of the novel coronavirus, an increasing number of states in Nigeria have made wearing face masks mandatory in public spaces. However, Busuyi Mekusi PhD, a lecturer at the Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba Akoko, in this opinion, writes about the dangers posed by the widespread use of masks.

COVID-19 tends to simulate the Third World War that has been dragging based on the drudgery in the contestations and vexations among certain countries and interests who are threatening chemical weapons and economic onslaught in the overall struggle to control the world; with suspicions on the part of America and her allies about China and the ‘Chinese Virus’ reaching a feverish pitch. With controversial figures of mortality in China, remarkably worrisome ‘pogrom’ in America and Europe, and scattering hazy records of deaths from Africa, the entire globe is behaving like a “convulsing child”, with major cities deserted, no thanks to the highly virulent coronavirus.

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As the different governments in the Nigeria federating units make efforts, some decisive and others nebulous, to contain the cataclysmic pandemic, amidst denial and rejection of the existence of the epidemic among the majority of the lowly, haphazard updates and narratives cast huge shadows on the amount of believability that a cross-section of the population share; with the social media providing the platform to say the ridiculously foolish and the stupendously psychotic.

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After the announcements of restrictions, hand washing and sanitizing, lockdown, stay at home, curfew, etc., as measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, amidst shortages of test kits, ventilators, PPE, the vulnerability of Nigerians has increased in the face of the probability of community transmission that would not only make the pandemic endemic but upscale the morbidity and mortality traceable to the pandemic.

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The use of face/nose masks for various reasons has, over the years, illustratively complemented the dress behaviours of workers; like medical personnel, cleaners/sweepers, factory workers, etc., who resort to using face masks to lower or neutralize the hazards the performance of their duties exposes them to. The quality of these masks determines what danger they could ward off, and what would easily leave them penetrable.

Therefore, to neutralize the ravaging potential of a virus like COVID-19, even though not boldly considered airborne, the medical mask would have been desirable or recommendable, if not for the scarcity occasioned by a disconnect with China, which produces most of the consumables for Nigeria and Nigerians, like the tree and its branches.

The transcendental values attached to masks are best illustrated in those used for religious purposes, particularly masquerading in African traditional religions. Masks could either be partially or fully worn, as found in Egungun, both for spirituality and entertainment. Masks are very veritable comportments of ‘gamers’ or religious initiates who get transmogrified to living ancestors in the believability structure of adherents who, mostly, suspend their disbelief, as attainable in drama, and receive the masked figure as an ancestor who decides to visit the living.

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The theatricality found in these spiritual-physical engagements has been argued by some scholars to sufficiently pass for costume, reenactment and subterfuge that are key elements of drama. A popular Nigeria singer/artist with a unique genre of Arbeat music, Lagbaja (Bisade Ologunde), achieved hidden identity through the use and popularization of masks, particularly the creation of multiple identities and ambivalence that make him several things to various personalities, through his music. This is without saying that masking also increases the quest to know and see, in company with the deception therein.

However, the most monstrous deployment of masks, both half and full, is in relation to crime and criminality. It is on records that criminals have in the past purportedly used between masks and hoods to cover their identities to successfully perpetuate criminal acts, without being noticed. Wearing of hoods in Nigeria has also been popular among security agents on ‘special assignments’ and commercial motorcycle riders. Some of the latter have equally been accused of purported involvement in crimes.

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This is where the issue of the voguish use of masks, courtesy of COVID-19, requires some attention. As people have started appropriating masks for their benefits; stylish matching with clothing materials worn, trivial branding to advertise political personalities, the high possibility exists that criminals would have a field day by appropriating masks to attain new complicated and hidden identity.

Similarly, talking about personal reflection, personality, perception and the totality of an individual to others, the use of masks would be very disruptive, just as found in the concealments achieved through cloths and other extraneous elements, as it could serve as an ornament to confer factitious image that would distort reflections and perception, and willingly or inadvertently manipulate perceptions. The immediate implication of this is the abundance of Elemure Ogunyemi’s Seramo(fake personality) that would be strewn over, and across public spaces.

While still rebuffing the apprehension imposed by the virulence of this pandemic, coupled with the vexed issue of insecurity, and as we step into the new civilization of COVID-19 masks and mask(q)uerading, we should be reminded of the limits of certain masks and the dangerous implications of all masks.

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