Open access peer-reviewed chapter

COVID-19 Myths and Music Advocacy in Nigeria

Written By

Oludayo Tade

Submitted: 01 May 2021 Reviewed: 08 June 2021 Published: 20 July 2022

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.98783

From the Edited Volume

Bioethical Issues in Healthcare

Edited by Peter A. Clark

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Abstract

Myth mongering constitutes major impediment to the fight against COVID-19 and adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols in Nigeria. Against this background, this chapter analyses three COVID-19 advocacy songs to unpack how lyrics were used to neutralise myths and articulates adherence to COVID-19 preventive protocols. To burst the myths that the COVID-19 is a disease of the rich and the aged, the lyrics indicated that the virus does not respect social status or spare any age group. The songs contributed to advocacy by preaching adherence to COVID-19 safety protocols to be safe and survive the ‘plague’. The paper stresses the importance of incorporating religious institutions, particularly music evangelists, in the fight against pandemics and other health crisis.

Keywords

  • COVID-19
  • music
  • advocacy
  • health seeking behaviour
  • Pandemic

1. Introduction

This paper examines representations of myth in religious songs and how they contribute to the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in southwest Nigeria. Myths spreading during COVID-19 pandemic have been costly in getting effective policy intervention outcomes through the propagation of deliberate falsehood and unscientific conspiracy theories about the cause, care and consequences of taking certain actions. This is not the first time myths on health emergency is formed and shared. Wilkinson and Leach [1] examined myths during Ebola health epidemic and showed how myths and assumptions surrounding Ebola led to wrong responses. Most of the myths, such as drinking and bathing with salt water during the Ebola outbreak were found to be untrue.1 Indeed, people were found to be hiding their sick people owing to cremation policy and non-engagement of communities to adopt creative approaches to burial practices [3].

While some studies have established the negative consequences of myths, others see positive outcomes in myths. The negative effects of myths have been further espoused by scholars who opined that myths (pandemic myths) can escalate fear, create panic and contribute to stigmatisation [4]. Mintzerberg [5] examined six myths within the health system in developed countries and found that statements claiming that health systems are failing are untrue. Kar et al. [6] emphasised the need to convey proper health information or scientific evidence to people to reduce fear and anxiety. Myths have their own value in helping people understand why things are the way they are [7]. To them, “in other contexts they are source of comfort, and help people explain where they come from, why the world is as it is, and why things are the way they are. However, they should have no such privilege place in evidence-informed public health”.

The responses of people to the pandemic may have to do partly or wholly with the disseminated and consumed information [8]. As people transit from the physical to the virtual mode as one of the preventive protocols to reduce physical contact and enhance social distancing and prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, information sources became uncoordinated as people are bombarded with information online spreading myths and unfounded lies on the pandemic. The information systems and media reportage of the pandemic bombards the public with volumes of information to mine and make sense of. As a result, available information through different sources might be interpreted differently because people may not have the capacity to distinguish between the ‘truth’ and what is made available to them. Steps taken to curtail and contain COVID-19 such as lockdown measure have impact on the economy, education and mental health of the people [9]. Indeed, World Health Organisation has said the world is fighting both infodemic and pandemic [10]. Indeed, the World Health Organisation [11] listed some common myths associated with COVID-19 in a bid to burst them. The global health body maintained that the virus spreads in all types of humid environment to counter the myth that it spreads faster in cold weather than in hot or humid environment. The organisation stated that there is no scientific evidence to support the claim that mosquitoes spread COVID-19; that regular washing of hands and not hand driers kill COVID-19; that consumption of alcohol cannot kill COVID-19 but decreases the immunity of the body while increasing body vulnerability to the disease if infected and interfere in treatment procedure. That the claim that COVID-19 affects older people and cannot affect younger people is not true because the virus affects people of all ages, sex, race and only good hygiene is prescribed to prevent contraction. Even in Nigeria, the virus has killed all age categories. The negative effects of myth mongering were recorded during Ebola and Polio vaccination health crises. Myths mongering affected behavioural responses. People were asked to take salt or bath with it to prevent or cure Ebola. In Northern Nigeria myth also caused the boycott of polio vaccination [2, 12]. This present paper contributes to scholarship on myths and pandemics by examining the representations of myth in religious songs and how the advocacy content of the songs contributes to the fight against COVID-19 pandemic in southwest Nigeria.

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2. Music, health and wellbeing

Music engages people and appeals to their moods, conditions and fear. It is a communicative act which has the power of reordering social conditions. Music has the power to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness [13] and reduce tension [14]. There is a growing interest among scholars in examining the intersection or functionality of music in aiding health and well-being [15]. It follows therefore that listening to music is a self-medicated therapy which regulates and maintains health and sustain wellbeing. It works more if preferred music is available to patients. According to MacDonald et al. [16] listening to the right music is crucial to health and wellbeing.

Music has therapeutic value in enhancing recovery from ill-health and has been used in treating the problem of love sickness. Batt-Rawden [17] averred that “music as a powerful force to be used as an intervention in curing illnesses and disease”. It is deployed to create happiness, harmony and engender togetherness and as Gouk [18] puts it, music cures illnesses or diseases in healing ceremonies. It is even said that through music therapy, the entire gamut of transformational healing that a patient is in need of is fully served [19]. Indeed, it can be used to cope with depression feelings and emotions and has agency to maintain orderliness [20, 21]. It follows therefore that music enables appreciation of social conditions, social realities and personal encounters and once place within it. Music sociology unpacks the selected music can be used as self-therapy [22]. It helps in coping with life’s crisis such as presented by COVID-19 pandemic. Thompson [23] noted that music has a special appeal that makes people feel good even in times of crisis. According to him, music education has been used in China and Vietnam to educate people on staying safe:

The universal appeal of music as the go-to “feel good” experience in everyday life has been reported by news services covering the personal impact of social distancing and isolation. In China, dance parties have taken place both in make-shift hospitals and online. COVID-19 also has its own hit songs emerging, with tunes written to educate the public about hand washing and hygiene. A public education song from Vietnam evolved into an online dance challenge where people choreographed dance moves to help us wash our hands more effectively. People have created lists of 20- second songs to accompany our handwashing along with lists of “top albums to listen to” while in isolation. (23: 197)

To provide meaning and education, COVID-19 songs were composed and released by Christian evangelists tapping into myths, calming anxieties and raising hopes through adherence to safety protocols. These songs provide interpretive understanding of the cause, effect and articulate adoption of preventive behaviours to check the spread of the pandemic in Nigeria. Through this, music becomes a social act which orientates and facilitates social action in relation to the pandemic. This study therefore unveiled the contributions of music evangelists to the fight against COVID-19 pandemic. It shows that music evangelists have agency to use their platform to preach conformist behaviours. This can be harnessed as vehicle to propagate safety protocols aimed at fighting health crisis such as presented by COVID-19.

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3. Methods

To fulfil the research goals of this paper, three songs composed by popular Christian musicians were purposively selected for the study. These are Esther Igbekele’s ‘Only one plague’, Yinka Ayefele’s ‘COVID-19 Prayers’ and Ebenezer Obey’s Coronavirus alejo lo je o song on COVID-19. These songs were released during lockdown in 2020 in Nigeria when different conspiracy theories were flying around. The songs selected because they provide understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic, myths and neutralisation, and advocacy for adherence to COVID-19 protocols to prevent the spread and contraction of the deadly virus. Two of the songs were rendered in Yoruba language while Esther Igbekele’s song was in English. Due to this, I translated the Yoruba lyrics to English while ensuring that the social constructed meanings in Yoruba are not lost in the translated English. The data was thematically analysed in line with lyrical patterns which emerged from the songs.

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4. Nature of COVID-19 myths

Several myths and misinformation have been shared since the confirmation of first COVID-19 index case in Nigeria on February 27, 2020. People thought it was a hoax. This unbelief may not be unconnected with the fact that Nigeria, and Africa have recorded lowest form of COVID-19 infection and the number of human fatalities have been minimal when compared to countries in the global north. Some believed that COVID-19 was a scam and that the leadership of Nigeria were only creating fear in people to make money from donations coming from international organisations and donor agencies [24].

However, available data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) does not support such positions about COVID-19. The numbers of those who contracted the virus, those that recovered and discharged as well as those who died are facts that confirm the realness of COVID-19.2

There was also a myth that COVID-19 will not survive in hot weather in an environment like Nigeria. This myth thrived because of the lower rate of fatalities recorded in Africa when compared to high death figures recorded in the UK and US. There was also a myth that the pandemic affects old people and not young people. How then did the lyrical representations of COVID-19 help in bursting some of these myths? What advocacy did the music do using their platform? In what follows, I analyse how the lyrical constructs burst myths on age and COVID-19, social class and COVID-19.

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5. Bursting the age and social class myths

Myths surrounding what age and social class of people at the risk of COVID-19 spread across Nigeria. It was initially stated that COVID-19 does not affect the young but only the old. The myth surrounding social class was rife due to news reportage of the deaths of high profile Nigerians resulting from COVID-19 complications. It was thought that COVID-19 was the disease of the rich and not that of the poor (aisan olowo ni, kii se ti mekunnu). These myths created a false sense of safety for the poor and young with implications on them to lower their guard and not observe the COVID-19 safety protocols. This position was also strengthened by those who recovered from the virus. Doyin Okupe is a medical doctor and former media adviser to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. After recovering from the virus, Okupe claimed that more elite and rich people were dying because of their lifestyle. According to him, the poor are more exposed to the sun while the rich are not and consequently deficient in Vitamin D [25]. His status as a medical doctor complicated the issue and deepened the narrative about the high vulnerability of the rich. This accounted for why some people of low social-economic class took safety protocols for granted.

To burst this myth, evangelist Ebenezer Obey Fabiyi in the song, Coronavirus alejo lo je o3 informs his listeners that COVID-19 does not discriminate like human beings and would inflict the same harm on all humans that fail to be on guard. To him, COVID-19 is not a respecter of social class (rich or poor) or age (young or old). Through his lyrical construct, Obey warns against the harmful consequences of listening to such myths and not taking positive steps to protect oneself and significant others from contracting COVID-19.This is expressed early in the song:

Coronavirus you are a visitor,

it is killing people around the world,

it does not know the rich and does not spare the poor,

it does not spare the young or old

(Ebenezer Obey/Coronavirus alejo lo je o/2020)

Despite neutralisation age and social class myths through lyrics, these music evangelists joined the advocacy to embrace the scientifically proven preventive protocols. They amplified these safety protocols in their lyrics and enjoined their audiences to adhere to them to be able to survive the ‘plague’.

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6. “We should listen to what government is saying”: music advocacy for preventive behaviour against COVID-19

Apart from neutralising myths and promoting scientific truths about the COVID-19, the lyrics also embed in them, advocacy on how to stay safe as the pandemic rages on. Prior to the release of the songs, Nigeria had declared lockdown and reeled out policy which must be adhered to while conducting themselves in the public as it eases lockdown. The Coronavirus Disease Health Protection Regulation 2021 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari placed restrictions on gatherings, mandated use of face covering in public, ordered 50% capacity reduction of worshippers in religious spaces and ban sharing of items among others. In Banks and schools, clean environment and provision of hand sanitisers are to be observed among others. Transporters are to reduce passengers and engage in frequent cleaning and disinfection of their vehicles regularly4.

Notwithstanding these provisions, enforcement was weak and non-adherence was the outcome. To advocate adherence and observance of the safety protocols, lyrics of the COVID-19 songs were focussed on this aspect to the safety of all. Coronavirus alejo lo je o counselled people to obey the law and take heed to what God has instructed to prevent them from contracting COVID-19. Specifically, Ebenezer Obey’s song restated what is required of Nigerians to do which aligns with the safety protocols of government. He reasons that if there is adherence, COVID-19 will not ‘visit their households’. By preaching the benefits of adherence, the musician uses religious songs to encourage adoption of safety behaviour. This advocacy is captured in the lines below:

Coro oo, corona, do not branch in my household,

Let us follow the law and listen to what Government is saying,

Stay in your house, don’t entertain visitors

We should wash our hands regularly

We should wash our hands regularly with water and soap, we should wash it regularly,

We should use sanitiser to wash our hands, we should cover our nose with facemasks,

we should avoid being close to one another (physical and social distancing), and not entertain visitors,

we should listen to what government is saying (Ebenezer Obey/Coronavirus alejo lo je o/2020)

Specifically, Ebenezer Obey picks specific audiences for his message and targets commercial transporters. He counsels against carrying overload to allow for reasonable distancing on board. By incorporating transportation sector, Obey recognises the importance of human mobility in the spread of COVID-19. Since movement cannot be halted, observing safety protocols is the way out of the woods:

We should maintain reasonable distance inside vehicle/transportation bus,

We should maintain distancing inside transport bus,

You driver must not carry overload, we should listen and obey government on preventing coronavirus,

The Okada rider (commercial motorcylists) should not carry more than one person, it is dangerous, we should heed the counsel of government,

Corona pack your load, it should not branch in my house, I have covered my nose, let us embrace cleanliness

(Ebenezer Obey/Coronavirus alejo lo je o/2020)

The above lyrics captured other aspects of the protocols including cleanliness and covering of nose. To Ebenezer Obey therefore; Corona virus will not branch in the house of whoever upholds this instruction from government.

In COVID-19 Prayer, like Corona virus alejo lo je o, Ayefele mentioned the potential outcome of those who refused to observe advisory protocol. Such a person, he said would have to yield all his life’s investment to be enjoyed by another person since contracting COVID-19 may result into death although there are chances of recovering. While leaving the door open for a change of mind, Ayefele tells his listeners and fans not to shake hands, hug and should wash their hands with soap and water to be able to stay alive to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

Hope you have heard that they said we should not shake hands and not hug?

they also said we should wash our hands with soap and water and should be hygienic …

Oh Lord, let us not contract corona so that a stranger will not reap the fruits of our labour …

(Ayefele/COVID-19 prayer/2020)

In Just one plague Esther Igbekele calls attention to the need to observe social distancing and temporarily stop hand shaking and holding each other until coronavirus 2019 is defeated. Just one plague portrays the terrifying impact COVID-19 has had on the global economy stressing the need to obey the social and physical distancing protocol to prevent the ‘only one plague’ which has silenced even political unrest and protest which engulfed the world before its arrival. This is captured below:

Don’t shake hands again,

don’t hold each other again,

step away a meter just for only one plague.

Before the plague,

nations were threatening nations for war,

there was war in Syria,

there was revolt in Iran,

there was crisis in Turkey,

there were protests and political unrest,

bokoharam but when the plague surfaced,

everywhere was silenced. (Just one plague/Esther Igbekele/2020)

Despite their belief in divine intervention the three songs embraced scientific solutions and urged their followers and fans as well as the general populace to follow prescriptive guidelines to prevent the contraction and spread of COVID-19.

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7. Conclusion

Against the background that studies are beginning to show the functions of music during times health crisis such as COVID-19 during lockdown [26, 27, 28], this paper examined the role of gospel music in the articulation of COVID-19 preventive protocols set out to check the spread and contraction of the pandemic in Nigeria. Three songs were purposively selected due to their lyrical contents which focussed on COVID-19 pandemic. We analysed their neutralisation of existing age and social class myths. Indeed the songs used the negative consequences (death and loss of one’s investments to another person) of contracting the disease to show its realness. In advocating for adherence to COVID-19 protocols, the musicians deployed the fear and appeal approach to show the consequences of not observing the protocol against the benefit of observing the protocol.

Put together, the analysed songs articulated observance of safety protocols in the fight against COVID-19. Considering the cardinal role that religion plays in social construction of reality, it is recommended that music evangelists be incorporated in the future fight against health epidemic or pandemic and other social problems.

References

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Notes

  • For more on behaviour response to Ebola, see Ogoina et al. [2].
  • As at 29-04-2021, a total number of 1, 912,628 samples have been tested. Out of these, there were 164, 933 confirmed cases, 155, 021 discharged, 7,909 active cases while 2,063 died of the COVID-19 complications. More data is supplied by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC): https://covid19.ncdc.gov.ng/.
  • Coronavirus you are visitor.
  • For more details on this health Regulation, see: https://covid19.ncdc.gov.ng/media/files/COVIDResponseMarch1.pdf.

Written By

Oludayo Tade

Submitted: 01 May 2021 Reviewed: 08 June 2021 Published: 20 July 2022