• Saturday, May 18, 2024
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BusinessDay

Another Patrick Sawyer is imminent

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In this article, I will attempt to draw attention to major lapses that I observed at the Seme border.

I visited Cotonou on October 1 on personal business, but saw it as an opportunity to test the readiness of this country for any Ebola patient coming from any of the worst hit West African countries by road.

On this trip, I was armed with a highly concentrated hand sanitizer, long-sleeved Khaki shirt and was determined not to shake hands with anyone or make body contacts.

Though I had my passport, I tried to get into Benin Republic through one of the most obvious illegal routes. This route is on the left as you approach the border from the Nigerian side of the border.

On this route (which is a wide untarred road), there are no Nigerian immigration or health workers. There are just five checkpoints (The checkpoints are shanties built with bamboo sticks). Sticks are laid across the road in front of the shanties to regulate traffic. Strangely, anyone from the Beninoise side of the border was allowed free access to Nigeria without question.

As I approached to cross into Cotonou, I was greeted in French but couldn’t respond beyond the second syllable; this gave me off as a Nigerian. Therefore, I was asked to pay to gain access.

Of course I refused. I was delayed but didn’t complain because being delayed meant I could stay at the checkpoint and get a better understanding of how the route operates.

In the one hour I was there, I observed men and women, bring rice, oil, etc into Nigeria. The women simply carried the rice on their heads and came across the border.

What’s amazing is that the Beninoise at the checkpoint never collected funds from their people entering Nigeria; they only collected from Nigerians going into their country.

When it was obvious I would not blink first, they let me go. Thus, I had crossed into another country undocumented.

Not that it is news that people move in and out of Nigeria without any form of documentation or examination, what is new and alarming is that in times like these, when Ebola is threatening the very existence of West Africa, our borders are still so porous.

On my return trip to Nigeria, I just walked into the country. Nobody asked me any question. But to fulfil all righteousness, I went [voluntarily] to some Nigerian officials, who checked my temperature and said to me you are “good to go” (I spent less than four hours in Benin Republic).” I told them the precautionary measures I had taken.

Ebola remains a big treat globally. Reports from Bloomberg indicate that “the death toll from Ebola in West Africa has risen to 3,338, a sign the outbreak isn’t abating as the first case diagnosed outside Africa was confirmed in the U.S. recently. The outbreak has spurred 7,178 infections through Sept. 28, the World Health Organization said in a statement. “

Almost all Ebola virus disease cases and deaths are in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone with a few recorded in Nigeria (Nigeria is free), but the first case which led to our loss of Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh was the product of a lax government and ministry of health which chose to be reactive, rather than proactive.

Given the devastation that the disease has wreaked on other West African countries and the way it was “well handled” by Nigeria, have the country’s handlers thought of the possibility of relatives of dead Ebola victims coming into Nigeria by road in the belief that they have better chances of survival here? This is a possibility which should make the border administrators more vigilant.

What if another carrier like Patrick Sawyer comes into Nigeria by road and dies in a crowded area like Ajegunle? Will Nigeria be prepared for the kind of health care emergency that situation will create?

Given the laxity at Seme, what has shielded us from the disease is not our action, but the distance between us and those countries worst affected.

The way Nigeria treats most of its land borders gives the impression that the country has nothing important to secure. For, only a house that has unimportant stuff inside will have no locks.

The logical thing to do therefore is to as much as possible, reduce the number of unregulated activities going on in Seme, and better manage entry and exit into the country.

Early this year, Jean-Marie Le Pen, 85, founder of France’s far-right Front National suggested that the Ebola virus could solve the global “population explosion” problem and by extension Europe’s “immigration problem”. He gave a time line of three months and was not challenged.

Given this threat, which is currently decimating the population of West Africa, it is sad that the Nigerian government has not taken any drastic measure on its land borders. Only God knows how those who come into the country by sea are monitored.

OBODO EJIRO