First off, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to the families who have lost loved ones in the wake of the outbreak of the current Ebola scourge in West Africa and particularly in Nigeria, the focus of this write-up. It is hard to lose a loved one and when you think of the way and manner in which Ebola strikes, the pain becomes even more difficult and best imagined by the rest of us.
The story of Nigeria, a country of one hundred and seventy million people is probably best not told in a personal sense. These days, referring to Nigeria as “my country” sparks a mixed feeling of shame, disgust, regret and pain all rolled into one. It is now common place to see the elite (politicians, business executives etc.) driving around with Mobile Police escorts, their houses guarded by paid Police detail and even their children being driven to school in convoys of Mobile Policemen and other security detail that supposedly were trained and equipped for the benefit of the masses. The sad reality of this is that a security force comprising of the Police and military forces meant to guard and protect the entire citizenry, enforce the rule of law and maintain our territorial integrity is now condensed majorly into an apparatus for the upper class to enjoy a secure life in the midst of chaos.
Let us take the case of the Police Force. A relatively conjectural breakdown in terms of percentages demonstrate that seventy percent of the Force are assigned on paid basis to protecting the elite and safe guarding corporate buildings, oil and gas operations and so on. A further 20 percent are probably split between the Police Stations, road blocks and traffic posts while the remaining 10 percent are saddled with the responsibility of guarding the entire citizenry (less the elite) and attempting to maintain law and order. It is against this backdrop that the title of my piece “THANK YOU PATRICK SAWYER, THANK YOU EBOLA” conjures. The foregoing basically describes a country operating in a mode whereby the high and mighty secure their existence at the expense of the hoi polloi and leave them to fight for themselves in a stormy “survival of the fittest” race. The resultant effect is chaos, anarchy, desperation and greed, which propagate the insatiable hunger and lust for the good things of life, which ordinarily are basic elements required for everyday living.
nter Mr. Patrick Sawyer of blessed memory or more apt of controversial memory. The story behind his entry into the country and his eventual succumbing to EVD has been told and re-told. It is clear that the cases of the Ebola strain already identified and tracked in Nigeria have all been linked to him. It is unimaginable what the situation would have been had the virus crept into the country through one of our land boarders or worse still if it had originated from a fruit bat biting a little boy playing in the field in one of the villages in our remote rural communities. Actually, it is imaginable and I can tell you what would have been the case. First of all, the virus would have started spreading and causing severe mortality without anyone immediately knowing the cause and it would possibly take several days or weeks by the time the deaths are linked to Ebola. By that time of course, there would be no records of cases or numbers of persons directly linked with the virus in and around the immediate vicinity of the index community. Speculation would arise that a truckload of farm produce that left for the urban areas possibly had Ebola infected persons and produce on board. At that time, the elite of the country, yes those that normally would use the police and other security forces to protect themselves from clear, present and perceived danger would start canvassing for all access roads from or into the village(s) be barricaded and cordoned off so as to block any villager from migrating to the cities. Of course there would be no immediate plan of how to prevent the spread of the virus within the village(s) and protect those who are yet to contact the virus from being infected. Like I said in the preceding paragraphs, they will be left in a survival of the fittest race, so long as they don’t bring the disease into town. Now, thanks to Patrick Sawyer this scourge came into the country through the commercial capital of the country and for once our elite are faced with a problem that potentially cannot be dealt with in isolation without thinking of the general good. Credit anyway must be given to the Lagos State Government as well as the First Consultants Medical Center in Lagos for the proactive steps they took upon learning of the presence of an EVD case in the state. The heroics and eventual martyrdom of Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh is well documented and I seize this opportunity to pray to God to grant her soul peaceful and eternal rest.
It is instructive to note that without the introduction of EVD into Nigeria by the late Patrick Sawyer, we probably would have been operating in a state of “business as usual” with nobody thinking of the possibility of the virus finding its way into the country. The seriousness of this disease and the devastating impact it leaves behind in its wake has prompted our government to rise up and face this arduous task to curtail its spread. Clearly this is a matter of life and death and it affects everyone and in this particular case there is no refuge for the elite without a total solution. The virus is not discriminatory of any human being and its effect is morbidly democratic and cannot be guard against by deploying the entire Mobile Police Force in the country. As a resident of Port Harcourt I woke up this morning to learn that the virus apparently is already in town and has claimed the life of one doctor already. The story making the rounds is that an infected diplomat who came into contact with the late Patrick Sawyer and who supposedly was under surveillance managed to find his way into Port Harcourt and got this late doctor to secretly treat him at a yet to be disclosed hotel. The worry for us in Port Harcourt is that we are right now clueless as to the extent to which the virus may already have spread within the city and its environs. As at the time of writing this article, the doctor has been named but no name has been mentioned of the diplomat whom we gather is now back in Lagos and has tested negative and likely free of EVD. It is being narrated in some quarters that the already late doctor has treated other patients (not for EVD) since after he attended to the diplomat and as such the actual number of secondary cases arising from his own infection may never be known. I urge the government of Rivers State to take a cue from Lagos and adopt measures where the citizenry are openly informed with full disclosure of the exact situation of things so that rumormongers would not have a field day in propagating falsehood and distorting the facts. In Lagos, there were daily press briefings by the State Commissioner of Health and information source was credible, authentic and fairly disseminated. The Governor himself issued a communiqué on the situation and provided insight on what the government had done and was still doing to curb the spread of this deadly virus.
Now the responsibility for curtailing the spread of this deadly scourge lies with every one of us. Quite frankly I am cautiously optimistic that EVD would not reach epidemic proportions in Nigeria. With the advent of social media, the awareness of the virus is huge and information on how to manage and prevent the spread of the virus has gone practically viral on social media and is thankfully spreading faster than EVD itself. Notwithstanding this we must as a people take it upon ourselves to adopt a more careful approach to life and engage in practices that would promote a healthier and more hygienic life style. We need to educate ourselves by reading on the subject, educate our spouses, our children, our colleagues, our domestic staff and everyone within our immediate environment. I am not a doctor or medical personnel but I recall growing up as a child and whenever there was an outbreak of conjunctivitis (Apollo) my father would tell us to always wash your hands and keep your fingers away from your eyes. Up till today I still adopt that practice and thankfully have never fallen victim to Apollo most probably as a result of practicing strict personal hygiene whenever there is an outbreak. EVD is no Apollo but it is widely documented that if you can adopt certain practices bothering on extra care, attention and strict personal hygiene, you would likely not fall victim to it.
My parting shot is directed at the government of African nations and I urge the Federal Government of Nigeria to take the initiative in this regard. Ebola first broke out in 1976 and western governments funded research into a cure for the virus ostensibly to guide against its possible use as biological weaponry by those they considered rogue nations. Africa is thought to be where the disease first originated and the current scourge is said to be localized in West Africa with the countries Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and lately Nigeria having between them several documented cases of fatalities from the virus, a figure WHO already puts at circa 1,500. As far back as April 2014, WHO reported 157 suspected and confirmed cases in Guinea, 22 suspected cases in Liberia, and 8 suspected cases in Sierra Leone. Now we have 13 confirmed cases in Nigeria while Sierra Leone and Liberia have 935 and 322 confirmed cases respectively. This goes a long way to show how the disease could potentially spread in Nigeria if not managed properly. The recent cases (confirmed and suspected) in Rivers state should not be taken lightly and it is important that the searchlight of the Federal Government be beamed there now. It was reported that the initial approach by the government of Liberia treating it lightly and even attempting to cover it up was responsible for the way and manner it eventually spread.
Finally as a nation, we need to remain thankful for what might have been. Had it not been for Patrick Sawyer, Ebola may not have come into Nigeria. Worse still the virus could have found its way into Nigeria through an avenue that would have made containment difficult or nearly impossible. In this country, we must learn to be prepared for eventualities. Ten years back it was improbable to think of suicide bombings or any bombing for that matter in Nigeria. Just as counter-terrorism measures are adopted by nations where potential for attack has been identified, Nigeria and indeed Africa needs to take disease control very seriously. I say a big thank you to Ebola and also for using Mr. Sawyer as a unique yet unwelcomed vessel for transporting itself into our country. This is an important though rude wake up call, which thankfully has demonstrated that Nigeria can rise up to challenges of such magnitude as, demonstrated by the likes of the Lagos state government and the Federal Ministry of Health.
Long live Nigeria and God bless and keep us all.