Simon Kolawole: With Ebola And Death From Liberia

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There is something about us, Nigerians, that is quite difficult to understand, much less explain. For one, we think we are unique and completely different from the rest of the world. After all, we don’t suffer earthquakes or landslides, neither do we experience Tsunamis or hurricanes. So, we think we are invincible. For instance, in March 2014, when the first case of Ebola virus disease was reported in Guinea, I guess our initial response was: “E no concern us.” By simple logic, we should know that Guinea is within our region, the West African sub-region. With free trade and free movement among ECOWAS countries, the possibility of transporting the virus across border was very high. For whatever reason, we thought “e no concern us.”

Then the disease spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The infections and death toll were rapidly increasingly. We read it in newspapers. We watched it on TV. At no time did I hear of any pre-emptive measure being taken to prevent Nigeria and Nigerians from the virus, which kills mercilessly and swiftly. We probably thought it is Liberia’s problem. We could say Guinea was far away. We could say Nigeria had no direct links or interaction with the Francophone country and its citizens. But the moment the virus made an entry into Sierra Leone and Liberia, we needed to be worried and act quickly – given that we have direct air links with those countries. But “e no concern us”.
Although the virus is not airborne, it nonetheless made its way into Nigeria by air. A Liberian-American named Patrick Sawyer flew the agent of death into Nigeria, and now from one infection to another, we have become vulnerable. The doctor who treated him contracted the virus. The nurse also got the virus and died. Several other persons have been infected. As at last count, seven cases have been confirmed. Two of those who had primary or secondary contact with Sawyer have escaped into thin air, despite claims that they had been quarantined. Only God knows where they are now.
Again, this shows our uniqueness as Nigerians. If you had contact with a highly contagious disease like Ebola, you should ordinarily make yourself available for treatment. It is your life. It is not just your life, without treatment you could ruin the lives of others. But Nigerians? God forbid. The first thing is denial. “It can never happen to me”. “God will not allow it”. And then when the symptoms begin to manifest, the next thing is to look for some dubious solution – a visit to some prophet or herbalist somewhere who says he has all the powers to cure all kinds of illnesses. Another dubious solution, apparently, is to develop a cure like bitter kola and salt bath. Nigeria is just an incredible country.
Sure, I commend the Lagos State government for the way it has reacted to this threat. It has, within record time, delivered an isolation centre. It has been embarking on public enlightenment. A few days after the Liberian died, I put a call through to my mum to enlighten her. She told me she had been following developments on television. I asked her not to eat “bush meat”. I gave her other tips. She told some of the things she had already learnt from watching the local TV station. I was very happy. In situations like this, public enlightenment is key. Misinformation is a major battle that has to be fought and won by government.
Perhaps, jolted by the criticism over his handling of Chibok kidnappings (that is why I like criticisms, even from my enemies), President Goodluck Jonathan has also swung into action, announcing a series of measures under an emergency plan to contain the spread of the virus. The Minister of Health, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, has had his headache compounded – dealing with Ebola in the midst of yet another strike by our doctors. I don’t envy him, but I think he has reacted commendably to the Ebola challenge.
Having said this, however, I think the Federal Government erred by not taking preventative measures. What we are doing now is reacting – after the deed had been done. It is still better than nothing, and maybe the virus could have entered Nigeria through some other means because of our fenceless borders – in any case. But we have absolute control over air travel, especially from the ECOWAS countries. It is an indictment on us that it was Arik Air that on its own decided not to fly to Sierra Leone and Liberia. It was not a government decision. I would also like to know: what was the instruction to the Port Health Department at the airports and seaports before Sawyer came to Nigeria?
Well, it has happened. The virus is here. The victims are here. We must now move forward from here, to prevent its spread and treat those afflicted. A very vital step forward is massive public enlightenment. It is as important as the isolation wards that we want to build. Last week, some evidently deranged Nigerian sent a message out on the social media that bathing with salt and drinking warm water with salt would kill the virus. Trust Nigerians. The salt seller smiled to the bank as gullible citizens rushed to the market, and people have been reported dead from an overdose of salt. By now, people with high blood pressure who fell for the trick might have damaged their health beyond remedy.
This is the time for the government to roll out its full information machinery to educate Nigerians on how to avoid this virus and what they should do if they think they have caught it. The Federal Government, in collaboration with all states, have a central system that will monitor the social media and other information channels very carefully so as to know the falsehood that deranged individuals are spreading – in order to counter it and put the truth out there. It is very, very important. The virus will continue to spread if we allow ignorance to spread. Only God knows how many people have died drinking too much salt and consuming too much bitter kola.
Now that N1.9billion has been released by President Jonathan to combat the pandemic, let’s hope this is not going to be another sleaze. We are so fraud-minded in Nigeria that even misfortunes excite us. We’re simply special. “E no concern us”.


Those who say we can’t have peaceful elections in Nigeria got another shocker yesterday when the governorship poll in Osun State held without major incidents. You can argue that we had to deploy heavy security, including the military, to achieve the peace and you would be right. Until we hold elections with minimal security, we cannot claim to have arrived. It is a worry. As usual, the security agents reportedly arrested some APC stalwarts for reasons I cannot easily understand – apart from their tendency to be overzealous. Nevertheless, the election went well and the result should be credible. Hopefully.

Nigerian military authorities made a somewhat embarrassing but honest admission last week: they said they had lost parts of Nigerian territory in Borno State to Boko Haram insurgents. They didn’t say it directly. Defence Headquarters announced that it had taken Delwa, Mustafari, Manga, Wanga and Damboa back from the terrorists. While I’m not trying to belittle the efforts of our military, how were the militants able to take these towns from us? Is it that they outnumbered or outgunned our soldiers? Are these militants so armed, so solid that they can take five towns from us just like that? Baffling.

Nasarawa Governor Umaru Tanko Al-Makura has taught Vice Admiral Murtala Nyako some political lesson: you don’t go to war barehanded. Irony: Nyako, a former chief of naval staff, should be the one lecturing us on warfare. That Al-Makura has survived the moves against him by the PDP-dominated house of assembly has further confirmed that you can subvert impeachment in many ways. If the lawmakers are not with you, that is not the end of the world. By constituting a probe panel considered to be largely pro-Al-Makura, the chief judge, Justice Suleiman Dikko, effectively pulled the rug off the lawmakers’ feet. Clinical.

Thousands killed in Gaza crisis as Israel kills an ant with a sledge hammer. Islamic State killing minorities in Iraq and destroying history. Christian militias killing Muslims in Central African Republic as anarchy continues. Hundreds murdered aboard MH17 flight shot down above Ukrainian skies as Russian President Vladmir Putin continues his bid to resurrect Soviet Union. War in newly-born South Sudan. Unending war in Syria, with over 200,000 killed in three years. Boko Haram and female suicide bombers sending panic all over Nigeria. You just have to wonder why bloodshed appeals to so many people. Depressing.


Article written By Simon Kolawole, and Culled from Thisday Newspaper.. Email: [email protected]


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