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I have never been impressed by the heroics of people convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference – Ellen Goodman.
Nigeria is country with monumental challenges. And sometimes, it seems that the country is out to kill its citizens, in the words of my friend Ayo Sogunro. Because of this, many times we the people are so overwhelmed by the challenges that we throw our hands up and give up on trying to change Nigeria. Very smart Nigerians on twitter have expressed this view.
For example, the tweep @CChukudebelu regularly expresses an in-depth understanding of the problems of Nigeria. He is vocal about the “exit” mechanism that citizens adopt to cope with these problems, essentially becoming mini-governments in their spheres and waiting their turn to get a shot at eating of the Nigerian national cake. The picture painted is one of a citizenry that cannot do anything to stem the tide that drives the nation towards a dangerous precipice.
Those that have not despaired have developed a messianic expectation or a savior desire. We expect that some great special event, person or action of superlative proportion is what will reset our nation and cause it to begin to work well. Of course, all sorts of people capitalize on these types of expectations, from religious leaders to politicians and even activists, essentially proclaiming their saviourhood whilst positioning themselves for their opportunity to dip their hands in the commonwealth of our people. Like Ellen Goldman, I am wary of such heroes.
The Ebola outbreak in Nigeria has afforded us to refocus on another alternative to all of these. It shows us how one individual who acted recklessly and without regard for the lives of others brought the disease into the country. With his actions, supported by the lack of diligence and responsibility on the part of the Liberian authorities, Peter Sawyer was on the route to sparking what could have taken the Ebola outbreak to a whole new level, considering the population density of Lagos in particular and Nigeria as a whole, when compared with the rest of the West African states.
But just as Sawyer his the poster child for how the negative actions of a few can have an infinitely more terrible result, Dr. Ameyo Adadevoh and her team at First Consultant hospital are the perfect example for how a few people can chose to do the right thing and effect infinitely larger change in the society. In spite of great pressure, personal risk and the patient’s reckless behavior, they enforced Mr. Sawyer’s quarantine and the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria has been contained with vastly fewer cases than all the other West African countries. Sadly, Dr. Adadevoh and Nurse Justina Ejelonu were part of the few casualties recorded. But the reports have it that Dr. Adadevoh refused to let Mr. Sawyer go in spite of enormous diplomatic pressure from the Liberian authorities. Mr. Sawyer attempted to pull the classic “do you know who I am” on her. But she chose to do the right thing, even when she didn’t know how far reaching her actions would be. She wasn’t in the public eye. She wasn’t holding any government position.
She wasn’t at the head of any public crusade. The cameras were not rolling. In fact, if the disease she had treated Mr. Sawyer for had not been so fatal, we would probably not have heard of her. But the tribute that has poured out after her death shows that her professionalism and commitment to doing the right thing wasn’t a mere fluke. It was who she was, consistently, over the years.
This is why I disagree with the doomsday proclaimers and the hero seekers. The first forget that the people of any nation have the capacity to change the trajectory that the nation is moving on. The latter have outsourced the task of changing the nation to a few superstars and even complain when these superstars don’t take up every cause. They forget that it is when like Dr. Adadevoh, we do the right thing when we are not in public office, when the cameras are not rolling, everyday, all day, that the sum total of our individual small actions will amount to the change that we so desperately need in the country.
This in no removes the necessity for sound and inspirational leadership in public office. The enlightenment and containment efforts of the government have gone a long way in ensuring that Ebola did not become epidemic in Nigeria. But hinging it all on government and public officers is erroneous. The government played its part, but they couldn’t have been successful without Dr. Adadevoh and her team doing the right thing in private, ultimately sacrificing their lives for the greater good in the process.
We ought to take a cue and borrow a leaf from her. The nursery song “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine” is instructive. No matter how little our light is in this nation, and how deep the surrounding darkness is, we can spark a change that is immeasurably more than we can ever imagine if we only chose to let it shine. Adieu Dr. Adadevoh and Nurse Justina.
Tunde Leye @tundeleye is a fiction writer. He believes that the stories written form a priceless resource that is the basis of society, all the other arts (film, music, theatre, visual arts) and hence he is committed to telling stories out of Africa that show it as it was, is, and is going to be.
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