By RICHARD IMHOAGENO
AFTER a four-month long drawn battle of trial and error, wit, and will with the dreaded Ebola virus Disease (EVD), Nigeria shocked the entire world by successfully containing the virus, and thus obtained an Ebola-free status from the World Health organization (WHO) barely two weeks ago.
In the midst of political disunity, partisan bigotry and division, violence, compounded by the abduction of over 260 teenage girls in Chibok, and a momentary crisis in the health sector, the Nigerian government, its people and the media formed a strong alliance and resisted the evil plague that has befallen parts of Africa.
The huge banner headlines, gigantic type fonts and screamers that flooded our front pages, coupled with enforced broadcast messages on television and radio stations, heralded the wild celebrations, political “puffiness,” and propaganda that accompanied the undeniable feat. Pro-Jonathan pundits have since added it to the “scorecard” of his administration.
As much as the jubilations and congratulatory chants serenaded the polity, encomiums also flew in from the international community. To be honest, no single individual, government or group should claim responsibility for that victory. To do such will amount to irrational vituperations of vain success. Nigeria defeated Ebola by an unusual cooperative effort by the Federal and affected states’ Governments, and most importantly, the people.
However, one cannot help but recognize the initiative and expertise of individuals like the Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Fashola, his Commissioner for Health, Dr. Jide Idris, and the fairly transparent and coordinated Minister of Health, Dr.Onyebuchi. That the virus could be contained in a densely populated area such as Lagos deserves commendation.
As beautiful as it is to celebrate just as jubilations and congratulatory chants serenaded the polity, and even as encomiums flew in from the international community, Nigeria should not, in her usual trademark, become complacent and lose its guard, considering the “communicability” of the virus.
As a matter of fact, its outbreak in Nigeria exposed us to the decay and unpreparedness of the health sector. Facilities as basic as gloves and protective gears were unavailable several days after the virus was imported by the zero patient, Patrick Sawyer.
Let us not forget that it is our collective complacent attitude that has brought us to this plunge of terror that we now find ourselves. A situation where a group of misguided extremists go about unchecked and killing anyone in sight, parading death and destructions with reckless abandon.
To expatiate, in 2009, the Nigerian combined forces carried out an offensive on Boko Haram Militants, killing over 200 persons including the group’s founding leader, Yusuf Mohammed. This feat saw the group’s threat relinquish in the next few months. While our military, with the arrogance of a perceived victory, relaxed, the absence of foresightedness by our government created an opportunity for the sect to regroup and resurface, becoming deadlier than it was before that time.
One writer had once tried to liken the Ebola virus to Boko Haram. Quite Frankly, they share obvious similarities. Apart from the fact that they are both lethal, they kill fast, painfully, and without Mercy. More so, they both spread fast through a process of internalization. Whilst they served as Nigeria’s twin enemies for more than three months, we fought with everything we had.
A week ago, during a briefing in Abuja, the World Bank, through its country Director for Nigeria, Marie-Francois Marie-Nelly commended Nigeria for the effective way it dealt with and contained the outbreak, but was quick to add that the guard should not be lowered.
Just a week after the pronouncement of the Ebola-free status was made, a victim who is said to have been treated and cured of the virus in Sierra Leone was accosted at the International Wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport. According to reports, the person was immediately isolated and will be observed for some time while tests will be carried out to confirm his status.
What this tells us is that simply because there is currently no identified case of Ebola in Nigeria, doesn’t mean we are no longer under threat. The virus is still in West Africa, and Nigeria is a major part and stop point in West Africa. It has not stopped people from those countries coming to Nigeria.
The recent decision by the Lagos State Government to send 600 doctors and health workers to help tackle the disease in Ebola-affected countries is another matter of great concern. As much as it is important to lend a helping hand and flex our muscles as a big brother, we must also be sure that we have properly prepared our beds.
We should not blindly embark on a mission that may expose our people once again to the virus. We have heard of experts from Europe and America who have been infected or lost their lives to, the disease in the process of treating infected persons. The main question is to ask ourselves if we are still as cautious as we were a few weeks ago when the virus was prevalent.
The President has warned the nation not to relent in its fight against the virus. However, we must go beyond words to ensure that measures put in place are not left unmonitored but that we continue to treat Ebola as an iminent danger until it is wiped off the face of the earth.