Certainly it is difficult to disagree with the Chairman of TIEMS, Nigeria (The International Emergency Management Society), West Africa, Muhammad Audu-Bida, who advised the government to close all Nigerian borders until the virus is contained. This view is predicated on the notion that the isolation of individual cases is too much of a weak measure in comprehensively ensuring the containment of such a capricious disease.
We should be able to learn from the haphazard manner in which Guinea and its border countries of Liberia, and Sierra Leone failed to contain and curtail the spread of the deadly virus. The government of, especially, Guinea, where the virus originated from, has done an abysmal job in trying to curb or curtail the spread of the lethal virus within its own borders and to other countries in the region. Perchance, if the country had closed its borders from the onset and the virus had been curtailed, the world wouldn’t have to be facing such a quandary that the virus is currently posing.
All the countries that have been afflicted by this virus need to seriously reflect on their lax response to the epidemic.Every single country in the world has had ample warning about Ebola. Since the first outbreak in Guinea back in March and the first case of a woman going into Liberia from Guinea, all countries should have taken preventive measures. It is a crying shame that it is only now, 5 months on and over 1,000 deaths later, that governments are declaring an Ebola emergency.
The emergency declared as a result of the Ebola virus in Nigeria is a step in the right direction, but that step is really not enough. I mean, think about it; the measures that the Nigerian government have taken now are not so much different to those taken and announced by the Guinean, Liberian and Sierra Leonean governments before the disease spilled onto the Nigerian shores. And even now, as we observe the emergency declared, already news reports state that Benin has reported two cases of the deadly Ebola virus. The Health Minister of Benin announced the death of one suspected case and the quarantine of another who had, incidentally, returned to Benin from Lagos.
The closure of Nigerian borders until the disease is contained is not just for the purpose of protecting Nigeria from infected people coming into the country, it is also to protect the rest of the world from what Nigeria is taking out. Since Mr. Patrick Sawyer made the conscious decision to come into Nigeria, after knowingly having contact with a family member who died from Ebola, he placed on Nigeria a burden, which has got to be completely offloaded. The Liberian government’s sheer incompetence and ‘uselessness’ in failing to stop the movement of Mr. Sawyer and allowing him to travel abroad, having known he was taking care of his sister, who was infected and later died of the virus, is astounding. The Liberian authorities have admitted to being aware of Mr. Sawyer’s medical condition. He had, apparently, been put under surveillance by Liberian health authorities but escaped quarantine and managed to book and board a flight heading out of the country. Unbelievable!!!
In addition to the apology that the Liberian president has issued to Nigeria for her government’s incredible ‘inability’ to manage even the simplest of tasks of keeping ‘one’ man in quarantine, there should be an official apology and possible compensation for the families of the doctors, nurses and all those who have lost their lives or have contracted Ebola as a result of the direct selfishness and recklessness of both late Mr. Patrick Sawyer and the Liberian government. And if we later learn that the reason for Mr. Patrick Sawyer’s haste to travel to Nigeria in his condition was because of a directive from his employers at ArcelorMittal, an iron mining company (and possibly ECOWAS), and not because he personally wanted to fulfill the condition of collecting ‘estacode’ (money provided to pay for travel expenses for corporate officers), then ArcelorMittal should be held ‘vicariously liable’ for any tort committed while he was conducting his official duties. Under Tort law, a strict liability has been imposed on the employer of Mr. Sawyer for any wrongdoing committed by him while ‘in the course of his employment,’ so if it turns out that he was merely carrying out his duties, one would hope that the families of those directly affected would explore the possibility of filing a legal suit. Not that anything can bring back the family’s deceased loved ones back or repair the damage already done, but the only crime of those who came into direct contact with Mr. Sawyer was to help a very sick man. Therefore some accountability should be taken for the risk that was ‘wickedly’ imposed on them.
So, as we continue to groan and moan about the late Patrick Sawyer’s lack of good judgment in deciding to travel to Nigeria despite his infection and the Liberian government’s ‘worthlessness’ of letting a man who had been known to have contact with a victim of Ebola travel out, Nigeria’s lack of full-proof preventative measure is now posing, to other countries, the same threat Liberia posed to us.
The arrival of Ebola in Nigeria should be of great concern to every nation in the world. No country deserves the curse of Ebola, but the one country in Africa that Ebola does not need to find a base is Nigeria. With a population of approximately 170 million people, with a community so overcrowded and clustered, with an environment so overwhelmed with pollution, with immunity of many citizens weakened by malnourishment, with borders so porous that insurgents navigate it at will, with hundreds of International flights leaving the country weekly, Nigeria would be a most dangerous hub for Ebola to fester.
The Nigerian authorities must understand that, with such an epidemic, the domestic and global situation cannot be kept separate because any lapse we have domestically can have dire global implications. Nigeria must appreciate the weight of the world to ensure the complete eradication of Ebola from within its borders that is presently resting on its shoulders. The very nature of Nigerian communities and family structures, the overcrowding, lack of access to health care and our over imaginative superstition, all provide a viral breading ground for a disease like Ebola.
Nigeria has a duty to its citizenry, the same duty Guinea failed its people, the same duty Liberia failed its people, and the same duty Sierra Leone failed its people, by shutting its borders, not only to protect our country from Ebola-prone countries but also to protect other countries from us, until the epidemic can be controlled. Failure to carry out this preemptive and decisive action would further render the world vulnerable and susceptible to a global pandemic.
Hannatu Musawa is on Twitter:@hanneymusawa