By Olugu Olugu Orji
A Syrian king and his murderous host had laid an impregnable siege to the ancient city of Samaria. Matters had degenerated to the point where the head of an ass sold for 80 pieces of silver. By today’s reckoning, that would be $10,240: the local equivalent being in excess of N1.5 million! By this time though, there weren’t many ass heads on offer.
Two mothers hammered out a dubious deal of survival: We eat your baby today, and then we eat mine tomorrow. The first expertly-stoved baby was happily consumed, but trouble started the next day when it was time to begin the processing of the second baby. Mummy had stowed him away, and the ensuing quarrel wound up before their already distraught king. Poor king!
Mothers (even the lunatic ones) do not usually eat their babies. The late Umaru Dikko was spot on when he boldly asserted that the condition of Nigerians was still passable as they were not yet feeding from dustbins. But when the dustbins of Samaria had been completely looted and emptied, the people were desperately hungry. In that state, the line between desperation and lunacy quickly vanishes. During the Biafra war, we were driven to adopt bizarre dietary and culinary innovations just to remain alive. History would have labelled us as ‘crazy,’ and history would have been correct. Necessity, after all, has always been the mother of invention. In full flight, desperation is lunacy.
April 2 2014 was a Wednesday; the day of the week our masters-masquerading-as-ministers usually rendezvous to apportion contracts and compare notes. Voluble Information minister, Labaran Maku was in his element as he regaled journalists at the conclusion of their meeting. Here is a relevant part of what he said: “Nigeria is ready because the Ministry (of Health) has taken every precaution including getting the vaccines and medicines in case there was any incident in Nigeria. So far, there is nothing like Ebola fever in Nigeria and Council (short for Federal Executive Council: Maku’s employer) was reassured that every step has been taken to ready our country just in case infected persons come into the country from our neighbouring countries.”
On Sunday July 20 2014, Patrick Sawyer sauntered into Nigeria from Liberia under the guise of attending an ECOWAS conference in the People’s Paradise of Calabar. He never made it that far because 5 days later, he expired at a Lagos hospital; but not before passing on the Ebola virus he knew he was carrying to a few others. Three of those have since kicked the bucket, with many more still fighting the battle of their lives. A panic has seized the populace like never before prompting bizarre prophylactic measures and comical social interaction adaptations.
In Nigeria’s Hall of Infamy, a certain Liberian-American is indisputably No 1 at the moment. Madness, craziness are some of the tamer words that have been employed, even at the highest official levels, to qualify Sawyer’s action. In their understandable angst, Nigerians feel he came specifically to spread the extremely deadly Ebola virus in their dear country. A few stretch it even further: asserting that Patrick Sawyer was a paid agent on a morbid mission. There are no strong bases to counter these assertions. In a world of Boko Haram, Taliban and ISIS, all things sinister and satanic are possible.
So if indeed such a diabolical plot existed to export Ebola to Nigeria, what better way to prompt the death angel while providing cover for the mission, than Maku’s carte blanche invitation. If Patrick Sawyer was paid to bring Ebola to Nigeria, I know who was equally paid to arrange deniability. If he was crazy, I now know at least one raving lunatic. And if his action was satanic, then finally, I can match a human face with Satan.
No. These conspiracy theories just don’t add up. When Maku spoke, he was merely trying to make his employers look good by lying through his teeth. They all do that. A day before Sawyer died, a friend arrived from Liberia and was shocked by the fact that the precautions that should have been in place were non-existent.
Sawyer was merely a very desperate man. He did not want to die. He must have read Maku’s statement and believed it. He then headed out to Nigeria in a last ditch effort to stay alive. The rest is instructive history. This is for me the most plausible narrative.
If on the other hand we buy the conspiracy thesis, then whoever engineered Ebola and dispatched Sawyer must still be lurking in the shadows. If Ebola fails to achieve its purpose, then something much more virulent should soon be heading our way.
My greatest fear
Between HIV/AIDS and the latest member of the viral family to arrive – Ebola – a few relations have burst on the national consciousness. First was Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) commonly called Mad Cow Disease. It is a fatal neurodegenerative disease of cattle which when consumed by humans results in Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease: another grim reaper. The United Kingdom bore the brunt of a disease that claimed over 200 lives and the slaughter of nearly 5 million cattle around the world. I recall a columnist in one of Nigeria’s dailies whimsically beg the authorities in the UK to ship the animals that were suspect to Nigeria for consumption. In his morbid logic, Nigerians subsist on far more lethal stuff!
Next came Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS); a viral respiratory disease that wreaked most of its havoc in China. Happening so far away, we mostly derived fun reading about it. Then there was the very popular avian influenza or bird flu which brought with it an interesting way of identifying viral strains, e.g. H5N1. It ravaged mostly Asia and Europe with minimal effect in the Middle East and Africa. Because birds (especially chicken) are major export items, there was a global eradication initiative that saw to the slaughter of tens of millions of chicken, and also involved an attractive compensation package.
Quite a few public servants became accidental millionaires in the course of supervising the many well-funded containment initiatives. A colleague was involved in the design of one of the facilities in Nigeria’s North East geo-political zone. Judging by the unnatural dispatch with which they were carrying on, I had little doubt there was a lot of dough to be salted away. I have a hunch that most of those projects are now moribund.
Ebola is already in Nigeria. Demonizing the index person, Patrick Sawyer is as unproductive as it is unfair. The man’s widow has explained that he resorted to Nigeria in desperation because he had little confidence in Liberia’s healthcare infrastructure: an unsolicited endorsement of our suspect healthcare delivery system. The fact of how he deliberately kept away from any cluster of people at the Monrovia airport lends credence to her thesis. I think we should rather be grateful Ebola arrived the way it did – bold and undisguised. That is why we can even afford to speak confidently about primary and secondary contacts with near certainty that the quarantine and other containment measures will yield the desired results.
I believe we will overcome the current scourge; and enable, as our custom dictates, the emergence of a sprinkling of Ebola millionaires. It won’t happen necessarily because the authorities did the needful. It’s much more likely God or Ebola will show abundant mercy. But once the red flag is down, we’ll all return to our old, selfish ways.
It is quite conceivable that in the not-so-distant future, these viral potentates (they seem like a tightly knit family) elect to pay us a visit all at once. If the presence of one is generating this much discomfiture, how would we cope if we had to host, say, 9?
Olugu Olugu Orji via email@example.com