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Published On: Sun, Aug 24th, 2014

The bio-terror attack and gov’t failure

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By Ola Idowu

As Nigeria battles its worst epidemic outbreak in recent history, it is worth pointing out certain issues concerning the deadly Ebola virus. These issues should not be allowed to go under the radar as our failures give further evidence that Nigerians are caught in a helpless situation, thanks to the incompetence our leaders display.

As far back as March of this year, foreign ministers of West African countries including Nigeria met under the auspices of ECOWAS in Ivory Coast, to discuss the Ebola epidemic that was then taking hold in Guinea and would gradually spread into Sierra Leone and Liberia. In a communiqué issued after their meeting, they declared Ebola a ‘serious threat to regional security.’  The question is, asides from the usual issuance of statements, what memo did Aminu Wali, our Minister of Foreign Affairs, or the two Ministers of State, Violet Onwuliri and Nurudeen Mohammed, write to the presidency about the seriousness of the issue, especially after attending the ECOWAS meeting? Did any of them write to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Department of State Security – DSS – Police, Immigration and Port Health Authorities about the seriousness of the Ebola virus and its threat to our homeland security? The answer would be no, as they believed the usual communiqué issued after the meeting would be sufficient.

In April of this year, the Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, informed Nigerians on national TV that the Federal Government had taken all measures to prevent the outbreak of Ebola in the country. To say he was just joking and making a fool of himself would be an understatement. As it turns out, there were no health screening checks at the nation’s airport until after the Liberian, Patrick Sawyer, attacked the nation with biological terrorism. It makes one ask the question, how long will we continue to exhibit this childish and immature behaviour of not taking public service seriously? When will elected officials begin to see their offices as a true opportunity to provide services to their country and her people? We had the better part of six months to prepare our borders and formulate a response to Ebola, to identify it as a strategic threat to our national security and well-being. However, we did nothing until we were suddenly attacked; then we rushed into action.

Compare that to more serious nations like the UK, who on hearing of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria, convened a COBRA meeting chaired by their Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond. This was based on the fact that they realised that Nigeria is the most populous nation in Africa with lots of visitors to the UK. The circumstances of the disease arriving in Nigeria mean that it could also arrive at their own borders if all the necessary precautions were not taken. Isolation units were quickly prepared at some major hospitals. Immigration and port health officers were put on alert, while internal memos were sent out to all NHS doctors and GPs across the country to look out for cases of people just returned from Africa with complaints of fevers or malaria. That is a country that understands what it is like to handle public service.

It is the same with Senegal which has closed her borders to neighbouring Guinea since March. Mauritania followed suit the same month by closing most of its borders with Senegal. Gambia suspended air travel and the launch of a new air carrier to Guinea. This shows that just like the UK, there are other African countries who understand what public service means and are not into the buffoonery of joking with the lives of their people the way that Maku, Wali, Onwuliri et al. have done with Nigeria.

Can one also ask, what the work of our National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the DSS is  if they cannot protect the homeland from external and internal attacks? Agencies like the DSS, as confirmed by their spokeswoman Marilyn Ogar are well paid by the government, and yet they cannot prevent a case of bio-terrorism as we were just recently attacked by Patrick Sawyer. In the future, as soon as the Ebola epidemic clears across West Africa, would the NIA do an extensive investigation as to why Sawyer came into Nigeria knowing fully well he was carrying the Ebola virus? There is a possibility that the Liberian government might have a hand in it with the thinking that if Nigeria were attacked with the virus, it would bring international attention to their plight and rescue their country from the epidemic.

I’m not making accusations against the Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf-Johnson as she might not be aware of such decisions within her government, but it is a possibility that someone in her government could have ordered the attack. What about the possibility that sympathisers of ex-Liberian warlord Charles Taylor could have set-up the attack to teach Nigeria a lesson. He has many sympathisers still in the Liberian government who are possibly not happy with the role we played in handing him over to the International Criminal Court in the Hague to be tried on war crime accusations.

I’m happy that Sawyer’s body was cremated by the Lagos state government and his ashes returned to his fellow collaborators in Liberia. That should be the message we send out to people or countries who hate us as a nation. However, my grouse is with our government and the incompetence they display. A public servant should be proactive in his thinking and always cover all the bases to ensure that the nation is well served. It’s when Nigerians realise they have a government that is proactive in taking care of their needs that the feel loyalty, patriotism and nationalism. It’s not only when you announce you want to build roads, bridges or award contracts every Wednesday that you believe you are serving Nigerians.

At this stage of our lives we all know that is an avenue to loot our resources. It’s the little well considered actions you take to show you care about Nigeria and Nigerians that foster patriotism and nationalism within the people. In a more civilised nation, you can’t come to the people asking for their votes and talking about a seven point transformation agenda when you can’t protect their lives or be seen to be proactively protecting them from bio-terrorists like Patrick Sawyer, or you find it impossible to rescue 219 girls who have been in captivity for close to 140 days and just hope people would forget about it and move on.

Say what you like about the Lagos state government, its actions, since the Ebola outbreak was first reported, have proactive. I take, for instance, its call on Pastor T.B Joshua, to ban people from West African countries coming to his church for Ebola miracles. It takes a proactive government to think about that and cover that base, otherwise you might see bodies transported into the country for miracles at T.B Joshua’s church.

Ola Idowu via linkedIn

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