The recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa has brought to the fore all over again the ironical paradox of a continent called Africa. Since its outbreak, mass hysteria has gripped virtually every country of the world. Unlike the viruses that preceded it, Ebola proved to be the most severe of them all.
Many of my colleagues and friends have always pointed accusing fingers at the U.S as the mastermind of Ebola’s conspiracy. In fact, some even argue that it is another American plot to show the Chinese, who are making inroads into West African economy that it is still in control. Some even raised the timing of the outbreak of the virus. Come to think of it, a friend argued with me, why is the outbreak of Ebola coincided with the time of pan-African-US Leaders Summit? Is it not a ploy to bring the Africans back to the Western table? To him, Americans has its cure and until the two Americans who got infected with Ebola died, he won’t agree that American government is innocent. Then as I was busy working in my office this Friday August 8th, 2014 morning, my colleagues walked in to show me today’s edition of This Day newspaper where Barack Obama was quoted that it is too early to send the untested Ebola vaccine to West Africa. To them therefore, that affirmed the fact that Americans want the virus to eat us deep before it comes to our aid.
Here lies my concern. Must we always look up to the west or east whenever there is crisis in Africa? When are we going to start looking for inward solution rather than outward? Will we Africans ever learn at all? Will we ever learn that we must not allow problem get to its head before we tackle it? In a sanity clime, Ebola would have been dealt with for a very long time. Ebola virus is not new in our environment as it has been with us since 1976! 1976 coincided with an era when Nigeria was experiencing its oil boom. It was in the decade when the oil money came so suddenly, and in such vast quantities, that the government did not know what to do with it. It was a decade when Nigerian leaders ought to have taken the advantage of its resources to make Africa better by devoting a chunk of its financial resources to the improvement of health care facilities in Africa through research and health development.
Rather than taking that route, it was that year Nigeria put finishing touches on the organisation of FESTAC Festival which eventually held in 1977; a Festival that gulped over 3 billion dollars! To aid the Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle alone, we spent $8 million at the time the allocation of a mere $3 million to health research would have saved the entire West Africa of this generational embarrassment and affliction. Thirty-eight years after a wasted opportunity, the past came back to haunt us with great intensity.
The citizens are not also without its blame. On the early morning of this Friday, I was inundated with series of messages from my family members, friends and well-wishers on how to avoid getting infected with the deadly Ebola virus. Many of them implored that I should add salt into hot water and bath with it. Even my dear younger sister whom had always remained immune to spiritual prophecy called me to perform the same ritual. On getting to office, I realized virtually all my colleagues got the similar messages. Then I began to wonder. Would we have found ourselves in this mess if we had put the same rigor being exhausted on Ebola’s prevention to collectively demand our rights from government? Would we have been here if we had force government to eradicate poverty, provide clean water supply and effective sanitation coverage? Would this have happened if some people among us had not celebrated and physically cheered the government whenever it wasted money on frivolity instead of investing on health care facilities, education and other ingredients of sustainable development? Are the masses learning any lesson in this at all?
At the National Assembly the other day, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu admonished Nigerians to avoid handshakes and the members lived by example by greeting each other from afar at the end of the parley. But Nigeria would not have been in this mess only if our leaders had lived by example in the way they handle the country’s affair. We would not have been here only if they had taken the lead by shunning a flamboyant lifestyle and luxurious living. This would not have happened if they had realized that a country that buys and never sells is sure to come to ruins sooner than it expects. This would have been averted if they had not been appropriating a large chunk of our resources servicing political high jinks than they spend on research and development of health care facilities. A government which has the welfare of its people at heart could have devoted a large proportion of its revenue to programmes that ensure durable and sustainable development.
Between 1970s and 2000 alone, Nigeria received some $280 billion in oil revenues. Through foolish investments, graft and simple theft, this vast fortune was wholly squandered. In fact, because successive Nigerian governments borrowed billions against future oil revenues and wasted that money too, it is fair to say that Nigeria blew more than its entire oil windfall. Nigerians are, on average, poorer today than they were in 1976, despite the surge in the oil price.
Having pride ourselves as the leader of Africa, and having fully aware that it is a contagious virus that could easily spread to its shore, Nigeria ought to have done something about the virus but we did not. Thirty-eight years after it first emerged, Nigeria has so much forgets the virus that by the time it re-emerged and spread to our coast, the country’s health sector is so poor that there is no single laboratory that can even diagnose Ebola patients throughout the country as we have to go as far as Senegal! Who should we blame for this? The Americans? Ebola, unlike HIV/AIDS, is proved to be curable. That we have not been able to do this, through investment on health care research and development of sound health care facilities and programmes for the country is our own undoing.
Rather than blaming the Americans, Nigerians should take responsibility for the current happenings and learn from it. The re-emergence of Ebola presents another chance for the country to learn its lesson and put things back into shape. It is too embarrassing for the leadership of the most populous and resource endowed black nation on earth to always turn to the west or east whenever there is a domestic crisis that emanated in Africa and requires Africa’s attention. Such attitude does not portray us as a serious country that is ready to take up a permanent seat at the UN Security Council.
Now that the infected US citizens are responding to treatment from the experimental drugs while we lack no available option here in West Africa, our leaders had no choice but to go on their knees and plead with the American president. However, our leaders must learn from this sad episode and ensure that the repetition of such is averted. There might be other specie out there carrying another virus that is probably deadlier than Ebola, we must deal with this and prepare adequately ahead before we lose the little respect we have left in the diplomatic world. It is high time we learnt our lesson. But will we ever learn?
Head of Programme
African Dialogue Mission (ADM)
Maina Court, Herbert Macaulay Way,
Central Business District, Abuja