Thursday, August 28, 2014

Disease-Ravaged Africa- The Nigerian Scenario

By Moses Obroko

November 2030: 

Africa is facing a biological warfare from nature in the year 2030. The dreaded ebola virus has yet again surfaced; only this time in West Africa. It was in 1976 that it was first identified and named after a river in the country that used to be called Zaire, now Democratic Republic of Congo. Of course no one had really given any serious thought to developing a cure/vaccine for it in Africa as it usually breaks out at intervals every other few years. 54 years later, the virus having mutated into a stronger strain, has reared up its head once more; only this time with fatalistic global consequences.

The death toll from the virus is rising in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Many countries along the West African coastline are already overrun by it with Benin Republic beginning to count its own fatalities.
And then it happened! Nigeria which had hitherto had been grappling with every other socio-economic and leadership issues known to mankind, got the virus. And the world noticed!
Nigeria has nearly 190,000,000 people who had been bedeviled by corrupt, inefficient leadership, having a rippling effect on their economic wellbeing. The people of Nigeria had always borne their poor socio-economic situation with the equanimity of the subjugated. One military dictator after another had instilled the fear of the ruling class in the masses. Robbed of any will power to challenge any government of the day, Nigerians always hoped and prayed to God to help them solve problems they already have the solutions to, but lacked the will power to do so. Nigerians can tolerate poverty, bad leadership and deprivations from the callousness of a wicked few.  This is because they can see and feel the problem. For instance, it is because there is no electricity, or the roads are bad or doctors are on strike and the hospitals are not well equipped; indeed the reasons are varied and countless for which Nigerians perfectly understand-and can stomach.

Ebola virus, faceless and formless, however, is a burden a little too much for the people to bear. They turned on each other, against each other and the authorities for what the world soon realized were pent up grievances of over five decades. As government issued the now tiring propaganda reducing the fatalities to a mere 2000 people, the civil unrest broke out. The virus was brought into Nigeria through multiple sources. And all of them were as a result of the porosity of Nigeria’s borders with its West African neighbours and its gross disregard for preventive measures at the airports long after the virus had wreaked havoc on Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia.

The land border at Seme still remained a walk through with only a rope tied to a pole sticking out from a barrel stuffed with concrete and cement mixtures, some used tires around and a couple of law enforcement agents milling about while the vast space in the vicinity remained unguarded. Several infected people from the West African coastline just walked into Lagos without knowing they were carriers of the virus; and from there spreading the virus to several parts of Nigeria.

People started dying in large numbers from the ebola virus, and it was obvious why Nigeria’s case was different. Hitherto warm and friendly, Nigerians indulge in pleasant handshakes when friends, colleagues, acquaintances and people who pretend to be friends meet. They pump each other’s arm vigorously during such handshakes and end it with the finger trapping sound. But the personal hygiene of most people remained repulsive. Hand washing practice remained few and far between. One wasn’t quite certain if the practice wasn’t really cultivated or if it was because most plumbing facilities in public buildings were in disrepair or the water supply authorities have once again cut water supply without any explanation. It is not uncommon for people to use the restrooms without washing their hands thereafter. More irritating and worrisome is the habit of urinating along the road by men and women with absolute disregard to hygiene or decency.

As unknowing carriers of the virus sneeze and use their hands to try and cover their mouths, saliva droplets are deposited on their palms which they unwittingly and gleefully use in shaking the hands of the next person they are obliged to in the next moment.
The eternal traffic congestion is another likely situation. As people are squeezed into tight spaces in commercial buses and bodies are pressed closed to each other in sweltering heat of Lagos, sweat dripping from unsuspecting carriers of the virus soon rubbed on other passengers, ensuring the continuous spread of the virus.

Even as the people placed at contacts screening points multiplied, one official who was supposed to be quarantined bribed his subordinate  to attest that he didn’t come in contact with the primary case in question who is now generally regarded as  ‘Nigeria’s angel of death’.

With the number of those dead from the virus multiplying by the day, fear and panic soon gripped Nigerians by the throat. People started engaging in panic buying and hoarding of various products – foodstuffs, medicine, petroleum products, clothing items etc. Those Nigerians who have the resources relocated their families to the countries which passports they also carried in Europe or America. While worsening conditions of living increased, the tolerance level of Nigerians decreased rapidly so that fights kept erupting at the least provocation. Only now, people no longer fight with fists for fear of touching someone with the virus. They now brutalize each other with planks!

The deadly Boko haram terrorist group, which ravaged the country for many years naturally, fizzled away as the ebola virus continued delivering its deadly errand unabated. No one even remembers now what devastation the group used to unleash, as Nigerians are now faced with biological warfare with fellow Nigerians as the weapons bearing the destructive agent.
As the months went by, the ebola virus continued its annihilation relentlessly along the West African coastline, spreading to East, south and North Africa. By now all the borders in Africa had been shut down even as the civil unrest created humanitarian crises all over Africa. Nigeria became hemmed in as people or products no longer got in or out freely. The ECOWAS Protocol had long been sacrificed for self-preservation.

The rest of the world had no issues shutting Africa out. This was necessitated as passengers arriving to the developed world from Africa kept testing positive to the dreaded virus. At the Security Council of the United Nations, it was agreed that an immediate, urgent containment/ preventive measure against the virus bringing about an end to mankind was imperative. It was also agreed that aid worth several billions of dollars be given to those countries grappling with the virus.

Late Patrick Sawyer: the man that brought Ebola
to Nigeria 

There was nothing pretentious anymore. It has finally been declared – closed borders to Africa from the West. Now everyone is condemned to remain in their ebola endemic countries and figure out their own survival strategies. Those anti-migrant proponents in Europe and America can now stop their uninspiring noises against migrants. As the travel ban from Africa dragged on, it soon became apparent that the virus is not letting out. By this time, the ban had been extended to even leaders from Africa. They could no longer attend UN General Assembly meetings but only participate via teleconferencing; which already is becoming a challenge for the Nigerian Government as power generation has taken a worse turn and petroleum products are no longer imported into the country. What this translates into is that even in Government Houses, power is now rationed.

As the mass hysteria and confusion escalate with aggression nearing a dog-eat-dog level, the military was called in to patrol the streets, but they are also disenchanted. Their families are suffering too. They would have loved to take over running the affairs of the country, but that looks very unattractive at the moment; with no foreign bank accounts to stash looted funds into, no way out of the country to the outside world where pleasure possessions could be acquired and used by their families, there was absolutely no sense in taking over running the government. In any case, Nigeria had enjoyed democratic albeit unproductive rule for many years now. Then there is the damn ebola virus; how does anyone fix that? There is talk that a serum is being developed somewhere in the United States, but no one knows for sure how much longer before a cure is found.

After the initial wave of civil unrest, and the disease showed no signs of abating, the people of Nigeria now lived in terror even as more people got infected and the death toll kept climbing.

One day, the President sent for his personal physician for his routine medical examination. Recently, he has not been feeling too well as his blood pressure kept rising from the incessant issues bogging him regarding the national crises. Two days later, his physician put a call through to State House with the news. When the President came on speaker phone with his special advisers and a couple of Ministers who were with him listening in, his physician gave him the news that his wife had just been diagnosed with the virus, and since he had close contact with the president a couple days back, would the President please do a test to know if the physician had infected him or not? As the conversation got to this point, the President slumped. His Special advisers and Ministers, who were with him and overheard the conversation, hurriedly left the mansion, not willing to be any part of a potential ebola situation.

Meanwhile, five Nigerian Pharmaceutical research fellows in various institutions in the United States had been working on a possible serum for the ebola virus since its cataclysmic outbreak. They finally found a cure and proceeded to test it in Nigeria. Arriving on a chartered flight they went straight to testing the serum on a patient. Within a couple of hours, they could already see the potency of the serum.
The Newspaper headlines screamed: ‘EBOLA VIRUS CURE DEVELOPED BY NIGERIANS!’

The serum was mass produced, vaccinating everyone as a cure and prevention, while calm returned to Nigeria even as other African countries and the rest of the world placed orders for this wonder vaccine. The group of Nigerian researchers who found the cure to the virus, invariably won the Nobel Prize for Medicine that year.

As general elections drew near in Nigeria, the lead researcher of the group that found the cure for ebola decided to run for presidency as an independent candidate following an amendment to the Electoral Act which now enabled independent candidacy in Nigeria. With the goodwill and unrestrained affection Nigerians showed towards the researchers, on Election Day the leader of the group won with overwhelming margin. For once, the unthinkable had happened. A Nigerian Diaspora had come to the country and beat a sitting President.

While the new Government settled down to work, younger Nigerians from various parts of the world were brought into the Government to contribute from their technological expertise as well as make direct skills and knowledge remittances.
All the socio-economic issues which had hitherto plagued the nation were soon resolved one after the other. Corruption was no longer tolerated as accountability and dedicated service were institutionalized. Even as the naira matched the major currencies of the world, inflation became a long lost history in the country, while Nigeria became one of the top twenty most industrialized nations in the world.

On October 1st, Independence day of that year, Nigeria’s young President, only 35yrs of age sat down to give his address to the nation and began: ‘Fellow country people, before our eyes…a new Nigeria has evolved!…’

*Mr. Obroko, a Lagos-based legal practitioner sent in this piece from Lagos;

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