Ebola and a country that never prepares for anything

When the Igbo came up with the proverb, “A scheduled war does not claim the life of the cripple”, they did not take Nigeria into cognisance. That proverb does not apply to us, because since I was born, we have never had a habit of preparing for anything, no matter the amount of fore-warning we were given. That is why we have an Ebola virus epidemic staring us in the face. As another Igbo saying goes, we are a people that never start looking for a shelter from the rain until we are fully soaked. That is the way we are. And it is very sad.

The World Cup takes place every four years, but we are usually not ready. It is either we are not sure of who to hire as a coach or we are not sure of the players to use. If those are not the issues, then the match bonuses of the players or their jerseys are. Track suits had been cut with a pair of scissors to get shorts for the Super Eagles at the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos. The picture of Rashidi Yekini and his teammates coming into the field in poorly cut tracksuits some years back is still etched in my mind.

The Olympics take place every four years, but we never get ready. A month to the Olympics, there will still be talks about money not being released yet for preparations. We are used to that.

For years, the Niger Delta people complained of the devastation of their communities by oil exploration. The leader of that struggle, Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa, with some of his lieutenants, was hanged on November 10, 1995. It seemed as if the matter had been killed. Less than a decade later, an armed struggle erupted in the Niger Delta, which affected the economy of Nigeria drastically. In 2009, President Umaru Yar’Adua promised to develop the region if the insurgents handed in their weapons. It worked. It was a project that should have been started at most in the 1970s when the oil exploration made Nigeria so rich that the leadership of the nation acknowledged that its problem was not money but what to do with it.

Furthermore, how did we get into terrorism? Religion-based terrorism peaked in 2001 with the Al-Qaeda bombed the World Trade Centre in the United States on September 11. In Somalia, Al-Shabaab has been on a destabilising mission, while not giving the neighbouring country, Kenya, any respite.

In spite of all these, we assumed that such terrorism would not come into our country. Even when it did, we thought it was a joke. Within five years, over 5,000 had been killed, hundreds kidnapped, millions rendered homeless and property worth billions of naira destroyed. Our nation has been tarred with the terrorism brush. While this is facing us, we have suddenly realised that our security forces are not well-equipped to fight such terrorism and that we need $1bn loan to equip our military.

Looking at another sector, one would see the same attitude in action. When the Nigerian Meteorological Agency forecast that there would be heavy rain and flooding in 2012, those in authorities and the followers paid little attention to that forecast. Then, by July of 2012, the rains came in torrents. We saw whole villages and towns submerged. It was shocking to us because we had never witnessed such flooding before. That made us to wake up. Now, any time NIMET warns, we listen and take action. States started opening drainage channels. They began to send out warnings to citizens about rainfall and flooding.

Any time a disaster is foretold, the attitude of the average Nigerian is to say: “It’s not my portion”; “I reject it in Jesus’ name”; “God forbid.” Some others would use it as a joke in private discussions and social media. The government would also believe that it is not “our portion”. One wonders if it is the portion of countries that have shot at God with a catapult. So, we go about our normal activities until the disaster comes upon us, then we start running helter-skelter.

Why should some of our West African neighbours be ravaged by the Ebola virus disease, and we fold our arms, believing that it would not be our portion? In spite of the high movement of people across the West African borders, we assumed that the deadly virus would not enter our country.

Liberia has been among the three countries in West Africa where the EVD has been killing people in the last few months, yet a Liberian-American citizen (Patrick Sawyer) came into the country through our airport undetected. He was not screened, as if Ebola would announce its entry into the nation with a bullhorn. He took ill and was taken to a private hospital. The doctors did not at first think that it could be Ebola. The man was later diagnosed of having the Ebola virus disease. By then, he had infected some people. He eventually died. And here we are with Ebola Virus Disease in our land for the first time since it was first diagnosed on August 26, 1976, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then known as Zaire).

And this is happening at a time doctors in government hospitals are on strike, making a bad situation worse.

In spite of the 38 years’ notice the EVD gave us, it still caught us unprepared. Despite the long warning since March 2014, when the current outbreak was reported in Guinea by the World Health Organisation, it still caught us off-guard. Sawyer brought it into Nigeria through the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos in July. If he had been screened, his high fever and take-off country would have given him away as a prime Ebola suspect. He would have been quarantined at the airport (if there was any such facility there) and the nation would have been saved this problem. By coming through the airport – rather than many of our porous borders – the Ebola virus disease gave us all the opportunities not to allow it in, yet because we were not alert, we did not notice it or stop it.

And in spite of our claims to the contrary, we were caught off-guard. The facility in Lagos for the patients of EVD was reported to be below standard by the families and colleagues of the patients at a press conference last week. Based on complaints from a patient at the facility – Justina Ejelonu, a nurse who contracted the disease while attending to Sawyer – her Facebook group (Igboville) had to deliver oxygen canisters to her. Unfortunately, she died last Friday. Reports show that the facility has been upgraded. And happily, on Saturday, the first Ebola patient was discharged. We pray that others will recover and go home.

October 1 is our National Day. We won’t be ready for it. The dry season will start in November. It will still come upon us suddenly. Christmas is December 25. Many of us won’t be ready for it. The Nations Cup will hold next year. We won’t be ready for it.

That is the way we are. We sleep and wake up in the bosom of God. So, there is no need to prepare for anything, since God will take care of everything for us. Disaster is not our portion. Failure is not our portion. Poverty is not our portion. They are the portion of Judas Iscariot and Lucifer!

Our attitude to events foretold is pathetic. We need serious deliverance to save us from a major catastrophe. But as always, the chorus would be: “It is not our portion!” Hope Ebola has taught us anything can be our portion after all.