United We Win

At this time in 2014, many Nigerians no longer exchanged greetings or welcomed guests by shaking hands. “Ranka dede”, a form of greeting that is popular in Hausa culture, had been borrowed by mainly residents of the north to ward off contact with other people because it involves gesticulating with the right arm only. Kogi State banned the sale of all bush meat. There was apprehension in Calabar. Oyo moved health officials to its boundaries to screen “visitors”. Kano, Ekiti and more states constituted committees. In Lagos, mai suya (roasted meat sellers) were going empty-handed because there were no customers. Wherever one went – markets, hospitals, inside buses, schools and drinking bars – the conversation was about Ebola.

Complaints of ordinary fever and headache – common symptoms of malaria – were mistaken for Ebola virus disease! Bitter kola became the presumed “drug” of choice against the ailment imported from Liberia. Mass hysteria followed on a day salt solution was prescribed by who-knows-whom.

For once, Nigerians fought as one against a common enemy. But there was a heroine, Dr Ameyo Stella Adedavoh, that prevented the index case for Ebola in Nigeria, Mr Patrick Sawyer, from infecting many Nigerians. She got infected herself and died on August 19, 2014. Her body was cremated soon after, but her family members buried her ash in Lagos on September 12. Today, Ebola is history – or almost so – in Nigeria. We owe Dr Adadevoh a debt of gratitude. She must not be forgotten.

Dr Adadevoh and at least a dozen other health workers paid the supreme price, but their sacrifice wasn’t in vain. Had the disease been allowed to fester, Nigeria would have been a disaster zone by now. But united we won.

Adadevoh, a great grandchild of foremost nationalist Herbert Macaulay, and other victims taught us a lesson in patriotism. But the biggest lesson I learned from the Ebola fight is that we Nigerians can achieve anything and defeat any enemy once we are united. In the case of Ebola, we had no option – the survival of everyone was threatened. The devilish civil servants that used to sit on approved funds changed overnight and, within hours, N2billion was released for the fight. The Ministry of Health went to work, tracing contacts and quarantining them. Travellers of every class wore masks like those of Eyo or Mmanwu masquerade. You did not enter a bank or other offices without washing your hands and having a gun-like object pointed to your head to ascertain your temperature. From The Presidency to village markets, everyone took fright.

Politicians understand the power of unity. During electioneering, they know how to sway voters: “It’s our turn.” “Vote for Muslims.” “Vote for Christians.” It is perhaps in a bid to prevent their victims from joining forces that the politicians divide them with tribe, religion, region or state. But when it’s time to share public funds through overinflated contracts or oil blocks, they don’t remember tribe or religion. Imagine what would have been the outcome of a united struggle against inflation of officeholders’ emoluments in 1999. If we had stood against the blatant rigging of elections during the Obasanjo years, there would have been a new, improved INEC. Opposition to “fuel subsidy” would have been spontaneous too: People would not wait to be rented by fuel importers before they could protest a rise in the pump price of fuel in January 2012. They would have asked questions about the payment of N2trillion to the subsidy thieves in one year.

Across the country, the proceeds of crime are visible to all. All armed robbers, terrorists and drug barons are known by many in their communities. Nobody asks for the source of ill-gotten wealth, so long as the criminal is “my brother”, “my friend” or “my fellow tribesman”. This tolerance for criminals has made the work of security agents difficult. They don’t get useful information, though some of them cannot be trusted.

“United we stand, divided we fall,” the old saying goes. Very true. If we acted the same way we have acted against Ebola, it would be possible to identify all the criminals in our midst and tackle them in just one day. There would no longer be armed robbers, terrorists or treasury looters making our lives miserable. They all would be afraid, knowing that a day of reckoning would come.


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