As the Nigerian Federal Government continues to battle the outbreak of the Ebola virus in the country since 20 July, 2014, when a Liberian businessman, Patrick Sawyer, brought the deadly disease into the country, the former Director-General of the Nigerian Television Authority, NTA, and the National Orientation Agency, NOA, Tonnie Iredia has spoken on the matter.
Below is an opinion written by the seasoned broadcaster published today by Punch online:
The Ebola disease that has caused so much panic in Nigeria in the last one month did not evolve from among our people. It was imported from Liberia thereby sentencing Nigeria once again to the burden of carrying Liberia’s cross. It is however not a new pain; that has always been our lot. But for Nigeria, Liberia would have been dismembered long ago over its fratricidal civil war.
The people did not kill only themselves; they also saw to the death of many Nigerians in their country. At a stage, they invaded our Embassy in their capital- Monrovia in breach of international law to kill our people who took refuge there as the war ravaged. A frontline Nigerian journalist, Krees Imodibe and his 2 other colleagues, who were deployed to Liberia to cover events there, as is done by media organizations worldwide, were gruesomely murdered on duty.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had to establish a Peacekeeping Force (ECOMOG) to intervene in the crisis. The move turned out to be a major sacrifice which for a number of years consumed men, money and materials. As for who provided the resources, the force was essentially another name for the external wing of the Nigeria Military. At a point, analysts imagined that the expedition gulped as much as 25% of Nigeria’s scarce resources. Indeed, Victor Malu, an army general and one-time commander of ECOMOG was to publicly confess in 2008 that government under-listed the exact figure of Nigerian casualties in Liberia perhaps to assuage public feeling. But why did Nigeria do all of this for Liberia?
Again when the war ended and ECOWAS decided to help the people organize an election to form a government, the burden was Nigeria’s. Apart from Ambassador Isaac Sagay who was in the electoral body, 4 Nigerian technical experts on elections including this writer were seconded to Liberia’s Independent Elections Commission (IECOM) in 1997. I was charged with the management of electoral information for which I had to source huge funds from Nigeria to resuscitate the moribund Liberia Broadcasting Corporation.
Although Nigeria did all of this and other things for Liberia and our other smaller sister states in the sub-region, no one in the group appreciates Nigeria. Whether it is in our quest for a position in the United Nations, the Commonwealth or even the African Development Bank, West African States take delight in voting against Nigeria. Why then, do we, now and again, carry the burden of the sub-region?
The latest cross that Liberia has imposed on us is the dreaded Ebola disease which a Dr. Patrick Sawyer stylishly transferred to us. That the man was critically ill before leaving Liberia for Nigeria was not a secret to himself, his family, his employer and his country. According to media sources, Mr. Sawyer’s employers, ArcelorMittal, an iron mining company, suspended him from work as from July 09, 2014 because they found he had contact with his sister who died of the virus the previous day. They then referred him to the Liberian Health ministry for testing and close observation. Rather than monitor him for the mandatory period of 21days, the Liberian Government through its Deputy Finance Minister for Fiscal Affairs, Sebastian Muah, allegedly cleared Mr. Sawyer to travel to Nigeria for an ECOWAS function in Calabar within the period he was supposedly under observation.
The widow of the late Patrick Sawyer, Mrs Decontee Sawyer has since confirmed that her husband went to Nigeria in search of a cure to his illness, because according to her, Liberia has always had an epileptic’s health care system. This is a rather ridiculous story because one would have expected the man who doubles as a Liberian and an American to have headed for the USA if he was in search of good health care. The story unravels many posers. First, why did he not formally disclose the real purpose of his visit to Nigerian authorities? In other words, knowing the critical nature of the disease, why did he not forewarn our own people before coming here? Second, why did the Liberian aviation authorities allow the man to travel after he showed signs of severe illness at their airport? Third, why did he not avoid our people on arrival, as he did with his fellow Liberian citizens before boarding the aircraft from Liberia? Answers to these questions are likely to show that the submission by our President that Sawyer was crazy would aptly extend to his country and its leaders.
The Nigerian people are therefore entitled to knowing the standpoint of Liberia on the many dimensions of the subject. In the first place, why was an infected person officially cleared to come to Nigeria? What has happened to the Minister who allegedly facilitated Sawyer‘s transportation of Ebola to us? What was the nature of the ECOWAS function that Sawyer came for? What was the indispensable role he was to play at the event that made his attendance inevitable? These questions notwithstanding, the decision of Nigeria to first deal with the spread of Ebola without bothering about the grave consequences we have raised is in order. It is indeed fair to commend the role the Nigerian government has played so far to curtail the spread of the disease. Particularly noteworthy is the dynamic role of Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu in providing a direction for us all.
Hereafter, Government needs to articulate a more robust approach to the Afrocentric nature of our foreign policy. Our “be your brother’s keeper’s” role has no doubt marked us out as the most selfless leader of our region but the posture must be subordinated to our own survival and welfare. That is what even the USA does. For instance, the restiveness of America as soon as the recent shooting down of the Malaysian flight MF 17 was reported evaporated as soon it became clear that no American was on board. Of course, it is always USA first before help goes to others. Nigeria should similarly continue to assist its neighbours without being a ‘Father Christmas’.
It would be recalled that no fewer than two people have died of the Ebola virus since Sawyer passed on in a Lagos hospital on 25 July, 2014.
Also, eight new cases of the disease have been reported while hundreds of people are said to be under close monitoring to ascertain if they would show sign of the Ebola virus after they were alleged to have had close contacts with victims of the disease.
According to the World Health Organisation, WHO, at least, 1096 people have died as a result of the disease since February 2014.
Nigeria, Guinea, Sierre and Liberia are the four countries in West Africa currently battling to control the outbreak of the Ebola virus.
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