By Jaye Gaskia
Nigeria’s Minister of Health, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu
It is perhaps such an uncanny truth that the ongoing Ebola Virus Disease [EVD] outbreak in Nigeria should be so thoroughly representative of the good, the bad and the ugly in our national life and body polity.
How do I mean? The response to the outbreak thus far reveals on the one hand a glimpse of the immense potential that this country is and that we have as a nation; while on the other hand it is also fast becoming an exposition of all that is wrong with us. The response unveils a pointer to the almost limitless nature of our potential strength, while also exposing the abysmal depth of our systemic and structural challenges.
The way and manner by which after initially being caught off-guard the health and political authorities got their acts together and mounted such a coordinated and effective response that has resulted in more or less containing the outbreak is quite impressive, and to the extent of its impressiveness, also quite unusual and unexpected of this inept and greedy treasury looting ruling class.
Although as a journalist I was speaking with quipped to me and I do believe there is some truth in this, ‘The response has been so coordinated, forgetting momentarily inter party and intra elite acrimonies, because the ruling class shared a common fear of the unimaginable impact of allowing such an outbreak of such a disease to literally go viral.”
What was this journalist friend referring to? Let us take a cursory look at the EVD. Like AIDS it has no cure, and there is no vaccine for its prevention; Like AIDS too it is an infectious disease; but unlike AIDS, this one can be transmitted not only through exchange of fluids during sexual intercourse or during blood transfusion etc, but also simply through coming into contact with body sweat, vomit, stool, etc of an infected person!
Given this context, no one is or can be actually safe if the disease were to be allowed to get out of hand as we have seen in the major epicenters of the current historic outbreak in Liberia [with more than half of the total number of infections recorded across West Africa thus far, and more than half of the total number of fatalities]; as well as in Sierra Leone, both of which countries have large swathes of their territories in some form of lockdown as a result of the current outbreak.
Even though the neighbourhoods of the poor can be quarantined and locked down, nevertheless, the rich, the high and mighty must still interact with the poor. They have drivers, they have house helps, errand persons, even the home tutors for their kids who live in these neighbourhoods, and who can more easily come into contact with the infection and bring it into the homes of the rich.
Herein lies the trigger, the impetus, and the hidden motive for ruling elite uncharacteristic collaboration to do any and everything to contain the Ebola Virus Disease. I mean at the inception of the outbreak, when there was less certainty, we saw Ministers refusing to shake hands with one another at Federal Executive Council Meetings!
Now let us turn our attention to the other worrying parts of the response, those parts that serve to once again expose the depth, scope and scale of the systemic rot engendered by the bungling incompetence of gluttonous light fingered elite.
Let us start from the rear, the ongoing debacle about re-opening of primary and secondary schools across the country. The Federal government after consultations between the federal and state education ministries initially pushed school reopening dates back by about 6 weeks to Mid-October, then after some pressures somersaulted and reversed the reopening date to 22nd of September.
In pushing back the dates in the first instance, the FGN had stated conditions that would need to be met before October 13th; whereas in moving the date forward to 22ndof September the same FGN was silent on these conditions.
Every school was supposed to have at least 2 staff members trained in responding to the EVD. Now beyond the debate on date which is neither here nor there, a number of issues need to be raised and addressed.
How many Primary schools are there in the country, public and private? Similarly how many secondary schools are there in the country, again public and private? How many pupils are in each of these schools, and are in all of these schools altogether? How many teachers are in each, and all of these schools?
At the rate of two teachers to be trained per school, how many teachers will need to be thus trained in each LGA, in each state, and across the federation? Where will they be trained? And how will they be trained? Will they be trained in batches? And how long will the training take; that is what is the length of time that will be needed to complete the training of all of these teachers? How many special EVD monitors and supervisors will be needed in each LGA, in each state, across the whole country to ensure compliance and quality, and ensure that every school is covered?
What support infrastructure needs to be put in place to ensure that the training of teachers become integral part of a seamless response healthcare delivery system? How many isolation and treatment centers need to put in place to cater for all the schools working on various assumptions with regards to possible scenarios [for example if 1% , 2%, 5% or 10% of students were to need isolation etc?
So have the trainings begun? At what stage of the trainings are we in right now? How many teachers and schools have been covered? And how many more teachers and schools need to be covered?
My worry is that we might end up with a situation where only a few highbrow public and private schools are covered, either because of the exceptional links of proprietors to the high and mighty, or because the children of the high and mighty attend these chosen schools.
In such a scenario, what we would have is a situation where the high and mighty tries to take care of itself while leaving the overwhelming majority of pupils, the children of the poor at the mercy of the EVD outbreak.
I have often said that the future of any society, whether it will survive, whether it will progress, or whether it will be able to compete effectively with its peers depends on the amount of investment in time, care, education, and efforts put into its children.
The question to ask right now is whether any of the foregoing has been factored into the considerations of the government regarding re-opening date for pupils. What parents and teachers want to know is not only the empty assurances of a political elite that suffers from gross trust and confidence deficits among the populace; what they need to know is evidence of the hard thinking, reflection, planning and operationalizing arrangements being put in place to safe guard the lives of their kids and their children, as well as secondarily of the parents and the teachers.
Surely none of the aforementioned is rocket science. Surely governance shouldn’t be this catastrophically difficult.
Now let us quickly look at the other issues, those around funding the response. The Federal Government recently announced it was setting aside N1,9bn to manage the response, although the minister of health was then later reported to have clarified that the bulk of this money will be spent buying vehicles! So how will be various isolation and treatment centers be funded and equipped? Are we waiting on donors to purchase the necessary kits, equipment and other treatment facilities?
States governments have also begun to announce huge sums of monies in their hundreds of millions to tackle the outbreak.
What all of these frenzied resource allocation drives have lacked thus far is transparency and accountability. How are these monies being appropriated? If this was truly an emergency why have the National and State Assemblies not convened emergency sessions on the EVD outbreak?
Why have the Federal and State executive councils not prepared and forwarded to the emergency sessions of the National and State Assemblies Supplementary bills to appropriate funds to tackle the emergency? Why are there no detailed user friendly, citizen centered response plans in the public domain for everyone to see and access and assess?
In civilized climes, these ought to be basic rudimentary prerequisites underpinning a comprehensive, transparent, and accountable response.
My suspicion, borne out of decades of treasury looting propensity of the ruling class is that, once again, as it happened with the response to the 2012 flood disaster, or to the response to the ongoing Boko Haram insurgency, ‘Our collective Grief has become a Call to Loot for the ruling elite’, and ‘our Societal pain, has become a cynical source of gain for this marauding elite’.
For them, beyond the fear of the outbreak getting out of hand and consuming them along with the poor, the response to the EVD outbreak once again presents an opportunity to loot. And this is why we must be vigilant, and insist on transparency, on accountability, on due process, and also insist on rigorous open reflection, planning and implementation of the response.
And calling weekly media briefings to update the citizens through the media is not and cannot be a substitute for rigorous all round stakeholder involvement and participation in planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the response.
For instance are the various organised platforms of the stakeholders in any way involved in this response beyond being occasionally consulted and or briefed? What roles if any are the NUT, ANCOPPS, COPSHON, NMA, MHWUN etc playing in a structured, systematic and coordinated response to the EVD outbreak in the country?
I am once again forced to the conclusion that this current ruling class is inherently inept and incompetent to govern us, the only thing it is adept at doing is looting the treasury, and maneuvering around the corridors and bedrooms of power.
The lesson once again is that we have a duty to take destiny back into our own hands, to Take Back Nigeria from the death grip of these Vagabonds In Power.
Follow me on Twitter: @jayegaskia & @[DPSR]protesttopower; Interact with me on FaceBook: Jaye Gasakia & Take Back Nigeria
JAYE GASKIA IS NATIONAL COORDINATOR OF PROTEST TO POWER MOVEMENT [P2PM], & CO-CONVENER OF SAY NO CAMPAIGN [SNC]