by Abraham Ogbodo
These are very trying times. Just when we thought that the ravaging microscopic monster called Ebola virus had been adequately contained in Nigeria, it resurfaced somehow in Port Harcourt, the oil city, where there is so much money and therefore so much merriment and body contact. This is very disturbing. The virus does not recognise social lines. It kills both princes and paupers and with the same ruthlessness. It replicates in millions once contracted and kills the carrier in a question of days. It is close to a death sentence once confirmed, which explains why the emphasis has been more on containing the virus from spreading to others, than managing proven cases.
So far, three locations have been mentioned in connection with the virus in Nigeria. These are Lagos, Enugu and now Port Harcourt. Everybody is hoping that more towns are not going to be enlisted in this game of death. The beautiful thing is that the campaign against the spread of the virus is sinking very well. People are taking seriously every theory of prevention. If it is bitter kola, everybody goes for it. If it is salt solution people also obey without asking questions.
The scourge is throwing up some interesting details about Nigerians. They love life on earth and would want to stay put. It is also clear that although Nigerians love to make heaven, but none wishes to die to quicken the journey to heaven. Regular washing of hands is now a national culture. This is the same simple point that never sank among the people in spite of campaigns by public health authorities. Now, people do not even wait till they visit the toilet before washing hands; they do so instinctively at reasonable intervals, sometimes rising up to a ridiculous frequency of one hourly.
I never heard of hand sanitisers until the advent of Ebola. I think the stuff is about the fastest selling item in stores and pharmacies nationwide. And its demand is not affected by any of the market variables. It is one realistic case of the theoretical state of perfectly inelastic demand, which puts supply permanently under demand. Price has also ceased to be a factor in the traditional clash of market forces. Rather, what remains a factor is availability as the product is completely bought off the shelf at whatever cost when available.
When the scourge was just about a week or so old in Nigeria, I had acquired a king size of the stuff for N2,500 for the family and a mini size for N300.00. Next day, the entire stock had been cleared when I visited and there was none for a dear friend who wanted me to assist in procuring some. When it came back on the shelf after two days, the price had doubled to N5000.00 for the family size and N600.00 for the mini. It has been good business for both manufacturers and sellers of hand sanitizers. It is also fast business for unscrupulous persons who see the short-run pressure as an opportunity to fake the product to earn illegally.
Outside these economic concerns, we must give it to Ebola for doing so well to sanitise us. Sermons on personal hygiene no longer require emphasis before they are imbibed. The level of compliance is simply astonishing. In fact, Minister of Information Labaran Maku, underscored this in one media briefing when he said the huge public enlightenment that attended the outbreak of the disease had induced a culture that is beneficial to “public health” in Nigeria. Good observation.
There are other benefits. While the hysteria lasted in Lagos, the state government and authorities in Abuja were constantly in communication in an unprecedented bipartisan collaboration to fine tune strategies at containing the virus. Neither Alhaji Lai Mohammed of the APC nor Dr. Doyin Okupe of the PDP was issuing statements and counter statements to introduce partisan perspectives in a matter that affected everybody equally. Instead, the two men that were always talking on the issue are medical practitioners who understood the need to put politics aside and act professionally.
They are the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu and Lagos State Commissioner of Health, Dr. Jide Idris. They saw themselves as doctors and not politicians. And it was good that things went this way regarding the Ebola virus. If politics had taken centre stage as it is the case with the Chibok adoption saga and the Boko Haram challenge generally, there would have been so much heat without light or so much water without a solution. The huge gap between Lagos and Abuja, which had proved unbridgeable, through political engineering, was closed overnight by Ebola.
I would not know why Ebola chose Port Harcourt to surface after Lagos and the false appearance in Enugu. The scourge was definitely not designed to follow that pattern but the default shall further induce benefits of a political consensus that has been elusive. Both Port Harcourt and Abuja have agreed it is not time to relive the bitter politics of Nigeria Governors’ Forum leadership or loss of juicy oil wells by Rivers State to Bayelsa State.
Governor Rotimi Amaechi and the Federal Government and by extension President Goodluck Jonathan have reportedly opened direct communication to discuss strategies at containing the Ebola virus in Port Harcourt.
The virus has a way of making long-standing enemies become instant friends for the sake of dear life. It forces persons on different sides of the political divide to speak the same language and I think it is good for the deepening of Nigeria’s shallow democracy.
But for the painful deaths so far, especially that of the medical Amazon, Dr Ameyo Adadevoh, who literally laid down her life to save all of us, the Ebola virus has performed far better than the Nigeria police and the judiciary put together, in enforcing simple rules.
Hitherto, efforts by conservationists and wild life protectionists to contract the expansive appetite of an average Nigerian for bush meat yielded very little results. But now, people are listening and the sudden change of attitude has everything to do with the Ebola virus.
By funny expansion of scope, the campaigners are not restricting the source of Ebola to monkeys and bats, as was the case when the virus was first discovered in Congo-Zaire in 1976 around River Ebola and from where the virus derived its name. They are saying every animal in the wild is a potential carrier of the Ebola virus. To equate the entire bush meat economy with the Ebola scourge is most alarming and an unfair assessment.
Meanwhile, the loss is counting on all fronts. A major delicacy has been wiped off the menu chart of Nigerians just like that without adequate compensation. Maybe these anti-Ebola virus campaigners do not understand there are some people called hunters who survive entirely on ‘bush meat.’ Between the hunters and eaters of bush meat, are the sellers. It is a full production chain with all the attendant economic benefits, including job creation.
I am saying the Ebola threat to the socio-economic fabric is more than we are seeing and hearing. My sisters who sell bush meat at Omotosho junction on the Shagamu – Ore highway are not amused by this Ebola campaign. Neither are the hunters who do the supply. These days, nobody stops by that spot to begin a bargain because of fear of contracting the Ebola virus.
Early last week, a consignment of bush meat from a neighbouring country was reportedly impounded and perhaps destroyed by customs operators in Katsina. I can’t understand why! Is bush meat one of the stuff prohibited from coming into the country? Was a laboratory analysis conducted to confirm the presence of the Ebola virus in the meat before action was taken? Who is even saying that dry meat carries the virus? Does the virus survive under fire temperatures?
The campaigners should do well to answer all of these quetions. The livelihood of a chunk is tied to this bush meat thing and there is need to be fair to all concerned as they say in Rotary International. I mean, a successful campaign against the Ebola virus can still be achieved without causing so much injury to bush meat itself and all persons connected to it as producer, seller or consumer.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Abraham Ogbodo/Guardian