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Politics and power play in the time of Ebola

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Politics and power play in the time of Ebola

by Osho Samuel

Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) landed on the shores of Nigeria through a Liberian-American, Patrick Sawyer, who took ill, traveled to Nigeria and died on July 25 while undergoing treatment in Lagos. Since then Nigeria has been battling to contain the virus and has recorded some successes.

So far, 17 people have been infected with the virus and 7 of them have recovered.

The Nigerian government and health officials have been combating the spread of the deadly virus through preventive measures coupled with effective awareness. It is feared however that with the entry of the virus into Rivers state and the fact that most of those who had contact with the doctor who died of the disease in Port Harcourt are yet to be located, things could get worse.

So what’s the politics of Ebola? The politics of Ebola has taken several forms.

The first is that the two states which have seen deaths from Ebola so far – Lagos and Rivers, are states controlled by APC governments. As a result of the virus, the government at the centre and the governments in those two states have to work together. Although it is common knowledge that Babatunde Fashola and Rotimi Amaechi, the governors of Lagos and Rivers respectively, do not see eye to eye with Pres. Goodluck Jonathan, so far there has not been much tension in the handling of issues.

However, some sub-actors have been heating things up. The Rivers state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for instance accused Gov. Amaechi pointedly of being responsible for the entry of Ebola into Rivers state and the APC national publicity secretary has asked Nigerians to hold Pres. Jonathan responsible for any further missteps on the Ebola virus handling.

Another angle which the politics of Ebola is taking is in the release of funds. The FG first announced an Ebola intervention fund of N1.9 billion on August 8th. Weeks after the announcement however, Lagos state said it had not received a dime. Subsequently, the FG announced N200 million for Lagos. Some reports have accused the minister of health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, of diverting from the funds to purchase vehicles. There are fears that whenever the dust settles on the Ebola issue in Nigeria, the usual story of diverted and looted funds will crop up, not only for the intervention fund, but for the funds being donated by NGOs and foundations. It was the same situation when funds were donated to help flood victims two years ago – nothing came out of it.

Then there is the issue of the quarantine facilities. In a bid to curb the spread of the virus in Nigeria, the government quarantined those who had contact with infected or dead people. Some are however of the opinion that the four test and treatment centres are inadequate for the entire nation. The four treatment centres were set up in: Lagos University Teaching Hospital; Centre for Disease Control in Asokoro, Abuja; University College Hospital, Ibadan; and Redeemers University Laboratory, Km 35, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. This simply implies that in a nation of six geopolitical zones, only two zones have treatment centres.

Another contentious issue was the announcement by  the Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau on August 26 that the resumption date of primary and secondary schools in Nigeria has been shifted from the anticipated September 15 to October 13, 2014. The National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools however expressed their utmost displeasure at the move of the government. They opined that if schools are to be closed down in a bid to avoid contacts with infected persons nationwide, then all markets should also be closed.

Some are also arguing that if schools are being stopped from resuming, why is the government allowing political rallies in the honour of Pres. Jonathan to be held. The most recent was that organised by the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria, a Pres. Jonathan political support group, which held a rally in Port Harcourt, Rivers state, a state which is trying to contain the Ebola outbreak.

Even Pres. Goodluck Jonathan was present at the rally which held on Saturday, August 30, 2014 at the Liberation Stadium in Port Harcourt. Thousands of people assembled from states comprising the South-South zone for the political rally in a city which just reported its first Ebola casualty a week before the rally (August 22, 2014).  This is not a rally with participants from Rivers State alone but also from; Edo, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Cross River, Delta, Bayelsa. The PDP and the president did not deem it fit however to postpone the rally, and more are expected to be held in the coming weeks as Nigeria enters into full campaign mode in the buildup to the next general elections.

The argument by supporters of the rally is that if an Ebola patient is not down with high fever then he cannot infect another person. In other words, potential serious Ebola patients can walk freely without causing any harm to the society once they are not yet sick. Can sick people attend rallies? Can sick pupils attend schools? The possibility might be is minimal but try explaining that to wary Nigerians unwilling to take chances with a disease that has claimed 1552 lives in West Africa in less than four months.

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