"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
September 30, 2014
Between State Violence and Ebola in Nigeria
by Imo Eshiet

Having to write twice or thrice monthly for a column, I find the crass rot in my country quite an inexorable grist to the mill. The good thing is, I never have to worry about running out of stuff to write about.

As I sat writing this, I was dazed by a news report that in Ekiti state Nigeria, a governor-elect led red-eyed thugs into a court, where they beat up the presiding judge. When lawyers saw the judge picked clean, they discarded their wigs and scampered out of the courtroom-turned physical battleground.

A disgusted eye witness said watching the unaccustomed blistering speed with which the attorneys sprinted from the slugfest, one would have thought they were contesting for gold medals at the Olympics games!.

Ordinarily such craven behavior would have seemed frightening and reprehensible. However, in a land where such violations are commonly aided and abetted by state power, no one bats an eye over such extreme chaos.

The report further noted that after the politician left the court, his band of thugs was in turn waylaid later in the day and a top member of his gang felled by a volley of bullets apparently shot by thugs of an opposing party.

Not to be outdone, the politician’s sympathizers visited mayhem on and shut down the capital city of the state.

At about the same time, a little bit down South in Rivers state, another judge had to be escorted to court by a fearsome team of police officers armed to the teeth. To clear the path for the judge to get to court, the police fired tear gas bombs at riotous thugs hired by that state governor to prevent the judge from sitting.

The social instability has been long running. In a 2006 memoir, Nigeria’s lone Nobel Prize in Literature, Wole Soyinka, chronicles the vicious cycle of corruption in which Nigeria is trapped and the ill-disguised contempt leaders in Nigeria have for the masses. He also notes the anguish and frustration felt by Nigerians at a leadership that had for long abandoned its obligations to the people.

Soyinka, who dismisses this leadership with caustic words, writes that rather than see themselves as “transforming agents” and provide services, the nation’s leaders from independence “identified themselves as replacements of the old colonial order.” Accordingly, they defined leadership as “a master-servant relationship” and “saw the nation as a prostrate victim to be ravished.”

This naked plundering has the dire consequence of routinely plunging the economy in crises.

While the state brags of providing free access to education to its citizens, the absence of provisions to enhance learning thwarts whatever good was intended. Many students carry writing desks from home on their heads to and from school. Often faculty and staff are unpaid, leading to frequent shutdown of schools by the aggrieved workers. These crises are often the result of reckless spending by leaders.

Like the schools, the health system is just as shabbily treated. Take Ebola, for instance.

The epidemic, as President Obama remarked in his speech to the United Nations recently, is “wiping out whole families” in West Africa. It has, the president revealed, “turned simple acts of love and comfort — holding a sick friend’s hand or embracing a dying child — into potentially fatal acts.”

The fatality caught Nigerian authorities napping. It exposed the ineptitude of nation’s planners and its politics of inertia. One would have thought that since the fiercely gruesome virus has been in existence for 38 years in Africa and wreaked havoc in neighboring West African countries and in Congo and Uganda previously, Nigeria would have anticipated and made adequate preparation long before it claimed its first victims.

Rather, when it hit the country, Nigeria had to send test samples to Dakar, Senegal, to confirm locally done preliminary investigations.

One of the care givers, Dr. Ada Igonoh, who herself fell victim to but fortunately survived the virus, speaks of the gross sanitary condition in the ward she and other patients were treated. The situation, she notes, was dramatic enough to give the Ebola scourge added incentive to thrive.

“The whole Ebola thing,” she recounts, “had caught everyone by surprise. Lagos State Ministry of Health was doing its best to contain the situation but competent hands were few. The sheets were not changed for days. The floor was stained with greenish vomitus and excrement.

“Dr. David (a foreigner) would come in once or twice a day and help clean up the ward after chatting with us. He was the only doctor who attended to us. There was no one else at that time. The matrons would leave our food outside the door; we had to go get the food ourselves… Mosquitoes were our roommates until they brought us mosquito nets.”

Recalling details of the decrepit hospital ward, Dr. Igonoh adds, “I was shocked by the environment. It looked like an abandoned building” that “had not been use for quite a while.” Settling into a corner, Dr. Igonoh was completely nauseated that the whole place not only “smelled of faeces and vomit” but was “desperate enough to break anyone psychologically.”

It was therefore not surprising that patients, who before now were themselves caregivers in the hospital, became casualties to Ebola as the dingy ward had become “the house of death,” Dr. Igonoh says.

Damning dysfunction, she observes, was everywhere. The toilets did not flush, so she had to fetch water in a bucket from the bathroom each time she used the restroom.

The doctor turned patient writes that for a patient who was “stooling every two hours,” such “indignity was quite overwhelming.” To survive, the critically ill doctor improvised. “To contain the frequent diarrhea, I started wearing adult diapers, as running to the toilet was no longer convenient to me.”

Nothing aggravated the degraded environment of her treatment more than the poor condition-specific nutrition she received. Although Ebola had opened up sores in her mouth, she was served with an over-spiced dinner of rice and stew. “The pepper stung my mouth and tongue. I dropped the spoon. No dinner that night.”

The outraged doctor, who mustered the will to live enough to crawl out of the ward of death, puts her survival to never suspending faith in her Creator. She also credits inspirational messages, the prayers of friends and family, personal knowledge gained from researching the virus and support from brave and committed colleagues.

Dr. Igonoh’s story illustrates how scary and complicated a health emergency can become in a situation where the state has scant respect for the lives of its citizens and their basic needs. Her trauma shows the disaster that stares at a dopey state when it stalls on the challenges of poverty, planning, education, and systemic failures.

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About Imo Eshiet

Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.

Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North Carolina Stake.

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