BOKO HARAM AND EBOLA VIRUS: TALE OF TWO SCOURGES AND A NATION'S RESPONSE
The world today is a theater of crisis and a cocktail of confusion. Humanity is ravaged on one hand by the blight of terrorism and sundry armed conflicts and on the other hand contending with the onslaught of grinding poverty and outbreaks of disease of deadly proportions, especially in the sub-Saharan Africa.
Our dear country, Nigeria, without doubt, is having more than a fair share of these insufferable calamities, and in fact, is at present occupying an unenviable position as one country that is battling two formidable scourges - the carnage of terrorist attacks and hysteria of deadly disease outbreak- at the same time.
First to arrive was a group of misguided, savage elements called Boko Haram. These deranged Islamic fundamentalists claim they abhor western education or civilization and are quite determined to foist their warped agenda on the rest of Nigerians. They sprang up with such incoherence and mindlessness but with much capacity and depravity to unleash unspeakable violence against innocent Nigerians.
In the course of their violent campaigns, especially in northern parts of the country, they have targeted churches, mosques, schools, media houses, markets, and bus stations for bomb attacks. In fact, over 2,000 innocent souls have been wasted on account of their bloody attacks this year alone, not to talk of over 200 school girls they abducted from Chibok in Borno State and who are still in their captivity.
Truth be told, but for the gallantry of Nigerian troops who in spite of devastating incidences of sabotage, lack of cooperation from locals and undue politicization of the situation, have been able contain the excesses of these terrorists, the sovereignty of this great nation would have been greatly compromised.
Then enter the much dreaded Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)! While still smarting from the atrocious activities of Boko Haram terrorists, news filtered in some weeks ago that a certain Liberian national, Patrick Sawyer, who was already infected with the disease had found his way to Lagos and ended up in a hospital where he later died but not before infecting those who came in contact with him. The doctor and other health workers who attended to him soon developed symptoms of the disease. In other words, the deadly virus has finally berthed in Nigeria and given its extremely infectious nature (as easy as contact with any body fluid, including sweat or urine, of an infected person), it has the capacity to spread across the country if adequate measure was not put on ground.
Accounts from other West African countries, including Patrick Sawyer's Liberia, where the rampaging disease is already taking its toll on hapless citizens were simply too grim and unimaginable for Nigerians. Hell was literarily let loose; pandemonium, hysteria, apprehension, trepidation – all found their way in the hearts and minds of Nigerians. Palpable fear of an imminent public health disaster readily enveloped the land and people were reeling under throes of panic and desperation. In fact, never in our annals were Nigerians from all divide ever so united in fear and apprehension like the threat of this current outbreak of Ebola virus disease.
The media both mainstream and online were expectedly agog with all manner of Ebola related stories. Every stable was striving to outdo each other with sensational reports and perspectives about the outbreak. Myths and superstitions were soon woven around the disease while quack clerics and doomsday prophets didn't waste time in upping their claim to divinity and ability to cure the disease.
Government on its part did not disappoint anyone on this. In fact, both Federal and state governments have so far shown extra-ordinary precaution to the point that since the outbreak of the disease in Nigeria, no single day has passed without at least two Federal Ministers addressing the nation on new developments. His Excellency, the President even had to hold a meeting with all the state governors and their commissioners of health to compare notes on how best to tackle the outbreak. He did not waste any effort in approving and signing off N1.3b requested to combat the threat.
Isolation centres were quickly established to quarantine those who had any sort of contact with the 'crazy' Liberian. Religious organizations were not left out in this survivalist frenzy. Pastors and Imams have had to make it a point of duty to preach the gospel against Ebola in churches and mosques. The deeply conservative Catholics even had to stop their symbolic act of friendship (shaking of hands) during mass just to make sure that Ebola is kept at bay.
Citizens on their own part, were simply marvelous in their 'cooperation and obedience' to every 'medical advice' on Ebola offered them by the professional and the superstitious. Even when they were advised to bath with salt or munch as much bitter kola to ward off the disease, they did not disobey or read any religious meaning to it or question the political interest of whoever came up with the 'wonderful advise'! As a matter of fact, the unity of Nigerians against Ebola was simply overwhelming and honestly, that is how it's supposed to be.
Now, compare this unanimity of action against the EVD with the disjointed and politicized fight against the Boko Haram terrorism. In spite of the mass casualty that terrorist attacks can wreck in a minute, it does appear to me that Nigerians have yet to fully comprehend the dire consequences of this grievous asymmetrical warfare or its implication on our sovereignty. Do they realize that terrorism has no place in a progressive society and that it does no one any good? Do they know that the goal of the terrorists is to inflict maximum pain in the hearts of the people, create fear in them, change the way they live and ultimately destroy the fabric of the society? If we do, how come it is easy for some folks to readily bring in mundane issues like religious, political or regional sentiments?
And the Nigerian media - can anyone underestimate the role the media can play in a concerted counter-insurgency operation? Just as they have rallied Nigerians against Ebola disease, is it not important that they begin to change their narratives on Boko Haram terrorist activities which most of the times seem to glorify or magnify the terrorists while demonizing or diminishing our troops? Why does a section of the Nigerian press gleefully offer their platform to bolster morale of the terrorists by painting them in a picture of invincibility? Why the sustained vilifications of our troops especially in recent times?
While not in a anyway underplaying the catastrophic consequences of the outbreak nor underestimating the capacity of that very rapacious virus called Ebola to decimate our population if not well contained, I will also contend that similar (if not more concerted) effort we are making against Ebola be put in place also by all Nigerians if we must stamp out every vestige of terrorism in our clime. Have we considered that one terrorist attack, like that of Nyanya bomb blast, can lead to the death of hundreds of people and many more with degree of injury in a twinkle of an eye?
The surest way we can defeat terrorism (just as we are about to defeat Ebola) is to eschew the sentiments of religion, region or politics in our counter-terrorist operations, and more importantly to support at all times, members of our security forces who are taking the bullets on our behalf. We must see the fight against terror not only that of government or the military but for the entire Nigerians citizens.
Chidi Omeje, is the Executive Director of Citizens Initiative for Security Awareness (CISA) .