POLITICS IN A SEASON OF CHOLERA
"You know I have this meeting somewhere in the North, but I am afraid to go."
"With all these reports about cholera epidemic in that part of the country, I don’t want to take chances. I am a very precious statistic you know?"
"Can you imagine someone like me suffering from cholera? Onigbameji. Stooling and vomiting at the same time. Mouth and em em disease. Grrrr…. shrrrrrr….Hei… ishi."
"Go and sit down my friend, and stop twisting like a worm. You are a human being. If you drink contaminated water or eat contaminated food…"
"Or I shake the hands of a transporter of the cholera bacteria…I think it is better to stay where I am until further notice."
"But you miss the point. Cholera is not a Northern thing. It is a Nigerian problem, that is why when I read the reports and there is a deliberate emphasis on the fact that the 19 Northern states are recording serious casualties, I shudder. We shouldn’t play politics with everything. The cholera outbreak is a symptom of the public health crisis in this country. The current crisis started in Cameroon, it crossed the border into Nigeria, it is on its way down South. Instead of trying to label it a Northern or Southern affliction and seeking to play politics with it, we should be talking about the failure of the public health system. A decent country would have embarked on an enlightenment campaign and pre-emptive treatment and advice dominating the public communications channels – including OBEY’S song – Mo na’wo mi soke – ki Cholera ma ma mumi."
"I will say the failure of governance. This is 2010. 50 years after independence. It is tragic that many Nigerians lack access to potable water. It is terrible that in 2010 we are still worrying about cholera. Too bad."
"Water is life."
"I know. The water crisis is global, but how do other countries; Brazil, India, Pakistan, the United States manage the cholera crisis? Come to think of it, we should blame the Northern Governors specifically. What are they doing about access to water for their people? They can’t build good schools. You mean they also cannot provide drinkable water? I understand many of the victims drank water from polluted sources."
"There is an efficient public water supply system in Gombe state."
"Mention another state."
"Look, I think all our leaders are guilty. It is just as bad in other parts of the country where the poor are forced to drink sachet water."
"Pure water please, with NAFDAC number!"
"You know when the North East wind of cholera gets to the South, this country will be in serious trouble. All of you relying on pure water sachets may just discover what has been done to you when you start vomiting and stooling."
"I don’t drink pure water."
"But I am sure you have people around you who do. The rich in this country always think they are safe, that is the problem, but they are so vulnerable. You won’t know when your driver will contact cholera and he will help you open a drink and give you your own share, or it may be your cook, or your children’s nanny. In due course, foreign embassies will require Nigerians to take the cholera test before they can be allowed to visit their home countries."
"You like to dream up tragedies."
"The Nigeria Medical Association is blaming state and local governments for the cholera outbreak. And I share their view. It’s been eight weeks since this crisis began, and there has been no evidence that government has been able to contain the spread or the casualties. Over 10, 000 cases recorded so far, with over 300 dead."
"They are all busy trying to win the next elections."
"They want to rule a country of cholera."
"Cholera is a comment on our capacity to handle emergencies."
"Sometimes I feel like weeping. Too many people die in this country for no reason other than that the country is failing. I read the pathetic story of the woman who gave birth to premature twins in Abuja and the babies needed to be put in incubators. She went from one hospital to another carrying the babies, from Garki to Asokoro to Wuse to Gwagwalada, but she couldn’t find a hospital that had an incubator. Then when she finally succeeded, she was required to pay N100, 000 as deposit."
"The poor are in trouble in this country. One of these days, there will be a revolution. We are getting close to it."
"Let me finish my story. The hospital is now claiming that they only asked for N1, 500 registration fee. But whatever it was, the woman could not pay. She then went to another hospital where the babies were rejected on the ground that they were brought from elsewhere. By the time the woman took them back to the hospital where she gave birth, the twins gave up on the way."
"I know. It is a daily occurrence. Some people even die because they can’t buy N500 worth of drugs. But the question you ask is: why are Nigerian medical workers always so cruel?"
"They are Nigerians. They need money. They also don’t trust the system. Nigeria is a dangerous place to act the Good Samaritan."
"So is that why doctors are on strike across the country at a time when there is a cholera epidemic?"
"I understand they are planning to call off the strike because of the cholera crisis."
"To do the autopsy of the dead?"
"You can’t blame them. They want good pay. CONMESS they call it and for more than two years, all they have been getting is empty promises. Why should they be the ones to save the country when your lawmakers and other public officials are carting away lorry loads of cash for doing nothing?"
"No, you are wrong. They are doing something."
"They are playing politics."
"And getting rich doing so, and doing next to nothing for the people."
"Well, I understand the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory has declared war on prostitutes in the city. He says his administration does not want prostitutes or their patrons anywhere near Abuja. If you are caught with a prostitute, you will be arrested and detained."
"Stop saying you, you. I don’t patronize prostitutes. And I don’t know why you are bringing this up. You should declare your interest in the matter."
"I am just concerned about human rights and whether this is not a violation of people’s rights. Besides, who is a prostitute? The FCT Special Task Force on the Environment has allegedly arrested 97 prostitutes as at this week, including two pregnant women. Is it possible for a pregnant woman to also be a prostitute?"
"The answer is yes. Oh yes."
"You seem to be very knowledgeable about this subject. I am listening."
"Which subject. Craze dey worry you."
"But you understand where I am coming from. This looks like a case of gender discrimination. There are male prostitutes in Abuja, the dan daudu, why are they not being harassed? If care is not taken, any woman at all around Abuja can be arrested and labelled a prostitute, particularly where some men are convinced that every woman is a prostitute, if she wears eyelashes, make up, and looks independent with a show of nice cleavage."
"Mind your language. It is that kind of reasoning that has been responsible for the widespread discrimination against women in Nigerian politics. It is why the office on Millenium Development Goals and the Ministry of Women Affairs are now working together to set aside a special fund for women politicians to encourage more women to seek elective offices in 2011. By the way, the NFF elected all its officials without a woman – even for the women’s league. "
"I understand there is also a plan to give widows special gifts during the Nigeria at 50 celebrations. There is a group, the Network of Caring Women (NCW) which is claiming that this should be a national priority as the country celebrates its golden jubilee."
"I don’t mind as long as the money is not going to come from the public treasury, otherwise you’d find every woman becoming a widow and a politician. How can anyone determine who is a widow and who is not? I understand we have up to 7 million widows. What is the source of that figure in a country where most marriages are unrecorded."
"But we must support women, including female prostitutes."
"You know me. I am gender-friendly, although I felt disappointed that only women between the ages of 50 and 80 felt politically committed enough to parade naked in Cross River state recently over the arrest of some young people during the Biase local government council election. Where were the women in the 20s, 30s and early 40s? They should be the ones to lead such a protest not old women."
"I know your problem."
"What is my problem? They say for example that the Federal Government cannot fund INEC for the 2011 general elections because the country is broke. I hope that is not true. I really hope so, because that will be the real cholera."