A Nigerian is typically a sceptical being, particularly, when his assistance is required to save him from himself. The masses of our people are usually uncooperative at critical times thereby making crisis management difficult for the leaders. Despite itself, the mercy of God abounds and abide with the country lest the story would have been gory. Going round Lagos this Saturday morning for the first time in five days, one could see a people so indifferent to the lethal and devastating nature of epidemics, as people go about their daily routine with little cognizance for personal protection.
However, in recent times, Nigeria through the Lagos State government has shown that it has a pandemic control model that is worthy of simulation and adoption by the other members of the world community, particularly one that takes a major variable into consideration which is, a people that would refuse or show indifference to quarantine and one that is reluctant to alter its routine daily diary through social distancing and quarantine.
The efficacy and workability of Lagos State style of intervention and control of the spread of an outbreak of diseases have been aptly demonstrated to humanity during the Ebola and Corona viruses by the administration of Governors Babajide Sanwolu and Raji Fashola. Many may not appreciate the management dexterity of these leaders and the abundant Grace of God on Nigeria without exposure to the Statistics of the casualties of the past and the attendant consequences of a pandemic on humanity.
Disease outbreak is no respecter of any soul as the virus needs a host for it to multiply, therefore it would normally strike anybody within a proximate distance of the last carrier. Nigeria with a population of about two hundred million is one of the most crowded human settlements in the world. With illiteracy and lack of awareness adjacent, the country is quite fertile for the epidemic. It is worthy of note that one uncontrolled epidemic can wipe out the entire population of Nigeria within six months. Unfortunately, humanity has very little knowledge about killer viruses that abound in its immediate neighborhood and surroundings and the masses of Nigeria are not an exemption. Human history is replete with incidences of plagues and pandemic that has drastically wiped a substantial fraction of its population out of existence. In fact, Viruses have killed more humans than all the wars of the world put together.
As early as 165 AD, the plague of Galen surfaced in the axis of Asia Minor crossing with uncontrolled rapidity to Egypt, Greece and Italy, leaving in its trail about five million deaths. One of the major victim of the plague of Galen was the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. An indication that epidemic and pandemics are no respecter of any soul.
Around 541 AD, over 25 million people were in a period of one year sent out of existence by Plague of Justina which ravaged Europe through Constantinople. The disease was caused by Yersinia Pestis bacterium, otherwise known as Plague. It was alleged to have been spread by rats and fleas.
Humanity cannot easily forget the pandemic of 1346 AD called “ The Black Death” which killed between 75 and 200 million people spreading with rapidity across Europe, Asia and Africa. For the first time, humanity recognized quarantine as a key antidote to the spread of viruses as sailors were held in their ships for months.
The Great Plague of London of 1665 which was also caused by Yersinia Pestis Bacterium killed a quarter of the population of London
The “Asiatic Flu” that broke out in May 1889 depleted human population by at least one million and in 1910, a Cholera outbreak that originated from India spread to other parts of the world including the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Russia and North Africa killing between 700,000 and one million people.
Another Flu pandemic ravaged the world in 1918 killing 25 million human beings within six months of its outbreak. It probably claimed not less than 50 million lives before it was rested. That year, over 500,000 Nigerians died while 80% of her population of 18 million was infected by the virus.
In 1956, an outbreak of Influenza from the province of Guizhou in China took the lives of 2 million people before it was transported to Singapore, Hong Kong and the United States of America.
The 1968 Hong Kong influenza which travelled across other countries like India, the Philippines, Australia, the United States and Europe killed one million people.
Our memory is still very fresh on the recent HIV/AIDS pandemic which first occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1976 and has up to date killed over 30 million people with another 30 million living with HIV in the world. Another virus traceable to the same country is the Ebola virus which must have killed a sizable number of people as at March 2020 and the world is still counting. Before, the advent of COVID-19, Nigeria was silently battling with Lasser Fever.
The above is a sample of viruses and diseases that have fatally depleted human population before the Corona Virus which has so far claimed the lives of over 20,000 people as at March 2020 in all parts of the world.
Common amongst viruses that have fatally attacked humanity with heavy fatalities are Influenza (Flu); Small-Pox; Measles; Yellow Fever; Dengue Fever; Typhus; Typhoid Fever; Bubonic Plague; Salmonella; Malaria; Chicken Pox; Ebola; Hantavirus; Polio, Leprosy and others. These pandemics have collectively taken the lives of very large communities of human across the world. Although these viruses have largely been subdued, they are nevertheless kept in a shell and could resurface anytime and anywhere with devastating consequences as they have always done. Therefore, humanity must remain constantly alert.
History has shown that most of these viruses emanate originally from Asia but becomes pandemic as a result of migration. It takes six hours for any outbreak to cross from England to Nigeria and thirteen hours to export it to the United States of America. In fact, it takes twenty-four hours to pass any virus to the entire world. There are 195 countries in the world, therefore, a 300 capacity aircraft filled with passengers in which there are some people with a very contagious disease will pass same to the entire world if the passengers are going to different countries in the world within 24 hours.
The model of epidemic or pandemic follows the same pattern as the model of Rumour. One person hears a story, pass it to another person or group of persons and then to other people. If news break in Aso Rock in the morning and most Nigerians are aware of it before the night falls, then a contagious disease can spread faster than that with devastating consequences within the same timeframe.
Unfortunately, Nigeria is a country with epidemic engendering parameters such as huge population in a small space with many of its cities overcrowded; ever mobile, largely illiterate and self- imposed ignorant people as a result of their refusal to yield to the superior position of those who know better on the sociology of epidemics. It is for this singular reason that we are fortunate to have Lagos as the main gate of our country the with able managers and leaders who realize without prompting from the Federal Government that constant tracing of the path of the virus is the key to the minimization of the spread of its scourge. We saw this clearly in the case of Ebola and Corona viruses.
The Federal Government is annoyingly slow in acting on the current scourge. If Abuja has taken a cue from Lagos, by not waiting for luck to smile at it before shutting the Air and sea spaces, the fast pace at which corona virus is spreading would have been curtailed. While Aso Rock was in deep slumber, the more cerebral and proactive government in Lagos State was busy tracing those who, potentially are carriers by implication thereby cutting the footpath of the virus and consequently saving this country from impending doom.
Today, the Lagos State government, although, through persuasion is stylishly forcing people to self-quarantine, that is, to stay at home so that those who are adversely affected could be properly identified during the period of isolation, thereby, preventing the virus from moving from one host to another, yet, the common man does not appreciate that it is for his own good. Some see the emerging scourge as a disease design by God to punish the leaders while others see it as a hype created to embezzle money. What a pitiably naïve people!
As it is, we either come to clear terms with the reality of the situation and support the administration of Governor Sanwo-Olu wholeheartedly or collectively self destruct. Nigeria is not favored in any pandemic because it does not have the resources, the infrastructure nor does it have the natural endowment to protect itself against the calamity that a pandemic can unleash on a vulnerable people. Just like our soldiers and other security agencies are been sent to confront violence in many parts of the country without up to date modern equipment, our doctors are sent to face Corona virus without protective apparels. We better wake up now. If Lagos State were to be a country on its own, one would have been more confident of survival because of its God endowed competent leadership than live in a country where nothing is valued. If you don’t value life, what else can be important to you? It is not amusing at all that some state governors don’t even know what a virus means, hence, the number of them that became easy preys in the hands of Corona Virus.
In view of the health risk behavior of our people, the Lagos State Government and all other affected states should without delay impose a total ban on human traffic for at least two weeks. Medical workers should be given full facilities and equipment to perform their functions with consideration for maximum personal protection and safety. Salaries of workers should be paid without delay so that each of them can meet the obligations to their families during their withdrawal from the streets.
Professor Ojikutu wrote from the Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Lagos.