The proprietress of the secondary school I attended in Aba had this saying she was very fond of and made sure we never stopped hearing. On many occasions while we were in class, or standing on the hard-clay assembly grounds behind the main school building, or seated in the large auditorium, she would face us in one of her uniform loose, short-sleeved blouses, knee-length cotton skirts and black flats. Her slouched shoulders would straighten a fraction of an inch, her amply dimpled chin would incline at a determined angle and set in her dark brown face, her black eyes would burn strength and hope into ours, while she said, “I can do it! You can do it! If I set my mind to it!”
Often she would ask us to repeat after her and most of us would attempt humorous mimicries of her American accent – I cain duweht…you cain duweht…if I set my mind tuweht! We would covertly snicker among ourselves and exchange low high-fives; and a number of our teachers would even crack tiny smiles at our juvenile mischief, but not Mrs Zoe. She would stand stern while we repeated those words and like her, gesticulated accordingly with our index fingers. And it worked because they stuck. The words didn’t just stick in our hearts and minds, they have rung true for me in all the years since then.
I CAN DO IT! YOU CAN DO IT! IF I SET MY MIND TO IT!
The best example that comes to mind is with respect to the emergence of the Ebola virus in Nigeria few months ago. The manner in which EVD was battled into containment in Nigeria reeks of ardent resolve, especially on the part of the health officials and government. The facts that follow establish this as concisely as possible:
Nigeria’s first reported case of Ebola was an imported one, borne by the 40-year old Patrick Sawyer into Lagos via a flight from Monrovia, Liberia. Fortunately, he was suspected of having the virus and was hospitalized on arrival in Nigeria at the First Consultant Hospital, Obalende. Mr. Sawyer died 25 July having infected healthcare staff that had had close, unprotected contact with him prior to realizing he was infected. It was imperative then to initiate containment action against the virus and Nigerian health officials promptly swung into action.
By the 17th of September, records showed the total number of confirmed cases to be 19 with 7 deaths. There were 4 contacts still under surveillance in Lagos and 344 in Rivers State. Over 520 contacts had been discharged from surveillance following a symptom-free 21-day observation window. And by the 1st of October, these numbers remained except for additional two cases – one infection and one death, both marked as ‘probable’.
As impressive as they are, these numbers barely scratch the top of how much work went into the fight to contain Ebola. A doctor’s strike that had been underway for more than a month was temporarily suspended in early August to enable medical personnel help with the outbreak. A State of Emergency was declared, discouraging large gatherings and asking schools to extend summer holidays. As the outbreak continued, the doctor’s strike was cancelled (instead of suspended) and school closures were extended through mid-October. Isolation facilities and centers were established in different parts of the country – one 40-bed facility in Lagos, one 26-bed centre in Rivers state, seven hospitals in Delta state, a quarantine centre in Niger state – along with elaborate plans ongoing to expand on the infrastructure. Volunteers were raised and trained to become primary screeners while physicians underwent training to become secondary screeners, and to distinguish suspected cases of Ebola from other diseases. Thousands of people were screened per day per point of entry – land, sea and air.
The result? There have been no new cases of Ebola in Nigeria since August 31, a strong indication that the virus has been contained.
While the aid of foreign institutions like the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) cannot be discounted, most of the praise has reserved for Nigerian physicians like the late Dr. Stella Adadevoh and the Nigerian Ministry of Health headed by Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu. In the words of a doctor with the Atlanta-based CDC, Dr Aileen Marty, “”The Nigerian government was wholeheartedly into the process of trying to solve the problem”
While the encomiums on the ebullient Dr. Adadevoh, who paid the ultimate price in the fight, and her colleagues are without suspect, much of those heaped on the Nigerian government are perhaps more in shock than anything else. Many have wondered at the energy that was mustered by the government in procuring and unleashing resources to fight Ebola; ‘the Nigerian government is incapable of such efficiency’, the disbelieving public has declared.
But is it really?
Dr. Marty of the CDC identified reasons which she thought aided the Nigerian battle against Ebola, and one such reason was that the disease was mostly limited to the wealthier population of Nigeria. “The person who brought the infection was a diplomat,” Marty said. “He was brought to one of the best hospitals in Nigeria, and the people who were infected were individuals who quickly comprehended the importance of following our recommendations.”
This train of thought was shared by a Nigerian who for the purposes of this piece, chose to remain anonymous. In his opinion, Ebola was battled so methodically and decisively because it struck at the heart of the upper social class of the society. “Otherwise why are lower class members of the society still dying daily from malaria and child labor?” he finished emphatically. Some other schools of thought would rather remain grateful – for the containment of Ebola – and hopeful – for the rest.
Whichever school of thought you choose to align with, one truth we can all agree on is that the Nigerian government has shown itself capable of excellence. Whether it was due process or a case of necessity mothering invention matters not at the moment; the country’s leaders have shown that if they put their mind to a task, they can achieve it. Much like the tortoise who claimed he couldn’t dance but was caught gyrating in the inner chambers of his hut to the beats of the moonlight drum, the Nigerian leaders must now dance the music of the gods in the market place. They must now answer a burdened people’s call to accountability par excellence.
But will they? Can they?
“I can do it! You can do it! If we put our minds to it!”
How Nigeria contained its Ebola outbreak by Mark Gollom, MSN news.
International SOS report, October 2014.
I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter