Lassa fever and criminal denials


Garba Deen Muhammad


Top government officials at local, state and federal levels in Nigeria are generally glib liars. They may not be good at their jobs, they may not be good at finding solutions to societal problems; but put them in a corner and ask them how they spent the last budget and you would be surprised how smoothly they will role out bogus figures and non-existent structures.

It must’ve been this instinctive inclination towards the untruth, a moral scourge afflicting politicians and government officials, that compelled the Minister of Health Professor Osotimehin to deny that there is an outbreak of Lassa fever in some parts of the country. The THISDAY edition of 26/02/09 reported: “The Minister of Health, Professor Babatunde Osotimehin, however, said there had been no fresh outbreak of the disease”. So did the public relations officer of the National Hospital, Mr. Sadiq.

But the Medical Director of the National Hospital Dr. Olusegun Ajuwon had already admitted to the media that at least three patients, two from Nasarawa state where the outbreak started and one from the FCT, had been diagnosed with the disease and were on admission in his hospital. Before then the Daily Trust edition of 26/02/09 had carried an editorial titled “Lassa fever outbreak”.  (Two days earlier, in a commendable display of social service, the same Daily Trust had carried another editorial on the outbreak of meningitis in the country).As of now sources at the National Hospital have confirmed at least four people dead from Lassa fever while many others are receiving treatment. The same sources have also revealed that most of those infected by the disease are health personnel comprising nurses and doctors. Reason? Because they lack such basic protective instruments like gloves, masks etc.


There is really no doubt about it, our country is sick. The attempted denial by the health minister and the PRO of the National Hospital is bad enough, but the more serious problem is that Lassa fever, which originated from rodents and was first discovered 40 years ago in Lassa village, Borno state, should continue to take health authorities unawares summarizes the precariousness of the nation’s healthcare system. Hunger and the need for protein supplement drive Nigerians to hunt for rats (from where they get the Lassa fever virus) by burning our forest, thereby endangering the wider environment. When this circle of poverty-related calamities begins to claim lives, the first priority of those who should have ensured that such problems never existed in the first place is how to lie in order to save their jobs. It is impossible to imagine a meaner country than ours.

In a way this official callousness is to be expected. How many of those ministers came to the job with the interest of Nigerians in mind? If the rumours circulating are to be believed some of them pulled incredible stunts in order to become ministers etc; to expect such people to understand the need to serve humanity is to expect to find a virgin in a maternity ward (with apologies to Bongos Ikwue). By and large it is becoming increasingly clear that the common man is doomed in Nigeria. When there is social upheavals, whether religious or ethnic or both, it is his children that get killed; when there is outbreak of cholera, meningitis, measles, polio etc his family is the most vulnerable; when there is political violence he is always the first to die and the last to be released from prison. T o make the humiliation permanent, his children attend the worst schools in the land.
There is definitely the need for President Yar’Adua to find a way to connect with the ordinary Nigerian, so that he could appreciate the abjectness of the life he leads; it is obvious that those close to him, who are supposed to let him know the extent of suffering that the underprivileged Nigerian is going through are either not telling him anything at all, or they are feeding him lies.



                                                       Adieu, Grand Umma

Two weeks ago another great soul departed this world. She was Hajiya Zainab Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, last surviving wife of Nigeria’s former Prime Minister who was killed during the military coup of 1966. Popularly called Umma, she would be remembered for many things; but in particular her grand children recalled her excellent cooking and the meticulous care she put in taking care of her husband. They recall that to prepare a dish of salad alone used to take her hours, while setting the table for her husband and his guests was a ceremony in itself. While nobody is advocating that women should restrict themselves to the kitchen, I think there is a big lesson there for modern first ladies to learn. It is more honourable for women to be remembered for being feminine, than otherwise. May her soul and the souls of those that lost their lives in the last unfortunate religious violence in Bauchi rest in perfect peace. Amin.