Tag Archives: Fashola

Africa in the time of Ebola

With concerns over the Ebola virus increasing daily and cases being reported in the US, it is now clear that if anyone thought it would be confined to West Africa, they were sorely mistaken. Meanwhile, Nigeria is on the verge of being given a clean bill of health by the World Health Organisation:

If the active surveillance for new cases that is currently in place continues, and no new cases are detected, WHO will declare the end of the outbreak of Ebola virus disease in Senegal on Friday 17 October. Likewise, Nigeria is expected to have passed through the requisite 42 days, with active surveillance for new cases in place and none detected, on Monday 20 October.

It is a bit puzzling that more advanced nations have responded in a rather panicked way to Ebola. They have had more time, and their public health infrastructure is much more advanced than what obtains in Africa.

Nigeria’s handling of its own Ebola outbreak has earned it a lot of good press, and rightly so. The sheer amount of work that went into tracking down primary and secondary contacts was described by the WHO as ‘world class epidemiological detective work’.

It had to be. Once the first case of Ebola was confirmed, there was an unprecedented awareness campaign on social media, radio and television, with everyone getting informed and putting the word out. Hand sanitizers became a must-have and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) directed the ‘shaking of hands’ during Mass in Catholic churches all over the country to be suspended, to reduce physical contact. That directive remains in place.

Even though the strike by resident doctors was ongoing at the time of the outbreak, the Lagos State government was able to put together a formidable response, one which is only now getting its due recognition from outside the country.

Expectedly, in an election season, there has been a mad dash to claim credit for beating the outbreak by the Federal Government. For his part, Governor Babatunde Fashola chose to mention people by name, the real heroes on the ground. Even though there is much that is wrong with Nigeria in every respect, there are still pockets of competence, and examples of what is possible when everyone does their part. The lessons learned here are already being passed on to other countries, lessons which are likely to form the template for responding to infectious diseases in future.

At this stage, however, I have two major concerns. First, I hope that once Nigeria and Senegal are certified Ebola free, that health authorities and the general populace do not just switch off and become slack in their vigilance. For as long as there are such a large number of cases, the chances of one person carrying an infection entering the country through land borders, airports, and seaports is significant. In the midst of intense politicking this election season, we must guard our gates.

My other major concern is for Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and indeed Africa at large. Many African countries have been ravaged by war and corrupt, inept governance for decades, leaving behind little by way of public services. Liberia and Sierra Leone are two of the more extreme examples of this, and now Ebola has come to strip them of whatever claim they had of being sovereign states.

Health workers face risk of infection due to minimal protection, and on top of this are either attacked or bribed to leave the deceased with their families, instead of having them cremated to curb the spread. They have already gone on strike for an increase in their hazard allowances. Put together, it points to the fact that things will not calm down anytime soon. What international agencies are trying to do is become alternate governments overnight, a daunting task. In Nigeria’s case, the WHO and CDC had government officials ready to put in the leg work, and a population that imbibed the message and passed them along quickly. None of this exists in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. The best neighbouring countries can do is to make sure infected people do not cross over.

In much the same way a weakened immune system makes even a common cold problematic, weak and failed states face collapse under the weight of outbreaks like this, and the longer it goes without Ebola coming under control, the higher chance there is of that happening. Last month in Liberia, some ministers fled the country like rats leaving a sinking ship and were duly fired. It is not impossible that more will follow. The clock is ticking.


Lagos v okada riders: The dangerous war

On your marks…

Like most Lagosians, I have a love-hate relationship with okada riders, those daredevils on two wheels, most of whom appear to have a death-wish as they flash in between vehicles with scant regard for the lives of those they carry. Their numbers have exploded in lock-step with the population of the city, which in turn exposed the massive gaps in the transportation system, poor road network, and a masterplan long since discarded.

With initial amusement eventually turning into greater and greater concern, I have also observed the Lagos state government’s determination to make life increasingly difficult for a group of people whom, like it or not, have become indispensable in the lives of most Lagosians.

The reasons why some would support a ban on okada in Lagos, or at least a restriction on their movements in the city, are understandable. The increased risk of fatalities in event of an accident is one. Many have been seriously injured and even killed in this manner as a result of the recklessness of the riders. The sheer number of them further congests already congested roads, and they have been linked to an increase in crime.

That said, the truth is Lagos will not become more liveable if okadas were to disappear from the roads. The simple reason is that okada is merely a result of the chaos, not a cause.

Some will say that motorcycles have been successfully banned in Abuja and Port-Harcourt, but neither of these cities has the population and economic activity of Lagos. The number of people that need transportation to conduct economic activity of all kinds demands a transport system that gets to every part of the city. Lagos does not have that, and will not have it for some time to come. Moving around in Lagos is nothing short of a pain: the BRT only gets to a few places, the danfo and Keke Napep get to the rest, but in a situation where bad roads combined with floods keep people in traffic for hours, the okada is a welcome alternative to what might otherwise be a frustrating day.

This is the issue. Alternatives. A few bike rides may be the difference between a productive and an unproductive day. Many times, parking could take as much time as driving to the location itself, which is not good at all if you’re in a hurry. Cars seem to be everywhere, something that might get worse if the convenience of okada is no longer there. There is also no evidence that the BRT can handle the extra capacity. You see, a sharp decrease in one form of transportation will mean an increase in another form of transportation. Keke Napep is most likely to benefit from the okada clampdown, but they are already becoming a menace themselves, and the prospect of a significant increase in cars is something that should fill anyone with dread.

A lot of men without jobs, plus a woefully inadequate transport system has made okada central to our lives. Instead of the Lagos state government to provide proper mass transit and watch people gradually make the switch, they have chosen to put the cart before the horse. The foundation of this latest assault on okada is the Lagos traffic law, expertly analyzed by my good friend Tex, here. This law banned them from nearly 500 roads in the state, needless to say, the most lucrative routes. The 3,000 motorcycles seized belong to those who apparently violated the law. In that post Tex asked: ‘Are the enormous fines a stealth tax or fund-raising initiative?’ It got me thinking.

It is entirely possible that those who lost their means of livelihood refused to pay ever more exorbitant ‘protection’ money to ‘council’ or LASTMA officials in order to let them operate. Now that some have been made an example of, okada riders know that the state government isn’t playing and are likely to pay up. Combined with the ‘collection’ of radio and tv licenses, we see the signs of a renewed revenue drive by the state government.

There is no crime in wanting to make more revenue, but one wonders if tactics like these would have been employed in Fashola’s first term, knowing that he would run for re-election. Perhaps not. The next time you hear a story of someone getting robbed in traffic, you are welcome to wonder if he was one of the 3000 who had their bikes destroyed.