Wednesday 10 September 2014

How Secure Are Nigerians From Ebola And Terrorism? - by Jide Ojo

Last Friday, the Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, announced that all public and private primary and secondary schools are to resume for the 2014/2015 session on September 22, 2014. This announcement supersedes the earlier announced date of October 13. 

Among the preventive measures being put in place before the resumption are the appointment and training of desk officers on Ebola information in each of the schools; the provision of a minimum of two blood pressure measuring equipment by the state Ministries of Education (what has this got to do with Ebola? Methinks what is needed is thermometer or temperature scanners); steady supply of water in schools while state Ministries of Education are to establish a monitoring team for effective supervision of school activities before and after opening of schools. Since this announcement was made, a lot of rumpus has been generated as the general public is divided on the appropriateness and timing of this school resumption. While some have hailed the announcement, others have condemned it.

Among those who have risen stoutly against this order are the Nigerian Union of Teachers, Parents Teachers Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Medical Association. Their main argument is that Nigeria had not yet successfully contained the Ebola Virus Disease as new cases were still being recorded. According to the NMA National Secretary-General, Dr. Olawunmi Alayaki, “All schools ought to remain shut till all those under surveillance for the Ebola Virus Disease in the country had been certified free.” He opined further that, “Parents have no reason to be in a hurry because if Ebola should enter any school, it will assume another dimension. Children cannot survive isolation like adults. Nigeria is peculiar because of her large population and we should be pragmatic and proactive. It will not augur well for the country if we have another outbreak due to carelessness.”

I am very worried at the way our government officials reason. Why the haste to reopen schools? Some have alleged that the private schools proprietors are the ones that mounted pressure on the government to jettison the earlier resumption date. It was insinuated that they are going to lose money if the resumption is unduly delayed as they cannot afford to pay their teachers and other staff for the vacation period. There is also the argument that the school calendar will be negatively affected as they may not be able to finish the school syllabus while those enrolled to partake in the next West African School Certificate Examination will be the most affected. As far as I am concerned, only the living go to school. It is better to be safe than sorry. We must ensure that adequate safety measures are in place before asking our children to resume schools. I know for a fact that at present, more than half of public and private schools in this country do not have good toilet facilities, water, sick bay, first aid kit and basic requirement for hygiene and sanitation. How does government intend to provide these facilities in less than two weeks from now?

On the issue of terrorism raging across the country, particularly in the north-eastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe, I develop goose pimples when I read of the atrocities being perpetrated by the insurgents. How did we get to this sorry pass where human lives have become so cheap, so much so that preventable deaths have now become the order of the day? Who will deliver Nigeria from the hands of these terrorists? Apart from the heavy causalities reportedly being inflicted on the Nigerian Army and other security agents as well as the innocent members of the public, there is now a growing population of the Internally Displaced Persons. The IDP population in Nigeria is conservatively put at about 3.3 million, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre March 2014 figures. It needs be stated emphatically that it is not only terrorism that is responsible for Nigeria’s refugee problem. A natural disaster like flash flood as experienced in 2012 is also a contributory factor. It is heart-rending, therefore, that for no fault of theirs this huge population has now become refugees in their own country. Indeed, some 70,000 of the IDPs are said to be taking refuge in neighbouring Chad, Cameroon and Niger Republic.

According to the National Emergency Management Agency assessment report of the IDPs published in the March 2014 Humanitarian Bulletin Nigeria (a newsletter of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), meal consumption has dropped from three to one meal per day in most communities affected by the rebellion; most of the IDPs have lost their livelihood to the insurgency; out of the 2,500 boreholes in the states under emergency rule, only 1,000 are functional; only 37 per cent of health facilities in the SoE states are functional; there is a high percentage of female-headed households and unaccompanied minors; in the IDP camps, the ratio of persons to latrines is 500:1, and there are no view-protected bathrooms for women. Isn’t that troubling? It needs to be understood that this assessment was done on the IDPs in North-East Nigeria. The IDPs are also to be found in Nassarawa, Benue, Taraba and even Kaduna states where there have been inter-tribal and communal conflicts.

What are the socio-political and economic implications of this IDP challenge? First and foremost, the situation threatens our food security. Many of these IDPs are farmers who produce food for the rest of the country. Now, they do not have access to their farmland again. They are now beggars. As it is, they no longer have the capacity to contribute their quota to the growth of the economy, rather they have been turned parasite, a burden, on the economy. They have to be fed, clothed, and sheltered. Yet, all of these are in short supply. They do not even have access to medicare and should there be an outbreak of Ebola in any of the IDP camps, God save Nigeria! Cholera has been reported in some of them, leading to preventable and untimely deaths. Furthermore, for the children of these IDPs, schooling is out of the equation. Who will teach them in their refugee camps? There have been reports of armed robbery attacks on these hapless IDPs. Some of the girls in the refugee camps are also being sexually molested by unscrupulous elements who are taking advantage of their vulnerable situation. These people cannot also vote during elections while those who have migrated to safer havens out of the refugee camps are constituting nuisance and security threat to the communities where they are seeking refuge.

The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre in proffering solutions to this nagging problem had called for a number of measures to be taken to ameliorate the plight of these IDPs. The group, among other things, calls for a National Policy on IDPs; timely development of database system on IDPs and up-to-date data for use in national planning for IDPs. It also requested for the effective implementation of the existing four-year Strategic Implementation Plan of Action developed by the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons while also asking for the establishment of effective early warning systems and proactive measures to reduce disaster risks, prevent and resolve conflicts in any form to mitigate the causes of displacement across the Federation. I personally commend President Goodluck Jonathan’s terror Victim Support Fund initiative and hope that the over N80bn realised at the July 31, 2014 fundraising dinner by the Gen. T.Y. Danjuma VSF committee will be judiciously used.

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