Stuck Between Boko Haram and Ebola, Nigeria Faces a Perfect Storm of Disasters
“There's a kind of romance with Nigeria and [with] bad news," a Lagos resident tells the Christian Science Monitor. "Are we making Nigeria… from a Boko Haram country to a[n] Ebola country?" The dual threat is on many of the nation's minds, a challenge many fear may be insurmountable for Africa's largest economy.
The threat the jihadist terror group Boko Haram poses to the people of Nigeria has been well documented for years now. Boko Haram, led by the murderous jihadist Abubakar Shekau, became internationally known after the mass kidnapping of more than two hundred young girls from the northern town of Chibok. They have abducted dozens more and killed innumerable others in terrorist attacks. Operating from the more Muslim-populated north end of the country, Boko Haram's preferred targets include soccer stadiums, churches, and markets – the areas in which they can maximize the number of innocents killed. While events elsewhere in the world have drowned Boko Haram out of most mainstream American media, they continue to ravage the nation; just this week, Boko Haram terrorists attacked a town that attempted to drive them out of the area by going door to door dressed as beggars. More than 10,000 people are believed to have fled on foot, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The Boko Haram menace is very much alive, if far from Lagos, the city of 21 million in which Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian government official, died of Ebola last month after flying in from his home country and making stops in Gambia and Togo. Nigerian officials have expressed extreme concern that the virus, once relegated to rural areas, could spread like wildfire in the metropolis. So far, only one other patient has been diagnosed with the virus: the doctor who treated Sawyer. Nonetheless, writers across the country appear concerned not only that Ebola could ravage the nation but that a deadly combination of Ebola in the south and terrorism in the north could pose an existential threat to Nigeria.
Nigeria is extraordinarily ill-equipped to handle an epidemic. The nation's doctors are currently on strike indefinitely, protesting insufficient wages – one reason Sawyer never made it to the hospital out of the airport, where he could have potentially spread the disease. Nonetheless, this leaves Nigeria exposed to a number of threats without its full body of medical professionals at hand.
The panic, write Nigeria's columnists, has already begun to set in. An editorial in the Nigerian daily newspaper This Day tells the story of one family evicted for their last name. A family friend of one of the authors, Mr. Sanya, was evicted by his landlord because his name sounded too familiar to "Sawyer," the last name of Nigeria's first Ebola victim. "The landlord argued furtively that he must be related to the dead victim, especially as the two of them have the same physical structure and features," the author narrates. "The landlord even said he would rather allow a Boko Haram member live in his house than allow an Ebola Virus carrier."
That This Day column (which carries no byline) also notes that rumors in Nigeria have been spreading that "it is politicians who sent Ebola Virus to the South to torment those spared from the Boko Haram kilings. Nobody can trust these Nigerian politicians." The "ignorance," as the author puts it, threatens to consume the nation.
Not all agree with the landlord that the Ebola problem poses a greater danger than Boko Haram. Peregrino Brimah, a columnist for the Osun Defender, writes that Boko Haram is the true curse. Ebola leaves corpses, he writes, but Boko Haram makes of its victims zombies who worship the culture of death that defines jihad: "We continue to be plagued by this virus, worse and more deadly than Ebola. For Ebola leaves at least 10% of its victims alive, however this E**** virus does not only kill its victims, but also turns them into death machines."
Columnist Tayo Ogunbiyi of the Daily Independent writes that the two problems have much in common – precisely why they are such a danger together. Both Boko Haram and the Ebola virus, he writes, "are agents of death:"
Boko Haram has spread its tentacles across African nations such as Nigeria, Cameroon, Sudan, Niger and Chad. In like manner, the deadly Ebola virus does not respect international borders. Also, like Boko Haram, Ebola virus has little or no respect for social classification as they both kill the rich and the poor, the learned and unlearned, the beautiful and the ugly, the innocent and the guilty. Equally, they both regale in inflicting pains and sorrow on their victims. Think about many orphans and widows that the duo have unleashed on the society. Perhaps more fearful is the fact that, to date, they both seem to defy solutions and as such could not be effectively appeased.
He concludes that unity against misinformation and calm in times of terror – both natural and manmade – is pivotal to surviving the onslaught.
While Nigeria remains at the margins of the outbreak – with two Ebola-stricken people (one dead, one alive) in the country, it has as many known infected individuals as the United States – the threat is very real, and the nation's weak infrastructure and terrorism woes only serve to worsen the potential for disaster. Unlike its African brethren, Nigeria has two demons to overcome – one nature's, one manmade, both equally devastating – and few answers to deliver.