Nigeria Makes Examples of Con Artists Arrested for Selling 'Ebola Cures'

Last week, Aderemi Ibirogba, Nigeria's commissioner for Information and Strategy, warned would-be scammers that selling false "Ebola cures" could land them in jail. The threat apparently did not work, as a separate Nigerian government agency repeated the threats and publicly paraded three scammers to prove the arrests were real.

According to Nigeria's The Guardian, Dr. Paul Orhii, head of Nigeria's National Agency for Food, Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC), vowed to "bring the full weight of the law to bear on anyone or group of people involved in the illegal production and sale of any NAFDAC regulated products in order to safeguard public health." Speaking publicly, he warned against the use of products claiming to cure Ebola--most tending to be cosmetics that have been adulterated to change their color, smell, or other identifiable characteristics.

Then Dr. Orhii brought out the criminals:

The paraded suspects included Mr. Emmanuel Ume of 9 Oshogbo Street, Itire, Surulere, Lagos, for adulterating a popular band of wine; Mr.Otutu Federick of Shop DO43, Akwa Ibom Plaza, Trade Fair Complex and Mr.Okoye Chikeluo of Shop COO4, Kaduna Plaza, Trade Fair Complex, Lagos for counterfeiting fast moving cosmetic products. 

Explaining each crime committed by the prisoners, Dr. Orhii reiterated that there is no known cure for Ebola, and anyone claiming to have one is considered to be lying and could be prosecuted by law.

The message, while heavier-handed than last time, is a repeat of last week's warning from the Nigerian government that con artistry in the wake of the Ebola outbreak ravaging West Africa would not be tolerated. Last week, Commissioner Ibirogba stated publicly that "only medical solutions are known to be appropriate for the disease" and that no private citizens claiming to have a cure should be trusted.

That initial response followed a widely distributed message from a pastor named Ituah Ighodalo, who enjoys a significantly large following in Lagos. While he did not have a specific product to sell, he told a now-debunked story of a Canadian pastor who allegedly cured Ebola through prayer. "At the name of Jesus, Ebola will bow out! Stop the fear! ... I am here, you are here! We can save our world! We have the life of God in us!”

Ighodalo is not the only Nigerian religious personality seemingly attempting to capitalize on the Ebola outbreak. Another pastor, TB Joshua, was filmed telling his congregation that he had predicted in January "that there would be a deadly disease," adding, "I was foreseeing what was coming." TB Joshua notes that he will donate some money to the three affected countries, but he adds a caveat for any further support: "if they invite [him] at the government level," not only will he donate more money, but he "will bring the anointed water." Joshua sells an "anointed water" he claims cures all ills.

Even former politicians are getting into the game. Maurice Iwu, former chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission of Nigeria, has been promoting the use of bitter kola or kola nut to cure Ebola. Nigeria's minister of health has since debunked this claim, as well, and Iwu has received the requisite scorn for the story.

Religious figures' widespread use of the Ebola epidemic to promote themselves has become so common it is the subject of parody. Okechukwu Ofili, a columnist for Nigeria's Herald, employs some dark humor to parody the pastors:

So while America is still playing around with rats, these Nigerian pastors are hard at work trying to find a permanent Human solution for Ebola ... and they are close!

Their proposed cure unofficially called Annointing [sic]-Oil-Z has significant advantages over the recent American Z-mapp serum used recently on 2 American health workers. For starters it does not need to be administered intravenously. … It can be administered with a simple push I mean touch of oil to the forehead.

....

Data is inconclusive at the moment on the full potential of the drug and whether it can be commercialized in the near future. However, the initial results are promising. And as more and more pastors from top Nigerian religious institutions come together to tackle this disease, the chances of a commercial solution rise even higher.

What is most interesting about this cure is that it is 100% crowd funded by thousands of worshipers every week. In addition to that, the Government gives significant tax breaks to these religious research facilities to encourage their research work.

Ofili goes on to joke, "Who needs fully functional medical facilities and top notch University building when your country has some of the largest and most expensive churches in the world?" 

That the Ebola ordeal--and the nefarious characters it has uncovered in its wake--have yet to break the nation's capacity for wry observation and humor is a testament to their strength of character.


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