Nigeria’s True Heroes And Villains, By Okey Ndibe
The dreaded Ebola virus and Boko Haram represent different faces of two most dire crises currently plaguing Nigeria. The former is a natural contagion, the latter a human-made disaster.
Patrick Sawyer, a now deceased Liberian American diplomat, has become a well-known—and widely despised name—in Nigeria. It was he who first ferried the Ebola virus into Nigeria when he traveled into Lagos by flight on July 20. Mr. Sawyer, a senior official of the Economic Community of West African States, apparently knew he was stricken with Ebola, but irresponsibly decided to travel to Nigeria to attend an ECOWAS event in Calabar, the capital of Cross River State. His sister had died of Ebola in Liberian.
Had the Liberian American diplomat not slumped at the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos and been rushed to First Consultants Medical Center in Obalende, he would have flown to Calabar, exposing many more people, Nigerians as well as foreigners, to a virus that eviscerates more than half of its infected victims.
That this nightmare scenario did not play out owed to the sheer vigilance, diligence and alertness of the doctors at First Consultants Medical Center. From all accounts, Mr. Sawyer was bent on making it to Calabar. He cajoled the doctors to discharge him. When they would not do so, he brought in ECOWAS officials in Lagos to badger, plead and threaten on his behalf. The doctors refused to yield.
In a statement, the hospital’s medical team stated: “We refused for him to be let out of the hospital in spite of intense pressure, as we were told that he was a senior ECOWAS official and had an important role to play at the ECOWAS convention in Calabar, Cross River State.”
Thank God for the doctors’ stubbornness. For, five days after arriving in Lagos, Mr. Sawyer was dead, the first confirmed case of an Ebola fatality in Nigeria.
Four others have since died of the virus as well, victims of Mr. Sawyer’s callous call. The dead include Dr. Ameyo Stella Adadevoh, who led the medical team that treated Mr. Sawyer, and two nurses at First Consultants Medical Center.
Nigeria’s evolving Ebola drama is replete with moments of heroism as well as villainy. Dr. Adadevoh and her nurses have been deservedly celebrated for their noble role. The late doctor’s courage probably saved the lives of hundreds of people. She could have withered in the face of Mr. Sawyer’s persistence to be discharged from the hospital. Once the Liberian American patient began to marshal ECOWAS and other top shots to advocate his release, the medical team at First Consultants could have let him have his way. They could have let it be somebody else’s problem. Instead, they stood for professional rigor, for medical soundness, for a decision that best served public health.
Their actions were admirable, and spoke to their true heroic acumen.
Each year, the Federal Government selects a roster of people to receive a variety of national honors. It’s often a predictable and uninspiring list, a collection of public office holders and their minions in the private sector. In a half-decent society, many a recipient of the so-called national honors would be in jail, rather than strutting the stage. A long history of bestowing titles on the clearly undeserving and certifiably undistinguished has cheapened Nigeria’s so-called national honor, making it (and many of its recipients) a laughing stock. Often, it appears as if the roster seeks to elevate and celebrate crooks and ruffians.
The story of Dr. Adadevoh and her medical team is a reminder of the many unsung heroes who, day in and day out, do the right thing to keep Nigeria going. Such heroic people hardly ever make a spectacle of themselves. They hardly bedeck themselves, peacock-style, as many Nigerian money-miss-roaders do. They simply work quietly, diligently, to make some corner of the Nigerian space a little better than they found it.
In some sense, there are two competing visions and versions of Nigeria. In one, officialdom holds up obscenely rich past and present occupants of public offices and their partners in the private sector as the country’s “critical stakeholders.” In the other, the Adadevohs of Nigeria enjoy celebration and quiet admiration for their critical role in preserving a healthy sense of ethos. The numerous tributes to Dr. Adadevoh’s memory, on the Internet as well as in print media, testify to her ethical and professional grandeur.
I’d suggest that Nigeria’s officialdom is too wedded to aggrandizement to realize that there’s often little or no weight to those it honors, little or no moment to the values it promotes. Its version of accomplishment, I believe, mistakes flash and glitter for substance and significance. It sorely needs to develop an imaginative faculty.
The imagination I refer to is to enable officialdom to recognize the presence, in every sector of Nigerian life, of extraordinary people whose dedication to duty and sacrifices fuel the sputtering engine of Nigerian progress and development.
Quite simply, there are many other Adadevohs in Nigeria. They may be in short supply, relative both to Nigeria’s needs as well as the sheer size of villains hard at work out there, but they exist. To give one example: such heroes are to be found among the sometimes ill-equipped soldiers who bravely march off each day to do battle with Islamist insurgents ravaging several states in northeastern Nigeria.
It is no secret that these soldiers have great odds starched against them. They are sometimes deployed without adequate weaponry. Some have complained of late payment of their allowances. In fact, some of them have mutinied to draw attention to their plight. In the history of modern warfare, I don’t believe it had ever happened before that some wives of soldiers locked their husbands at home to forestall their deployment.
Yet, this much is clear: but for many soldiers’ steely determination and moving sacrifice, Nigeria would long have collapsed in a heap, becoming a colossal shambles, a space overrun by blood-hungry zealots.
Nigerians owe a huge debt to these soldiers and to the memories of its many Adadevohs felled by disease or bullets. The first installment on that debt lies in realizing who our real heroes are—and who are merely usurpers and pretenders. If Nigerian officialdom insists on venerating knaves, ethically famished figures, and other questionable characters, then enlightened Nigerians ought to insist, with even greater fervor, on celebrating the excellent and immortalize the true greats.
For a symbolic start, some Nigerian medical school should seek funds from individuals, corporations and governments to support research on Ebola and other deadly viruses. And name the research center for Dr. Adadevoh.