The Present and the Past Flu, By Eric Teniola
Gradually it is becoming clear that mankind has invented weapons of destruction. The same science that made our lives longer and better is the same science that will delete our lives eventually. Man is gradually becoming a victim of his own inventions.
The coronavirus is a negative scientific invention. Until proved otherwise, the virus called SARS-COV-2 was made by scientists and it escaped from a laboratory. It is a laboratory construct and a manipulated virus. It is not the product of natural evolution. The sudden and forceful spread of the virus, especially from China to Europe and then to America makes my assertion to be near correct. You can label my conclusion as a conspiracy theory but the fact that the virus did not originate in Africa with its poor environment and poor sanitation but was imported into the continent tends to vindicate my position. The question we should ask is: When and where was this virus created? I want to suggest that the country that is profiting more from the crisis of this pandemic virus must know about its creation. We all know that China, Israel, Great Britain, Russia, France, United States of America, Canada and some key countries are involved in espionage wars — they call it the space craft revolution, while that of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States of America is called the Five Eyes (FVEY). However, the currently raging espionage war between the United States of America and China has been the most deadly. The objective is to gain superior power and control, one over the other, in commerce, science and technology, but especially in commerce. The full details about the major cause of the coronavirus may not be known until after the U.S. presidential election in November. I pray and hope that things will not get out of hand before then. The present global picture is grim.
The free air has been contaminated. Faulty radiation is circulating everywhere. There is sadness and tears in many homes globally. The worry is that no one knows how and when this will end. The religious leaders in their comfort, may give their own interpretations over the virus. They are free to do so. The virus has highlighted the different roles played by science and religion in the affairs of man. No doubt, science has improved the world. Through science we can live much longer and better. We can even live more comfortably. We can fly from London to Lagos in six hours. We can watch live events on television and see what is happening in all parts of the world in real time. We can perform surgeries without any pain. We can perform wonders, which we never dreamt of before. Man invented penicillin, electricity, the wheel, nail, compass, internal combustion engines, computers, telephones, the printing press, contraceptives, transistors, the internet, electronics, optical lenses, gun powder, cars, airplanes, rockets, nuclear fission, plastics, and others. But alas! Science cannot now rescue us, for even the scientists are lost in this terrible midnight of our age. Indeed, science gave us the very instruments that threatens to bring universal suicide. As, such modern man faces a dreary and frightening midnight in the social order. “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”, as stated by Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727).
In the past we used to think that with science, man can be as big as he wants to be. William Shakespeare wrote in his play, Hamlet that, “What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculties! In form, in moving, how express and admirable in action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a gold! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals!”
Through Usain Bolt of Jamaica, man can run a hundred metres in 9.58 seconds. In the literary world, if Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) could paint so beautifully and Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827) could compose so excellently and William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Professor Akinwande Oluwole Babatunde Soyinka (85) and Albert Chinualumogo Achebe (1930-2013) and others could such write beautiful poems, there is hardly any height that man can not achieve.
Man can think a poem and write it; he can think a symphony and compose it; he can think of a great civilisation and create it. Because of this capacity, he is not bound completely by space and time. He may be a John Bunyan, held within the spatial boundaries of Bedford Jail, but whose mind transcended the bars and produced The Pilgrim’s Progress. He may be a Handel, moving into the evening of life, his physical vision almost gone, but raising his mental vision to the highest heavens and transcribing the glad thunders and gentle sighings of the great “Messiah.” By his ability to reason, his power of memory, and his gift of imagination, man transcends time and space. As marvelous as are the stars in the mind of man that studies them. However, man is not the only creature of God, but out of greed, he has almost wiped out the other species of creation.
The coronavirus has raised the difference between religion and science. The civil rights leader in America, Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. (1929-1968) tried hard in explaining the role of science and religion. In his essay titled, “A Tough Mind and A Tender Heart”, written in 1958, he declared, “There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists, but not between science and religion. Their respective worlds are different and their methods are dissimilar. Science investigates, religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power, religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary. Science keeps religion from sinking into the valley of crippling irrationalism and paralysing obscurantism. Religion prevents science from falling into the marsh of obsolete materialism and moral nihilism.”
“Those who posit the materialistic conception of man are often driven to the dark chambers of pessimism. They often find themselves agreeing with a recent writer that “man is an osmic accident, a disease on this planet not soon to be cured,” or with Jonathan Swift, who wrote that, “Man is the most pernicious little race of ominous vermin that nature ever suffered to walk across the face of the earth”.
With the arrival of coronavirus and its ‘radioactive’ fallout, it is clear that we are now living on borrowed time. And that mankind has invented the science that will wipe us all out. It is equally clear that all our achievements and successes are nothing but vanity. A few hours before he was assassinated on April 3, 1968 in Melphis, Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr. declared that, “We have got some difficult days ahead, something is happening in our world. Trouble is in the land, confusion all around us. I don’t know what will happen.” I hope we are not facing the same dilemma now.
In our part of the world, this is the second time we are witnessing a flu of such magnitude as a nation. In 1960, I was in the final year at Otapete Methodist Primary School in Ilesa, along with Bolanle Jegede, Siyan Malomo, Bola Olojo, Olu Malomo, Deboye Olatunbosun, Niyi Komolafe, Kola Dudubo, Dele Fayehun, Funlayo Gureje, Keji Ojo, Apeke David, Debisi Fatunwase, Mosun Awofeso, Ramoni Okulaja, Alao Tiamiyu, Aina Kupoluyi, Opebiyi girls and others, when our teacher and my guardian, Mr. Fatunwase lectured us on the flu at that time. The flu was as a result of the radioactive fallout of an atomic bomb tested by France. At that time we suddenly noticed that our eyes were red and we were constantly coughing. This was more pronounced in the northern region at that time. I do not know the exact number of people who died during the flu but there were leaflets circulated by government at that time about the dangers of the flu. Then there was no data to know the number of victims. This was sixty-years ago. As a matter of fact, when I settled in the Brigade area in Kano in 1969 – some nine years after the event – people were still talking about the 1960 flu.
France is one of the five “Nuclear Weapons States” under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, but it is not known to possess or to have developed any chemical or biological weapon. France was the fourth country to test an independently developed nuclear weapon in 1960, under the government of Charles de Gaulle.
On February 13, 1960, France conducted its first nuclear test, code-named “Gerboise Bleue” (Blue Desert Rat). The day marked the beginning of a series of four atmospheric nuclear tests at the Reganne Oasis, in the Sahara Desert of Algeria. With an explosive yield of 70 kilotons, Gerboise Bleue was relatively large for a country’s first nuclear test, and about four times as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb.
Military scientists triggered off the “device” at 7 a.m. (1 a.m. EST) atop a 330-foot tower, just south of the oasis of Reggane in the heart of the desolate area known as “the region of total thirst.”
President Charles de Gaulle himself announced the successful explosion in a communique issued from his Elysee Palace in Paris 30 minutes later. He hailed the historic event as a significant contribution to the defence potential of not only France but the Western world as well.
That angered many who pointed to what they saw as an ongoing disaster in Algeria. “This area is still one of the most affected,” said Roland Desbordes, president of the Commission for Independent Research and Information about Radiation, who had visited the blast sites with Algerian journalists and nuclear experts multiple times. “It’s frequented by desert nomads. There’s a well that they use near Tan Afella Mountain,” a peak that rises directly above the underground testing site.
When France finally left, it buried a range of contaminated objects throughout the two areas — metals from remote-controlled towers that activated the bombs, engine parts from planes that flew into Gerboise Bleue’s mushroom cloud to gather radiation data and military-grade trucks placed in the blast radius to act as barometers of its power. But Saharan winds later swept away the sand covering these nuclear tombs.
Southern Algerians — the vast majority of who were never informed by the French about residual radiation hazards and in some cases the testing dates — began stripping the items for resources.
“The fact that people were not aware of the dangers of this material for years is criminal,” said Larbi Benchiha, a French-Algerian journalist who was born in Algeria a year before Gerboise Bleue and has made two documentaries on Reggane and the surrounding areas. Benchiha did not learn about the nuclear tests until 1996 — 16 years after he moved to France. “From the abandoned nuclear testing bases, people have recovered plates, beams, electrical cables and equipment of all kinds, all of which is radioactive,” he continued. “They have incorporated them into the construction of their homes.”
Residents of Reggane told Benchiha about the strange uptick of medical issues that first appeared during the 1970s and continue till this day: Babies born with atrophied limbs; cancers of the liver, stomach and skin; cases of temporary blindness among those who saw the brutal flash of light as it ripped through the Maghreb about 6:30 a.m. Some of Reggane’s faithful were in the middle of their Islamic morning prayers when it happened 55 years ago.
Ahmed el-Hadj Hamadi was huddled into a building with the rest of his community by French soldiers early in the morning. They were instructed to lie down, close their eyes and cover their ears. He then remembers a sound like “the world coming to an end” and the windows turning white. A cord above their prone bodies swung erratically until the light bulb it held shattered.
“I thought it was the apocalypse. We all did,” he said. “We all thought we might die.” Later, the French military began tasking out labour to residents in the isolated desert region of Algeria. “They had built a kind of village at the explosion area, and even put animals in it,” Hamadi added. “After the blast we were sent out to gather all the rubbish. The ground was all burned, white, liquid.”
To nomadic communities around the town of Reggane, the area is known more than half a century later as “leopard skins” — stretches of sand across Algeria’s southern Sahara that are peppered with small black clumps. People used to collect scrap metal from the charred warplanes and trucks that emerged, fossil-like, and then smelt them into jewelry and kitchen utensils.
But these Algerians were not properly warned of their danger after France’s misgoverned nuclear bomb-testing campaign of the early 1960s, which vitrified vast tracts of desert with heat and plutonium and left a legacy of uncontained radiation that is still crippling inhabitants. Estimates of the number of Algerians affected by testing range from 27,000 — cited by the French Ministry of Defence — to 60,000, the figure given by Abdul Kadhim al-Aboudi, an Algerian professor of nuclear physics.
For many who lived in Reggane the week before February 13, 1960, the only record of the radiation was captured by a necklace. When French troops visited populations the day before Gerboise Bleue, they issued dosimeters on chains to be worn around the neck. A few days later, the troops returned. They collected the necklaces, wrote down who wore them and left, keeping the data for their analyses but never returning to let residents know of the invisible danger that would soon afflict them.
Hamadi, who has lived within 50 miles of France’s aboveground blast sites since before the tests, told Al Jazeera he was completely unaware of any French compensation plan.
“The French are our brothers… But we just want the protection we need,” he said. “We need proper communication, medical evaluations, protections and payment for the damages. No one has helped us.”
Upon completion of the Gerboise test series, France switched to underground testing at another site in the Algerian Sahara, named In Ecker, where it conducted a further 13 nuclear tests until 1967. Subsequent French nuclear testing was conducted at French Polynesian atolls in the South Pacific, the site of atmospheric thermonuclear tests, starting with the 2.6 megaton Canopus test in August 1968.
The French government had always maintained that its nuclear operations were carried out as safely as possible. Yet a confidential military report, first obtained by the French newspaper Le Parisien in 2010, indicated that soldiers had been used as “guinea pigs” to study the effects of radiation on human health. According to the report, a 1961 nuclear test involved military personnel advancing on foot and in trucks to within a few hundred metres of the epicentre of a nuclear blast less than an hour after detonation. A 2008 survey conducted by the French nuclear test veterans’ association, Aven, showed that 35 per cent of the polled veterans had one or more types of cancer and one in five had become infertile. According to Algerian scientist, Kathum El-Abodi, nuclear testing in Algeria also resulted in environmental degradation, such as the movement of sand dunes in areas already affected by wind erosion. Radiation furthermore led to a decline in livestock and biodiversity, including the disappearance of a number of migratory and endemic reptiles and birds, says El-Abodi. France conducted the last of its 210 nuclear tests on January 27, 1996 in French Polynesia. Especially the final French testing series – carried out during the negotiations of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) in Geneva – provoked international protests, including boycotts of French products. Later that year, France was one of the first countries to sign the CTBT, subsequently ratifying it on April 6, 1998. France also closed and dismantled all its test sites – the only Nuclear Weapon State that has done so till date. In 2009, the French Senate passed a bill acknowledging the impact of its nuclear testing programme and providing a first compensation scheme for civilian and military veterans.
After the independence of Algeria on July 5, 1962, following the March 19, 1962 Evian agreements, the French military moved the test site to another location in the Algerian Sahara, around 150 kilometres north of Tamnarasset, near the village of In Eker. Underground nuclear explosion testing was performed in drifts in the Taourirt Tan Afella mountain, one of the granite Hoggar Mountains. The Evian agreements included a secret article which stated that “Algeria concede[s]… to France the use of certain air bases, terrains, sites and military installations which are necessary to it [France]” during five years. The C.S.E.M. was therefore replaced by the Centre d’Expérimentations Militaires des Oasis (“Military Experiments Center of the Oasis”) underground nuclear testing facility. A total of 13 underground nuclear tests were carried out at the In Eker site from November 7, 1961 to February 16, 1966. By July 1, 1967, all French facilities were evacuated. An accident happened on May 1, 1962, during the “Béryl” test, four times more powerful than Hiroshima and designed as an underground shaft test. Due to improper sealing of the shaft, radioactive rock and dust were released into the atmosphere. Nine soldiers of the 621st Groupe d’Armes Spéciales unit were heavily contaminated by radiation. The soldiers were exposed to as much as 600 mSv. The Minister of Armed Forces, Pierre Messmer, and the Minister of Research, Gaston Palewski, were present. As many as 100 additional personnel, including officials, soldiers and Algerian workers were exposed to lower levels of radiation, estimated at about 50 mSv, when the radioactive cloud produced by the blast passed over the command post, due to an unexpected change in wind direction. They escaped as they could, often without wearing any protection. Palewski died in 1984 of leukemia, which he always attributed to the Béryl incident. In 2006, Bruno Barillot, specialist of nuclear tests, measured 93 microsieverts by hour of gamma ray at the site, equivalent to 1 per cent of the official admissible yearly dose. The incident was documented in the 2006 docudrama “Vive La Bombe!
The test provoked swift condemnation from Japan, which has also protested in the past against tests carried out by the United States, Britain and the USSR. All three nations agreed two years ago to cease test explosions but France would not be bound by such an agreement… Today, Moscow joined Japan in condemning the test saying it was a serious blow to any hope of disarmament and against the wishes of the United Nations. Moscow Radio described the act as “a monstrous challenge to world public opinion”…. Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Ghana have also expressed outrage at France’s action and its timing – on the eve of the African summit in Casablanca. In Cairo, the deputy secretary general of the Arab League, El Dardiri Ismail, called for all Arab nations to break off political and economic links with France….Today’s bomb contained plutonium and had an explosive force equal to 10,000 to 14,000 tons of TNT – half as powerful as the Hiroshima bomb. It was exploded at the top of a steel tower. Military equipment, dummies and caged rats and mice were positioned in the area of the blast were monitored during and after the explosion.
It was this action by France that forced the government of Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to break diplomatic relations with France in 1961. As a retaliation, France recognised Biafra during the civil war. If the fallout from France testing their atomic bomb in Algeria in 1960 could lead to the death of many people, let us imagine, what Great Britain, France, China, North Korea, Israel, India, Pakistan, Japan and other world powers that have atomic bombs have developed since 1960. Gradually it is becoming clear that mankind has invented weapons of destruction. The same science that made our lives longer and better is the same science that will delete our lives eventually. Man is gradually becoming a victim of his own inventions.
Eric Teniola, a former director in the Presidency, writes from Lagos.