It is said that it was once said to represent folly, eyes that cry tears only after a beheading has left a head severed from what was once a composite whole. Some eight months after the index case of this new Ebola outbreak occurred in Guinea, Nigerian authorities began to run helter-skelter. They began to run helter-skelter after, only after, mind you, Patrick Sawyer inexplicably Ebola-bombed Nigeria. Held with the military authorities’ inexplicably proud pledge to buy weaponry for soldiers well after the scourge of Boko Haram is under way, you realize grimly that we live in Absurdia.
This other thing is said too, I have heard: better to leave things late than leave them altogether. And so curiously the tears seem to be working; the tears, coupled with that peculiar Nigerian luck and toughness. Somehow the head has hopped back onto the body from which a beheading had separated it, and even more curious, it is suturing itself back into place. This too, has begun to pass.
This may be the umpteenth time it has been mentioned here, but I did study Microbiology at Ife. It has been insinuated that those years may have been wasted, in the narrower scheme of things. I do not often take the narrow view, neither do I sniff at knowledge, any knowledge, as a sponge does not sniff at liquid. Disease-causing microorganisms are called pathogens. Pathogens. Any self-respecting Microbiology student would know that by Year Two, after numerous dalliances with past exam questions that may appear verbatim in the exam he is about to write. By Year Three, one learns the successful pathogen credo, that is, the credo of the successful pathogen: “Do not kill your host, that your days may be long and fulfilled.” To do so would be self-defeating. A pathogen derives its sustenance from the cells of its host. When the host dies, chances are that the overly vigorous pathogen, like the Aremo Oba in Old Oyo, will be buried with him. This knowledge you may be forgiven if you forget. It’s tough to retain knowledge past the exam hall here.
The most successful disease-causers have mastered this credo. You will come down with common cold many times over your lifetime. Except the cold masks a deeper, insidious malaise, you will not die from this sometimes many-times-yearly affliction of the sniffles. Though a consortium of viruses causes the common cold, there is a moderation to their attack, out of sheer self-preservation. And so the cold is the commonest disease in the world, owing in part to its creative modes of transmission.
In terms of virulence, the HIV is several rungs above the purveyors of the common cold. But HIV doesn’t kill outright. In fact, it may not even kill at all. So the virus may yet be with us for a while to come.
The Ebola virus or at least the strain responsible for this present outbreak is the ultimate show master. The symptoms of EVD are as spectacular as a Hitchcock horror. If the data from this WHO fact sheet is to be believed, 60 to 65% of overall confirmed cases have died (Wikipedia). Of the twelve confirmed cases in Nigeria so far, five have died and five have been released, which, if we hold separate the two who have neither died nor survived, brings the Nigerian fatality rate to 50%, which is some 15% lower than the overall average. Which looks cheering news until that 50% is transformed from mere statistic into something tangible, into the sorrow and anguish of families who have lost loved ones.
In essence, for more than half its afflictees, the final scene in a movie directed by EVD is darkness and void. And then the credits roll.
But for all its pomp, the Ebola virus is no successful pathogen, not really. It is safe to say common cold consortium of viruses has afflicted about say 8 billion people several times, over several different life spans. The common cold consortium of viruses is the Coca Cola of viral pathogens. The Ebola virus is at Viju Milk level of global penetration. Not successful in the grand scheme of things, although the philosophical question of its ambition arises. This “failure” owes principally to its handicapped transmission techniques and to that credo: “Honour thy host, that your days may be long and fulfilled.”
But here’s the amble to all the preamble.
Nigerian politicians have largely been pathogens to Nigeria. Therefore, there’s something to be learnt in the survival antics of pathogens: “Do not kill Nigeria, that your days may be long and fulfilled.” This lesson has been learnt in palpable terms, but given the current disposition of Nigerian politicians, the memories seem too distant for the lesson to be paid any heed.
But let me sound the horn again: “Go to Ebola, thou Nigerian politician; consider its ways and be wise.” Do not kill Nigeria. Do not kill your one pliable source of sustenance. Cause her sniffles. Give her a splitting headache. Let her nose run like a tributary, a vassal hurrying to pay its levy to the river. Make her head seem twice its weight on her neck. Make her wish she would do without a nose, but only just. Don’t take your parasitism and your pathogenicity to the extreme. Don’t plunge Nigeria into that final interminable darkness. There might be no return from the bloodied eyes and noses and many such organs. You may seem to have amassed enough resources to outlive the demise of your host, but your 61 days will be over some day. Just ask Ebola.