Boko Haram, Ebola virus and Nigeria

Since March 2014 the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) has spread all over central Africa, causing problems to the population, the central governments and the rest of the world, which fears a possible outbreak outside the continent. In this region Nigeria is between two fires, trying to manage the questions related to the terrorist group Boko Haram from one side, and fighting against the spread of EVD on the other. Since Nigeria is trying to become a local superpower in the region at the expenses of South Africa, will it succeed in managing this situation?

The first patient affected by EVD this year was on March 25th, the first of a long line which worries the World Health Organization and, since then, it has been registered more than 3700 people affected by this hemorrhagic fever spread in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. It is a real outspread since people think that, as there is no vaccine, the ill relative should be kept at home and not taken to the hospital. This causes a real contagion and deaths between tribes. With such an high mortality (90% of infected die after 14 days) and contagion rate, it is difficult to isolate the fever and contain it into national borders. For this reason there is a high risk for all the countries in the continent, really comfortable for the spread of illnesses (there are also unconfirmed patients affected by EVD in the Democratic Republic of Congo) . Even if humanitarian agencies are constantly operating in the region, they do not have the necessary equipment to manage this situation. Doctors, surgeons and volunteers from Medecines sans Frontiers and other NGOs in Nigeria and Western Africa are asking the world tools for basic assistance such as scalpels, oxygen and medicines, but there is a lack of information in the news about EVD outspread that has led to a terrible underestimation of the problem.

Since EVD has a high death rate, it could be a Weapon of Mass Destruction but, as the death for the people infected comes in a very short time and it is difficult to infect others, it cannot be used as a biologic weapon.

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Even if the real infected patients in Nigeria are twenty-one (of which 7 confirmed deaths, WHO source at September 2014), Nigeria is facing another problem, which is the political stability of a yet corrupted country where Boko Haram continues to make terrorist attacks and influences the extremist wing of the population. This group has been ignominiously famous in the last months for the kidnap of two hundred students, most of them killed or converted to jihad, in the north of Nigeria. The way in which it operates is very similar to extremists in Middle East since it was trained in the Islamic Maghreb by al-Qaeda organization, with the same dogmas or beliefs (Boko Haram in hausu language means “Western education is forbidden”). As in Pakistan, where for the 2013-14 western polio vaccinators were assassinated when distributing medicines to people, also the Nigerian group assumes that western doctors and medicines are not useful. Combined to the EVD spread in western Africa, this is a serious problem which could severe the crisis.

This year Nigeria will held national elections and Jonathan’s government will be put to test for its actions, in particular to those two questions which has an important position for the International Community. There are also national opponents, who accuse a wrong management in border (closed too late) and a late response in sanitary terms to the EVD. On the other side, the response to Boko Haram group has not been clear in those last years. At the beginning Jonathan thought about paying terrorists to stop their violence, but this offer only caused more deadly and ruthless attacks. He misunderstood the inner motivations of the group, which are not economic but religious and historical linked and now he is not able to contrast the terrorists. This hate to western countries has been caused by the misthought that Nigeria’s situation and the woes of the Niger Delta region, the poorest in the country, is due to British influence during the colonization century. By contrast, this situation can only be fixed by fighting and escaping from the western heritage, in a jihad against western icons. Those will aim at creating a caliphate in the region where the Islamic law rules.

On the contrary South Africa is moving ahead with vaccine campaigning to pregnant ladies and babies to prevent from EVD and, even though there are no patients affected by the virus in the country, the National Health Laboratory Service is surveilling South African population.

With EVD and Boko Haram respectively at the North and South of Nigeria, Lagos government is facing a double problem: how to fight with medicines against the spread of a high contagious fever in a country where a terrorist group also fights against medicines. In this vicious circle Jonathan’s government should give a fast answer also to the International Community and WHO, which try to control and contain the outspread of EVD. As the International Crisis Group notes in an April report, the Jonathan administration should recognize “that unless issues of bad governance and systemic corruption are addressed vigorously and transparently, all other measures will be nothing but stop-gaps.”

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