Meet Ebele Obiano, a 58-year-old Nigerian woman. If you have ever wondered why nothing works in Nigeria, she is proof.
Ebele is the wife of the governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano. By her own account she was recently in the United States, where her daughter became a medical doctor a few years ago. As everyone knows, the US has developed some vaccines that its states are now distributing in carefully-defined phases.
The vaccine is free, but production has only just begun and distribution to the population of over 300 million is a challenge. Each state is trying to make the most of what is available. Here is the distribution plan of the state of Texas.
The early eligibles have included medical workers of defined categories, residents and staff of nursing homes and similar facilities, high-risk public health workers who have direct contact with patients, specified doctors and nurses, and some very sick patients. As of the time of this story, the vaccine has not been made available to persons 60 or younger, let alone to medical tourists.
Somehow, as the pandemic ravaged Texas last week, Ebele smuggled herself overseas and into the distribution plan.
Worse still, she wanted to show off, to which end she took along a public relations expert who filmed her taking what she called the “Madonna” vaccine so she could brag to the people of Anambra.
“I just had my COVID-19 vaccine now,” she announces on the video in her arrogant, self-entitled way. And then she preaches, almost as if she were in her living room in Awka rather than in Houston: “This is necessary; when there is a war you will not because of the bullet catching you and stop (sic) and refuse not to go to war. You have to go. You have to fight. You have to survive. This is a war, we have to take the vaccine because we want to survive. God bless the whole world.”
She describes how difficult it was for her to steal her vaccine spot from an elegible American, affirming that her husband, Governor “Willie Was Working” Obiano, was due in the US to snatch another spot belonging to a sick child or an 88-year-old American. Her daughter, whose name she broadcasts as Dr Ogechi Obiano, is coordinating the misappropriation effort.
So arrogant is Ebele that she completely misunderstands the questions of her media expert who asks when the people of Anambra will receive the vaccine. She announces she will receive her second shot on February 13 declaring, “Nothing like vaccines in Nigeria, talk less of Anambra State…”
This illustrates why governance does not work in Nigeria: Powerful and politically exposed persons ruthlessly appropriating public resources.
When we achieve power, we send our children abroad, and let local education rot. Our wives to shop and party abroad and ignore the local economy. We may be married to multiple women yet spend inordinate amounts of money to import beautiful foreign women to entertain us in the best hotels.
And when we cannot get something to come to us when we want it, we are powerful enough to go out and steal it. Whoever else dies does not matter.
Ebele is evidence of how the Nigerian First Lady of any category is the most poisonous plant in the garden of governance. “We are here for me to take the vaccine,” she announces as if she were speaking in Awkuzu or Umudioka.
And she did take that medicine from its rightful owner in time and place who might now die without it. She invokes the name of God, but nowhere in the Bible does Jesus Christ advocate robbery or injustice. In no religion—except in the worship of pride and hypocrisy—is denying the helpless, a virtue.
There must be a deeper lesson in crossing oceans to literally inject into your own bloodstream the life-saving medication of the most vulnerable.
This is why Nigeria is in shambles.
Speaking of a nation which does not work, Nigeria last week approved N10 billion to “support COVID-19 vaccine production in the country,” Minister of Health Osagie Ehanire said on Monday.
“While we are working to develop our own vaccines, Nigeria is exploring options for licensed production, in collaboration with recognised institutions. We are also exploring the option of local production of the vaccines in the country.”
The term “release” is a significant one. It tells you that the money is real, and available, not simply proposed or budgeted.
But what does this mean?
Last March, a team of Nigerian researchers of various institutions successfully performed the genome sequencing of the coronavirus strain that the index case brought to Nigeria.
In June, some Nigerian university experts, under the Covid-19 Research Group, announced the discovery of a vaccine candidate to combat the novel coronavirus.
At a news conference, group leader Oladipo Kolawole, a specialist in Medical Virology, Immunology and Bioinformatics at Adeleke University, in Osun State, described how the vaccine was being developed.
Three months later, another vaccine candidate was announced at the African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) in Nigeria, a WHO and Africa CDC Reference Laboratory for genomic research.
Team leader Professor Christian Happi, a molecular biologist and genomicist, said that working with partners at Cambridge University, the ACEGID Covid-19 vaccine had undergone the required preclinical trial on mice before human testing. “We were able to identify a neutralising antibody that could knock down up to 90% of the viruses,” he declared.
These efforts were all uniformly hampered by scarcity of funds while rich and powerful Nigerians either chuckled over the rampaging pandemic on television or repaired to Dubai to hide. In November, I lamented how Nigeria, lacking ambition and imagination, was waiting for other nations to develop the vaccines, instead of leading the chase.
And now, well after the fact, Nigeria is suddenly “releasing” funds to “support COVID-19 vaccine production.” What is that?
President Muhammadu Buhari also approved the release of N6.45 billion ($16.94 million) to set up oxygen production plants in 38 sites to help treat COVID-19 patients as local cases soared, and another N255 million ($670,000) for the repair of oxygen plants in five hospitals.
Why or how were those oxygen plants left to decay in the first place? Will any of those 43 plants really be built or repaired?
Still on our fecklessness, I have written several times about the Nigeria rail sector. Last week, the African Union called the costing of projects in Nigeria —a national headed by its anti-corruption champion— fraudulent.
Using similar projects under the AU’s Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), it pointed out that Nigeria’s newly-contracted 283.75 Kano-Maradi standard-gauge rail line will cost approximately $6.91 million (N2.6 billion) per km, exceeding comparative estimates by over 100 per cent.
100 per cent: which means that the $1.959 billion project should cost less than $1bn.
That also tells the world what we have always suspected: that were high-profile Nigeria infrastructure projects competitively and honestly prosecuted, we would be completing—not merely contracting—them.
We would also not be borrowing from every Chinese child, or raiding the Central Bank.
[This article was first published in the 24 January 2021 edition of Punch Newspaper of Nigeria by Sonala Olumhense under the title “Mixed metaphors: Anambra’s Ebele Obiano” in which it welcomed rebuttals from interested government officials.]