#Ebola: A false sense of urgency.

Any individual who is conscious of current affairs must have heard about the current epidemic ravaging the Western Region of Africa, #Ebola.


I will skip the background of the unprecedented spread of the virus to the crux of this ‘short’ post. The Nigerian Government declared a National emergency on the outbreak of the virus. Pardon me, as I run a few ‘searches’ on this headline, it dawns on me – slowly – that the declaration did not explicitly mention steps to be taken at the various borders of Africa’s largest economy. So, pardon me indeed; it was just a declaration of an emergency.


Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value – Jim Rohn


However, I departed the country through one of her largest migration points; the Murtala Mohammed International Airport on Saturday, August 9, 2014 but it seemed like business as usual. All officials: Aviation Security, Immigration, Customs, Airline Staff conducted their business as though the declaration did not happen. I had personally watched and closely followed all the press conferences by the Lagos State and Federal Governments on the issue including this emergency declaration about 24 hours before.

Please do not misunderstand me, I did not expect an isolation centre already set up at the airport; perhaps one would not be impossible, however, I expected a briefing session. I expected to be questioned, briefed and instructed to report anyone who looked sick or developed ‘Ebola-like’ symptoms during the almost 8-hour flight. And our arrival as passengers from a virus-hit region, I did expect a lot. We had prepared to be pulled aside, interrogated and possibly subjected to blood tests at the airport. None of these happened.

It took a few days to get over the shock. What if we were fleeing with the virus to another country? What if an infected person was on the flight and we were all at risk (at least those of us in Coach) of contracting the virus?

#Not a laughing matter

A few minutes after arrival whilst on the queue into an aviation hub and undoubtedly the world’s busiest airports (Hint: almost always constant renovation and expansion); a passenger coughed and sneezed loudly. Immediately, the Nigerian woman who stood in front of him took a few steps forward. Her frantic efforts to hold her breath whilst gently nudging her children forward and exchanging knowing glances with her husband was nothing but comedic. I couldn’t hold back. I laughed out loud, laughed so much that she heard me. We exchanged knowing glances that said, ‘God forbid! I run away from something only to ‘catch it’ here in a foreign land!’

#What I would do….

Quickly, here is my theory: When Late Mr. Sawyer was confirmed the Index case; the governments of Lagos State and Nigeria should have done the following:

  1. Declared Obalende an epicentre
  2. Introduce curfews and movement restrictions
  3. Moved much faster with quarantine
  4. Marked ‘Points of Guard’ immediately
  5. Disseminated Official information much faster

When I shared this with a friend, he laughed at the capacity of our leadership to achieve this. However, I disagreed on the grounds that the swift response exhibited by the Lagos State Government – first in admitting and informing the public – proved to me that they were capable of implementing points 1-5 except 4 in partiality as the administration of airports are on the exclusive list of the Federal Government.


Nigerians, in my opinion understand actions better than words. So, whilst a hygiene campaign in Obalende and Oshodi would have been outright waste of resources; a ‘clean up’ – which also resulted in destruction of property and livelihoods inadvertently – of these popular slum bus routes sent the message and the offenders were compelled to align or move away. Anyone who has been to Lagos Island would understand my point of view, that is not a suburb where you embark on campaigns or organise press conferences. That is one where you unfortunately have to cripple regular economic activities (hustle and bustle) to send a clear message across – EBOLA IS HERE. BEWARE!

In one of my favourite titles of all time, A Sense Of Urgency by John P. Kotter, it teaches on how to effect change using an efficient and effective method. In the analogy used in the book, the subjects were faced with a real, life-threatening challenge of a melting iceberg.

A Sense Of Urgency

#Business School Case Study?

Irrespective of the current circumstances and those which characterised the index case such as his refusal to stay in the hospital, urinating on the medical personnel et al; the most important factor in containing #Ebola at the moment which would have set the tone from the onset is Leadership. I beamed with pride (and vindication that I am not in denial after all) when I watched Dr. Chike Ihekweazu of Nigeria Health Watch on BBC’s Focus on Africa TV Show as he asserted that leadership is all that matters.

Would this suggest the same failure in the other West African countries? That is a blog post for another day but needless to say that the outbreak of a highly contagious and haemorrhagic fever such as #Ebola in a remote rural area or geographically obscure suburb is a different ball game from that which happens in a high-end hospital right in the centre (and old Government Reserve Area) of a city like Lagos.

It is easy to disagree with a business concept proffered as solution for a national emergency but from all indications, this has not been handled as one and so, this business concept might have prevented a lot of damage. At the moment, it seems both senses – urgency and emergency (a false sense of urgency) have failed.


Scroll to Top