Nigeria’s scandalous mission against Ebola

The Nigerians that answered the Federal Government’s call for volunteers to go fight the dreaded Ebola scourge that was ravaging Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone some months ago initially felt they were on a mission of honour, which would save lives and bring glory to our country, but now they are not so sure.

The volunteers, who have just recently returned from their mission have a litany of sad tales to tell that all border on corruption. Theirs is a story of fraudulent practices by the health officials that were in charge of the mission, stories that besmirch the face of this great nation, and the government must punish some people for the disgraceful show of corruption their complaints reveal.

For the 198 volunteers who left the country for Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, the trouble started even before they departed for the brother countries. Some volunteers who had been shortlisted by the Federal Ministry of Health arrived Lagos, the point of departure, only to realise that their names had been replaced by corrupt health officials, who realizing that the volunteers would be given compensatory remuneration fraudulently enlisted non-medical personnel alongside trained medics, against the directive of the African Union (AU) which was coordinating the whole programme.

UjuNnaji, a nurse who was later deployed to Liberia described her own personal experience thus; “I had seen my name back in Abuja that I was shortlisted, but I was shocked when I got to Lagos that my name and those of several others were already missing. Our names had been replaced with others.”

The African Union officials in charge of the overall programme discovered to their consternation that the Nigerian team had more staff doing data entry than actual medical work. The most basic thing the Nigerian Ministry of Health should have done was to make sure that most of the volunteers were certified professional health workers who would go into the field to save lives and not stay back in camp doing little or nothing. Many more Ebola deaths would have been prevented.

In the case of payments, corruption reared its repugnant head. Each volunteer was to receive $1,000 as Basic Travel Allowance paid by the AU. But recruiters of the Nigerian team denied such provision had been made, a claim countered by AU officials. It will be recalled that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health had been widely quoted in the media as telling the volunteers the following before they travelled out, “The Nigerian government and African Union have guaranteed that all volunteers will be paid their full allowances in dollars.”

Meanwhile, contingents from other countries had been paid the same amount before travelling.

In the area of accommodation, the story was no different as Nigerian volunteers in Portnoo, Sierra Leone, were not given accommodation even though their monies were being deducted for it.

The Nigerian volunteers also say they were not paid their hazard and hardship allowance that was paid volunteers from other countries, and when they complained about it they were threatened with deportation.

Since the volunteers returned to Nigeria, they have been shabbily treated as regards payment of several outstanding monies they are owed, leading some to regret volunteering and vowing never to ‘make the mistake’ of volunteering for Nigeria again in their lives. This is not good.

The Federal Government must probe those that organised the scandal-riddled health mission and punish all guilty parties as a way of discouraging public officials from transforming future international emergencies like this into disgraceful shows of corruption.

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