Friday, August 22, 2014

HAJJ AND EBOLA



The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Health (FMH) organised a one-day sensitisation workshop on Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) and Hajj 2014 operations. The workshop, which brought Hajj stakeholders from all over the country, was held on Thursday, 14th August 2014, in the Tafawa Balewa Hall of Nicon Luxury Hotel, Area 11, Abuja.

Dignitaries at the event included NAHCON Chairman/CEO, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello, the Honourable Minister of State for Health, Dr Khaliru Alhassan, and Sheikh Ibrahim Al Qayidy, the Head of Consular Section, Saudi Arabian Embassy, Abuja. Others were Catherine Avery, Deputy Director, US, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Mary Stephen, Representative of the World Health Organisation (WHO), and Dr Ibrahim Abubakar Kana, Head of NAHCON Medical Committee.

In his welcome address, NAHCON Chairman/CEO, expressed delight at the large turnout of participants to this important workshop, hoping that ‘at the end of the day’ everybody present will be well informed to play their role effectively and ‘appropriately’ in our collective struggle against EVD.

Dr Ibrahim Abubakar Kana, Head of NAHCON Medical Committee presented a paper on Screening Modalities for Nigerian Pilgrims, where he informed the gathering on government’s efforts in controlling and preventing the spread of EVD in Nigerian. This could not have come at a better time when over 70,000 pilgrims are soon to commence their journey to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj.

He stressed the need for getting information on what Hajj stakeholders must do, and how pilgrims should conduct themselves during their stay in, and at the time of their return from Saudi Arabia. NAHCON, according to him, ‘is working hard, the Nigerian government is working hard’ to ensure, through the protocol laid down by WHO, that no pilgrim takes EVD to Saudi Arabia. There shall be screening of all pilgrims throughout the federation before they embark on the Hajj journey, he said; ‘NAHCON will prevent from travelling, any pilgrim suspected of carrying the disease, even at the point of departure. We are all here, the air carriers, the tour operators, and we are all working together to ensure that no single pilgrim is infected in Nigeria, and if he is, he is not taking the virus out of this country.’

Mary Stephen, Representative of WHO, said such workshop would help in curtailing the spread of EVD in Nigeria, especially among the intending pilgrims. ‘We wish to commend the efforts of Federal Ministry of Health and the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria for organising this important workshop;’ she said, ‘as we all know, the WHO is currently supporting the Nigerian government in its effort to contain the Ebola outbreak. I, therefore, wish all of you fruitful deliberations, and a successful Hajj 2014.’

Catherine Avery, Deputy Director, United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), expressed appreciation to the organisers for giving her the opportunity to participate in the workshop. She joined other speakers before her in commending the efforts of FMoH and NAHCON in the control of the outbreak of EVD. ‘The United States, Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’ she said, ‘fully aligns itself with the efforts of the Federal Ministry of Health in controlling the Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in Nigeria, and is committed to seeing it through. Since the report of the first confirmed case of Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria, CDC has deployed its human and material resources to the Federal Ministry of Health in controlling the situation. Several of our experienced in-country staff as well as staff deployed from our Atlanta office are in Lagos to provide assistance for surveillance, contact tracing, entry and exit screening, infection control and communications. They are working closely with the Federal Ministry of Health and other stakeholders in developing guidelines from laboratory diagnosis to screening inbound and outbound passengers at ports of entry and exit. … CDC is always committed to saving lives and protecting people. It will continue to support Nigeria in the control of EVD, and other disease twenty hours a day, seven days a week. I am quite impressed by the number of pilgrims from Nigeria. If the information provided here today is adhered to Ebola will not be a problem to any of Nigeria’s pilgrims.’

Catherine Avery, Deputy Director, US, CDC,Sheikh Ibrahim Al Qayidy, the  Consul, Saudi Embassy, Abuja, NAHCON Chairman/CEO, Mal Muhammad Musa Bello, Honourable Minister of State for Health, Dr Khaliru Alhassan





Catherine’s statement above looks and sounds impressive but in practice, what the CDC has done for Nigeria is scarcely anything Nigerians could not have done for themselves. Where we really need their help is in getting the experimental ZMAPP serum which, despite the fact that it was an American citizen that infected Nigeria, they have refused to give Nigeria. This makes nonsense of the claim that the CDC is committed to saving lives and protecting people. It looks more like saving their pockets to me. But that is for another time.

Sheikh Ibrahim Al Qayidy, the Head of Consular Section, Saudi Arabian Embassy, was glad that NAHCON brought about this workshop at a time when Nigerian pilgrims are preparing for the holy trip of Hajj into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He commended FMoH and NAHCON for sensitising the stakeholders on EVD in relation to Hajj 2014 operations.

The Honourable Minister of State for Health, Dr Khaliru Alhassan, said , on a lighter mood, that he would not say anything until he made sure that people from his constituency of Sokoto State were represented at the event. When the Minister confirmed that Sokoto State was indeed represented, as many participants indicated by either standing up or raising their hands, he commenced his extempore speech by congratulating ‘NAHCON for accepting our proposal to invite this distinguished gathering to discuss the current situation.’ In his view, 'even though Ebola is on our minds,’ there are other diseases that should concern us due to the kind of journey that we are speaking about, namely Hajj.

He said respiratory infections, cholera, etc. should also engage our concern. He called on the gathering to remember that Ebola was alien to us because the disease came into the country ‘by accident through a Liberian’. This man, in the Minister’s view, should not have been allowed to leave his country, in the first place, or allowed in Nigeria. He said as at the time of his address, Ebola was confined to Lagos state, kept in check due to collaborative efforts with bodies like WHO, US - CDC and others. ‘As of today,’ he said, ‘there are eleven confirmed cases in Nigeria, out of which 3 had died – the index case, that is the person who brought the disease, plus two health workers, who were dealing with the patient. So presently, the eight remaining are receiving treatment, and they are making good progress. Alhamdulillah, we have been able to do a lot of contact tracing to ensure that any person who came into contact with Patrick Sawyer has been traced.


‘Those who have shown sign of infection are being quarantined. Those who had primary contact we kept them under observation. Today is the 24th day since Patrick came into Nigeria, going by the medical history of the disease, it has incubation period of 2 to 21 days, so, all primary contacts of Mr Sawyer should be in the clear, except those who have contracted the disease. Alhamdulillah, the collaborative effort is yielding progress. 65 out of 177 under clinical review were withdrawn, so we are doing well. We should continue to do more. Presently, Ebola is more of a problem to health workers than the general public because an Ebola patient is more dangerous when he has high fever, he can be infectious, and most of the time they are not mobile, they are at home or in the hospital. Sadly, it is no more business as usual for our health workers to see patients. I know the experts will educate you on this more. I appeal to you to remain calm, there is no panic, because with simple personal hygiene, good hand washing, which Muslims do five times a day, we should do, we should use soap as this is enough to control 80 per cent of cross infection.’

Friday, August 1, 2014

IN SUPPORT OF THE SHI’AH PROCESSION


Sheikh Zakzaky


Do I need to attach a caveat to this topic? Do I need to state that I am not an adherent of Shi’ism or that I do not pledge allegiance to the declarer of the Quds procession? I do not. Only someone new to my columns in this newspaper would need a caveat. What we are discussing today is beyond sectarian leanings; it pertains to, on the one hand, the plight of a people under an illegal Israeli occupation for decades, and who are now shelled by Israeli troops from air and land, killing more than a thousand of them while destroying their homes. On the other hand, it pertains to the foolhardiness of some armed servicemen (or whoever gave the orders) in shooting and extra- judicially killing largely unarmed Shi’ah protesters in Zaria. No one needs to be reminded that it was the murder of Muhammad Yusuf, in similar circumstances, that led us to where we are today with Boko Haram.

The Palestinian issue is fraught with hypocrisy and betrayal. Israel is claiming to have the nod of some powerful Muslim and Arab nations in its aggression in Gaza. That claim seems to be valid in light of the deafening silence from the most powerful Arab countries since the latest pogrom began. In fact, if you check http://www.opposingviews.com/i/politics/arab-countries-stay-silent-death-toll-climbs-gaza for example, some observers cited examples of countries who traditionally opposed Israel’s aggression and murder in the past but who have somehow remained mute even with the current Israeli shelling of Gaza.

The Rafah Border is closed by the Egyptian authorities, thus hardly will any medical or material help reach the injured. General Sisi is doing Israel’s job better than the IDF and Mossad. Those people who supported the coup against Morsi with billions of dollars cannot be the friends of Palestine.

Even the leadership of the Inviolable Places of Worship are not spared in this allegation. Why will the imams cry in supplications during Khatmah and Taraaweeh on the plight of Palestinians, but will not speak truth to power?

I refuse to weep during such du’aa sessions, not because I do not earn sins over which I should cry, but because I could not understand why Allah is called upon to destroy the enemies of the Palestinian people, when the suppliant knows that the government he serves (and concerning which he is silent) is as guilty of the murders, and that they hate ‘Islamic organisations’ like the Muslim Brotherhood forming governments in the Arab region while supporting Israeli agendas through people like Sisi. The greatest Jihad is to speak the truth in front of a tyrant; what are these people waiting for? A revelation to that effect?

Here in Nigeria, there is no Khutbah on this issue from most of our imams. At a time like this, they are busy honouring Presidential Iftaar invitations. I doubt whether anyone among them drew the attention of His Excellency to plight of the Ummah and what the government should be doing on insurgency and other issues of insecurity in the country.

I have read accounts of the event of Friday, 25th of July, during which Sheikh Ibrahim El-Zakzaky lost three sons to Army bullets. I have also listened to accounts of the incidence from eyewitnesses. Whichever way you want to look at it, somebody with weapons went beyond the call of duty and broke the rules of engagement of the Army by firing at mostly unarmed people. I say mostly unarmed because from some of the information I gathered, some of the Shi’ites were armed with bows and arrows. I also gathered that what probably triggered the bloodbath was the way the procession blocked the road, which left the soldiers on an assignment stranded. When the soldiers demanded that they be let through, a melee ensued.

Sheikh Zakzaky earns my respect for his restraint in face of provocation on this issue. You only need to lose a child to the cold hands of death to understand a father’s anguish. He lost not just three grown sons, he lost many followers too.
My condolences to him.

The Nigerian government has a duty to investigate the killings transparently. We are tired of committees; there are already organs of government saddled with the duty of investigating human rights violations; let them do their jobs. If people are found guilty, let justice take its course. Where no misdemeanour is recorded against the military, let the world know the Army did the right thing and let all see that probity and fairness dictated the conclusions not tribe, religion or political affiliation. Anything short of that is a disaster. The government would have thus given the extremists another excuse to murder more innocent people in the name of revenge.

It has been 35 years since the Shi’ites started the Muzaaharah (demonstration) in Nigeria (Zaria being their main base). Not once did this sort of brazen murder happen. As I stated earlier, the Shi’ites are on their own; I owe them no allegiance but even a pagan has a right to justice in Islam, not to talk of people who are largely Muslims. Only a small fraction of them have unIslamic ideologies.

All said, the procession of the Shi’ites has to do with the murderous occupation of Quds, not exactly the shelling of Gaza. Iran, the nation to which Shi’ites worldwide look for guidance has remained mute on the killings. Palestine has a Sunni government, Hezbollah is a Shi’ite group, so it is quite convenient to be silent. The demonstrations thus merely coincided with a period that has seen the death of hundreds of women and children at the hands of the Israeli Defence Front (IDF).

There is nothing more hypocritical than what the world press is doing with the reportage of Israel’s atrocities. The worst of them are the leading media houses in Nigeria and beyond. They give the picture of a harmless Israeli people being attacked by a terrorist Hamas group. Nothing can be further from the truth!

Do yourself a favour and google the name ‘George Galloway’, a British MP who has been very vocal about the atrocities Israel is committing in Gaza. While at it search for Noam Chomsky and John Pilger too. Also search for such Facebook pages like “If Only Americans Knew”, “Jews United Against the Occupation of Gaza” and other pages which share information about the beginning of the occupation of Palestine, the current massacres and why these actions are wrong. As someone pointed out, you do not have to be a Muslim to stand up for Gaza, you only need to be human.

On the Muslim side, many do not know that there are daily protests in major European cities for Gaza in front of Israeli embassies there. The protesters are mostly Jews and Christians who believe in standing on the side of truth.

On the Christian side, there are hundreds of thousands of Christians who are protesting the on-going genocide cum ethnic cleansing. The internet is replete with blog sites, websites, Facebook pages and Twitter handles dedicated to this issue.

There are, of course, the bigots and uninformed who seem to think it is Israel’s divine right to steal land belonging to others and keep supporting Israel’s genocide. They wrongly assume that the Palestinians are only Muslims. Little do they know that the idea of Zionism has nothing to do with religion. It is a supremacist ideology propounded by atheist Jews in the early 1900s. When people do not equip themselves with information and knowledge, they run the risk of being seen as idiots.

Benjamin Netanyahu shocked US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton recently when she visited Jerusalem. She had expressed US concerns over the largely civilian casualties in the offensive on Gaza. Netanyahu said Israel did not share that concern at all and that what they prefer, in fact, was to “maximise civilian casualties”. He said they are conducting “surgical strikes” on schools, mosques, hospitals and children! He said further that he believed Clinton understood that very well but in the event that she did not, they owed neither the US nor anyone any explanation. Abruptly, he turned to the shocked Clinton and shook her hands saying, ‘Welcome to Jerusalem!’

This is the mind-set of the murderers. Qaatalahumullah!