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Gov. Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State

Covid-19 And 1918/19 Influenza Disaster In Abeokuta Province – God Forbid Bad Thing


By Yemisi Bamgbose

ABEOKUTA: Initially I was planning to entertain my readers with an article titled “Laugh and Learn” with the aim of diffusing the tension created by the current lockdown, most especially among men, who are not used to sitting or arriving early at home, and those who are used to eating both “legitimate” and “illegitimate” food outside, most especially those that are addicted to “Itoko rice, Amala Iya Guarantee and Alaga food” in Abeokuta.

What of those that must daily eat “Amala Iyasule At Odo-Egbo, Amala Iya Risi At Moborode In Ijebu-Ode ,Amala Iyawo Major in Ayetoro and abula at Na Straight behind the Cultural centre, Ibadan, and various type of foods at Asiri Abo at Ilaro-Yewa.

What of those that are used to diffusing the tension with “one bottle for the road” at Iwe Iroyin and buy Suya to appease those at home for habitual late coming every night among others.

However, I suddenly stumbled on a research paper published by a scholar – Don. C. Ohadike detailing the havoc wrecked by the 1918 -19 influenza pandemic in Nigeria.

The one that caught my attention was the deaths that occurred as a result of that pandemic in Abeokuta Province. How would you feel being told that more than 3000, yes, I mean more than three thousand people died in Abeokuta within 6 months during 1918-19 influenza pandemic.

Quickly, my heart began to pang. What came to my mind was “God forbid bad thing”. I said so considering the similarities between what happened in 1918 -19 influenza pandemic and the current Covid-19. What we are playing with is not a joking matter. God forbid bad thing. Affliction will not rise the second time.

The research article titled; “Diffusion and Physiological Responses to the Influenza pandemic of 1918-19 in Nigeria”, reported that while about 21million people died worldwide, over 500,000 people died in Nigeria with about 18million population and 3,283 deaths were recorded in Abeokuta Province which had population of 328,300.

Abeokuta province is the current Ogun State with 3 Senatorial Districts and 20 Local Governments. What baffled me most were the similarities between the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 and the current world tormentor nicknamed Covid-19.

Firstly, the 1918 influenza was imported to Nigeria through Lagos via a ship (S S Bida) on September 14, 1918. It appeared in Abeokuta October 1, 1918 and Ibadan October 5, and spread to all provinces in Nigeria within a very short period of time.

Secondly the researcher went further to state exactly what looks like the current happening in Nigeria; certain facts manifested themselves clearly during the epidemic.

First, it was realised that the disease was not often spread by patients with advanced symptoms, but by those with mild attacks who continued to perform their daily tasks in public places, in schools, churches, market places and in the streets.

The result was that despite attempts to isolate detected cases; those with mild effects eluded the observation of medical workers”.

Another similarity as reported by the researcher “The greatest problem was created by people attempting to escape from the epidemic. In Port Harcourt, nearly 1000 labourers deserted their jobs and returned to their home towns and villages thereby introducing the influenza into the outlying settlements”.

I do not intend to cause any fear, anxiety or panic, but rather call the attention of all and sundry to the problem at hand to learn from history.

The research work revealed that the following deaths occurred in Nigeria during the 1918-19 influenza pandemic:

* Lagos Township – 1,200.

*Lagos Colony excluding Lagos Township – 2,877.

*Abeokuta province – 3,283.

*Ilorin province – 28,884.

*Oyo provinc – 29,750

*Kano province – 57,978 among others.

The above source was credited to Public Records Office PRO (co 583/77 of Sept 1991 reported by J. Berlinger and M. Cameron. Dear reader, my point is that there is the need to do everything humanly possible to prevent the full scale spread of Covid-19.

As at the time influenza pandemic ravaged Nigeria, the population was about 18 million and the population of Abeokuta province was 328,300 according to the source. The researcher said “Large towns suffered more than small and remote villages.

This was attributed to overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions”. The situation is too similar, people escaping from quarantine, people refusing to disclose their travel history, people refusing to obey government directives to stay at home during lockdown and failure to observe other precautionary measures.

There is overcrowding in the market places, churches and mosques among others. On Tuesday April 7, 2020, I went to 3 market places in Abeokuta to observe how people followed the precautionary measures. What I saw at the market places that I visited (Gbangba, Lafenwa and Omida markets) was not encouraging. I hope no infected person was at any of the markets I visited.

I must commend the efforts of the government. Honestly, those in authority are seeking the best ways to handle the challenge in such a way that citizens’ hardships can be minimized.

We are troubleshooting. No prior template to follow. It is not easy to be a leader at a period like this. But I want to advocate that if we don’t want the reoccurrence of 1918-19 high mortality, a more drastic measure must be taken.

For example a complete stay at home for a minimum of 8-10 days without any suspension must be observed. We have to go through some tougher measures to defeat Covid-19.

Let the government provide the necessary leadership and let the citizens be ready to sacrifice. Afflictions will not rise again.
May God forbid bad thing.

*Ref: Don, C.Ohadike Diffusion and Physiological Responses to the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 in Nigeria. Soc Sci Med vol32, No 12, pp1393-1399

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