Congratulations on your victory in the March 28th 2015 Presidential Election. You indeed are a success model for every Nigerian or any human being for that matter, toiling everyday to get his due. Your victory proves that self-belief pays, that there is reward for consistency and faith in hard work and democracy. You confirm that once there is resolute commitment and persistence to strategic efforts, success will come. The massive votes you received from the masses demonstrate how desperately Nigerians wanted change. It shows how much Nigerians are tired of “business as usual”.
Your Excellency, this letter is written by a group of Nigerians who have a lot in common with you, in that we want change. We have been mistreated by the Nigerian Government and the African Union (AU) and we want change. And just like you, we have chosen to pursue justice by democratic means. We have chosen to seek your intervention and protection.
Before we continue with this letter, an introduction is apt. We are the Nigerian responders to the ASEOWA (African Union Support for Ebola Outbreak in West Africa) Mission in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Some of us embarked on this mission after having volunteered and participated in the eradication of the Ebola virus in Nigeria. We listened keenly to your Inaugural Speech on the day of your official swearing-in ceremony, May 29th, as we hoped and waited for the promised presidential reception in Abuja. The Speech showed how vastly knowledgeable you are about the right things to do in order to steer the Nigerian ship in the right direction. It was a clear picture of all the problems Nigeria must solve to reach the promise land. However, something was missing. We hoped you would mention the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the successful intervention of the Nigerian contingents seconded by the Federal Government to the African Union ASEOWA Mission. When you did not, we realized that we may have been calculatedly misled into believing the presidency knew about our return from mission areas to Nigeria and was waiting to honor us on behalf of our great nation. We appreciate that you might not have been briefed on our mission and return. It is for this reason, we write.
On the 5th of December, 2014, a Nigerian Contingent of about 200 members were dispatched to Liberia (87) and Sierra Leone (111) to help curb the threat of Ebola virus outbreak that threatened human existence in West Africa, and since it is a migratory disease, the world over. These men and women, out of over 500 that initially subscribed and most of whom were briefed at the Welcome Hotel in Lagos, are the brave and courageous soldiers who volunteered to board the Ethiopian Airlines to the mentioned Ebola ravaged countries. When these countries counted 100s of cases per week, Nigeria provided the first set and largest government seconded responders to the ASEOWA mission. By this gesture, we set great example for other nations who later began to send in responders. These volunteers are the patriots who gave up their jobs, left their families with no guarantee of return, risked their lives and suspended personal dreams and pleasure to contribute to the efforts to save Africa and the world from extinction by the deadly virus. Each of us signed a 6 months contract with the AU, went on the mission, saw and conquered. Most of the contingents returned to Nigeria in the early hours of 24th May, 2015 while a small pocket of volunteers were retained to sustain surveillance. Sir, we returned to a poor reception and till date, no meeting with the presidential as was promised. Although we have been hailed heroes by the international community, the treatment towards us by the AU and the Nigerian government makes us wonder if that word “hero” has a different meaning as well as hope that its usage in our case is not ironically implied. We have been treated very poorly and fed with false and contradictory information at every stage of the mission.
Let it be known, Your Excellency, that we are indeed grateful to the government of Nigeria under the leadership of the then President, Goodluck Ebere Jonathan and the AU for the noble initiative and support against Ebola. Also, we acknowledge the support of the international donors and the African private sector, for supporting the ASEOWA Mission. It was a sacred opportunity to serve Africa and the world and we are honored to have been selected by history for this great role.
We accept that this is the first time AU would embark on disease outbreak response, however, as you would see, some of the problems do not require special expertise to avoid. To make it worse, the AU failed to learn on the job by repeating same mistakes many times over and making us wonder whether these were mistakes or strategic. Albeit we could easily have ignore these but we are inspired by patriotism and love for Nigeria and Africa. Most importantly, we owe it to you and posterity to report this for the sake of change. Like you, Your Excellency, we would persist in pursuing justice till it is granted. We believe that posterity and mother Africa have chosen us to do this for the betterment of Nigeria and the continent. We fear that the spirit of volunteerism is deeply endangered by the attitude of the AU and the Nigerian government towards volunteers and that our quiet would kill that spirit. This is very dangerous because, God forbid, we do not know when future outbreak of Ebola or worse requires sacrifice of this magnitude. There is therefore an urgent need to right some of the wrongs as summarized below.
- Poor Treatment of Volunteers by the African Union (AU)
- Violation of Contract Terms with the Volunteers-
- The contract we signed with the AU, provided for us to have a “2 weeks On-Boarding and Induction Training on Ebola Specifics” before deployment. Instead we were sent straight to the hottest parts of Sierra Leone without it. This was in December, 2015, when the country still counted in 100s per week. When Volunteers signed onto the ASEOWA Mission knowing the enormous risk we were going to face. It was clear to us that some of us might not make it back. We were even told that should anyone have caught the Ebola virus and died, his family would never have seen his corpse. What we did not expect was that the AU would heighten the risk by compromising and failing to observe this very important induction process.
- Our Contract was clear on the fact that the AU would pay us specified “monthly” allowances. Again, hardly did we receive timely payment of either feeding or monthly allowances. It would shock you to know that our first allowance was paid 3 months into the mission (February, 2015). Consequently, we left our families and dependents with no financial support for the period. Up till the writing of this letter, we are yet to receive allowances for the months of December and May, our April allowances were paid with unexplained deductions and no prior notice to the effect. We still wonder why we are yet to get the respect of true explanation to all of these rather than explanations targeting “damage control”. The truth is what sets free. The lies we have been fed with are only damaging the control we volunteers have on our emotions rather than help the AU achieve “damage control”. And it is only a matter of time before such emotion overflowed and embarrasses Africa. We write you to forestall this.
- There are several other instances of contract violations; to mention them all would be tantamount to writing a library. However, we must mention that our 6th and last month allowance has been illegally tied to the submission of a report on the compulsory 21 days health observation for volunteers. First, this conditional connection is not provided for in our contract. So one wonders why? Besides the legal wrong of it, one also imagines the moral or logical right of it. Would anyone with abnormal temperature readings not get his allowances and why? It just does not make sense. They could claim that the 6th month allowance was tied to the submission of the temperature charts to ensure compliance with the observation process and safeguard the public from possible Ebola infection by a volunteer. It still violates our contract. This cannot even be true because on entering Nigeria, we were sent back to our families less than 10 days into the observation camp instead of the announced 21 days. Besides, we are yet to receive the December, 2014 allowances which are not tied to anything. To make it worse, since completing the observation period on the 13th of June, 2015, we are yet to receive our payment. There is hardly clarity on the matter; while the compilers claim to have complied and sent the charts to the AU, the AU in turn denies receipt insisting they would not commence any payment until they receive the charts. The AU Director of Finance recently requested the AULO Monrovia to confirm that volunteers were being owed the December allowances. Does it mean that the AU has no records of payments made? Why is this request from the Director of Finance coming almost 6months after? This is unacceptable from a reputable organization as the AU
Note that we have complied with these changes not because we do not know our rights but we chose endurance and love for Africa. However, our patience has not paid off. Our emotions are mounting and with pains in our heart, we fly to your patronage knowing you would not despise our prayers.
- Accommodation: Most volunteers lived in poor accommodation even though the money AU allocated to accommodate each volunteer could have afforded more decent accommodation. Moreover, some volunteers in Northern Region of Sierra Leone were embarrassed and sacked from their accommodation, their water and electricity services were often cut for days because the hoteliers and service providers claimed they could not sustain services. They claimed the AU owed them. In Liberia, About 12 volunteers which included 2 women were relocated from their hotels to an ASEOWA abandoned office with neither power nor clean water for almost a month because of supposed lack of funds by ASEOWA. Again, some volunteers were made to stay in poor accommodations against their will. What is difficult to accept is AU paid much higher for these poor accommodations than the rates for some others with much better services and that volunteers begged to stay in. It is therefore easy to wonder whether there were no shady deals between the hoteliers and the AU negotiators on the field.
- Unexplained unbalanced treatment: We had vowed not to leave mission area unless all our allowances were paid but the AU Director of Social Welfare, Ambassador Maiyegun and the ASEOWA Deputy Head of Mission, Dr Obasanya persuaded us, urging us to return to our country and that the then President, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was eager to receive us. The Ambassador also promised on his honor that our payment was being processed and would be made soon. Again, we heeded. We have since returned to a ‘’no presidential” reception and maltreatment while the Kenyans who used the same stance and persisted were all paid their allowances before they left mission area. You must know how this makes us feel…used, tricked, conquered, disrespected and very annoyed. We all know what precedence the AU has set by that singular act. As at the time of writing, we are yet to receive any reliable information as per payment of outstanding allowances (for the month of December) while colleagues (who remained) in the field have been paid same. We wonder why all the payments could not be made at the same time. We sincerely feel like specimens in an experimental laboratory of stress and we are definitely reaching breaking point.
- We were told by General Okaetta, The ASEOWA Head of Mission, that every volunteer would exit through Addis Ababa on completion of contract to receive honors (medals and certificates) and handshake from the AU Chair Person: This has not been the case and there has not been any public announcement on that intentions or direct communication to us on the matter. It is true that this is not a contractual provision between the volunteers and the AU. We feel it is customary and apt for the AU to recognize the efforts of all volunteers across Africa that responded to the fight against Ebola virus disease. Volunteers are African and global heroes for the braveness and courage they showed against the evil virus at a time the whole world was under siege and most people would not even dare travel to the affected areas. These volunteers put humanity ahead of their lives and the love of their loved ones in order to respond to the call of mother Africa and the world. This would help to sustain the spirit of volunteerism and sacrifice.
- AU has not been proactive on the issues surrounding the payment of our allowances and communication and information system must improve: They appear reactionary to our complaints. Even such reactions have lacked sincerity and are rich in contradictions. One day we are told that all payments have been made to us and that we should expect bank alerts, another day, we are told by same source, that non submission of temperature charts is the reason for our nonpayment of allowances.
- Abandonment and stigmatization of the ASEOWA Volunteers by the AUC: The AU support team waited almost 4 months (for the outbreak to subside) before coming to the same mission area we had been sent in to work. When they eventually came, they either observed from Ghana or stopped at the AU office in Freetown and or Monrovia. They never came to the field until the outbreak was reaching zero cases.
- It was ineffective to allow the operations of the Sierria Leone ASEOWA to be managed from Liberia. It is difficult to argue with this considering that Sierra Leone is still having cases at a time WHO long declared Liberia free of Ebola. Our colleagues in Sierra Leone suffered with the ASEOWA Mission in that country. They persisted and insisted on going out to work when AU always had one logistic reason or the other to keep them from the field where they were needed by a country that is massively short-staffed as per qualified health care workers. Contingents occasionally fueled vehicles from their pockets just to ensure that the fight was sustained. The failure of logistic system exposed contingents to the use of motorcycle transportation (okada). The use of Okada did not only put volunteers to further risk of Ebola virus disease (this is one way the virus was transmitted), one of our colleagues was actually involved in an accident in which she sustained burns.
- Emergency Evacuation Response: The AU needs to strengthen emergency evacuation system for seriously ill volunteer or any volunteer involved in an accident. Two Nigerian volunteers were involved in vehicle accident. They stayed at the scene for hours waiting for evacuation because there was no plan for such at the time. The follow up on these colleagues has been reactionary rather than proactive. This should not be so especially now that they have to live with chronic pains in the spine and chest respectively.
We sent a mail to the Chairperson of the AU on the 22nd June, 2015 and copied AU officials to make some these complains official but we are yet to get any reply.
- Treatment of the ASEOWA Volunteers by the Nigerian Government
- Abandonment of the seconded Nigerian contingents in the mission area by the Nigerian government: Never were we visited by delegates from the Nigerian government throughout our stay in mission areas. You can not begrudge us the doubt we started having as per whether our secondment was truly done by the Nigerian government or worst still, whether we had been truly seconded to our fate by the government.
- The Nigerian Government is yet to intervene in our difficulties with the AU…
- Poor Treatment in Nigeria on return from Mission Area: we were promised a heroic welcome and reception but what we got was a far cry. We now realize that these promises were only made to lure us from mission area without payment of outstanding allowances. We were occasionally moved from one hotel to the other for no just cause. On one occasion, most of us spent a whole day outside the Summit Hotel, Life Camp, with our luggage. You would think we were in homes for displaced people. On another occasion, the hotel management of same hotel declared house arrest on some of our colleagues. They claimed they had not been paid anything for our accommodation, hence the “house arrest”. This is against the backdrop of 60 million donated by the Dangote Foundation for the purpose. We were left without food for days without explanation only to be consoled with promises of monetization that were fulfilled several days later. This is the least we expect to get from the government of Nigeria, our own country. As we write, some volunteers are yet to get their missing luggage containing priceless personal belongings, delivered. Although the organizing committee promised to help track these luggage, there has been no communication yet to these volunteers and they are frustrated by it.
- Quarantine/Observation: The terms of our contract with the AU provided for a compulsory 21days quarantine/observation period before separation and reintegration into the Nigerian society. On the 28th of May 2015, the Committee for the Management and Welfare of the returnee volunteers instructed all volunteers that served in Liberia to check out of their hotel accommodation by the next day (29th of May 2015) and proceed to their various places of residence while volunteers that served in Sierra Leone were to remain in the hotel till 1st or 2nd of June 2015. They based their decision on the fact that Liberia had already been declared Ebola free by the WHO while the Sierra Leone team had exited at a time Sierra Leone still reported cases. This decision was opposed by volunteers who felt this was unsafe for our families and the Nigerian public, being that the volunteers from both countries (Liberia and sierra Leone) had had unhindered association during the flight. Again, we were all camped together, volunteers from both countries, with no discrimination.
Nonetheless, our position fell on deaf ears and it was made clear to us by the organizing committee that if we stayed beyond the dictated timeframe, we would be responsible for our hotel bills. As helpless citizens, we obeyed while collectively agreeing to limit our movement and association once back in our places of residence for the rest of the 21 days. Most Liberia deployed volunteers upon receiving the provided fare left in the morning of 29th May 2015 against the fuel scarcity issues that hindered the country at the time.
Your Excellency, upon getting home, some were rejected and turned back by their families, friends and associates under the misunderstanding that they had escaped quarantine. This opinion was formed based on the media report that the government in partnership with Dangote Foundation was camping all returnee volunteers for 21 days making the relatives conclude that for the affected volunteers to be back home barely 4-5days into the so-called quarantine, they must have escaped the process. They cannot be begrudged because the Port Health Director, Dr Gwarzo together with Prof. Nasidi, the NCDC Director/CEO and Dr Obasanya, the ASEOWA Deputy Head of Mission had hailed the Dangote Foundation on several news media for donating 60 million naira for the accommodation of the returnee volunteers. Dr. Joshua Olusegun Obasanya is quoted by the Nation, June 1st, 2015 to have said that “With this kind of support the Dangote Foundation is providing…we are being camped for 21 days during which we would be monitoring ourselves…” We wrote a complaint letter to the Permanent Secretary of the FMoH and never received a reply.
Promises and Expectation:
- Jobs and Promotion: Your Excellency, a number of volunteers gave up their jobs to embark on this humanitarian journey. Some were unemployed while others who worked with the private sector lost their jobs after volunteering in the Nigerian Ebola outbreak. There are volunteers who missed promotion exercise in their work places by virtue of their being away on this mission. It is good news that they made it back but they are now without jobs. We were assured by the Director of NCDC, Prof. Nasidi that the government of Nigeria had promised automatic jobs and promotion for the unemployed and those who missed promotion respectively. But this is yet to be fulfilled and there has not been any communication to the effect.
- Awards and Recognition: David Cameron has instituted a new medal of bravery with which to honor over 2000 UK citizens involved in the fight against Ebola in Africa. He said about them on the Times of India: “They were incredibly brave people who have worked in very difficult conditions, including many of them over Christmas. They are people who are helping to save thousands of life in Africa and protecting the UK from the potentially disastrous consequences of the disease spreading”. He is not alone in this understanding and gesture. On the 10th of April, President John Mahama of Ghana announced his intension to award the 45 Ghanaian Ebola volunteers with State Honors (according to Joy Online, an online newspaper). In his words, “These are heroes. The State shall award them with state honors for this very risky venture they were engaged in”. Also recently, The Star, a Kenyan newspaper, covered President Uhuru Kenyatta reception for the returnee Kenyan contingents. He has since instructed that they be rewarded with jobs in the Kenyan Ministry of Health. They are all also waiting to receive their state honors. The Ethiopian government gave a red carpet reception to their Ebola heroes while rewarding them with the highest State honor available. Nigeria as the giant of Africa should not be the one straggling in this moral and stately reasoning. It would be sad to allow these heroes retire to a lack of recognition. Most importantly, it would be a costly shame to Nigeria as it would douse the flames of patriotism, volunteerism and national sacrifice which these set of volunteers have stoked in no mean measure. We are confident that you would not let this happen as it contravenes your personal love for justice and truth. The Nigerian State under your administration has an opportunity to change the culture of rewarding criminals to that of rewarding true heroism and virtues
The Future Deployment Plans:
- The AU has catalogued the ASEOWA volunteers in furtherance of its plans to establish an African Centre for Disease Control. This is very laudable. At the level of Nigeria, these volunteers should be formed into a reserve and active outbreak response units to protect the country from any future outbreaks. To strengthen this plan, it would make sense to award volunteers with study scholarships for capacity building in the various pillars of outbreak response. Some of these areas should include but not limited to Public Health/Epidemiology, modern laboratory detection protocols and best practices, case management in outbreak response, social mobilization, health system communication and data management.
- We have a lot of experience to share with the Nigerian health system operators and with the help of government, we plan to cascade the knowledge gathered on this mission in the health institutions across the country to enable improvement on IPC practices and stronger disease surveillance systems. These are necessary in areas of epidemiology, laboratory detections and case management of especially dangerous pathogens.
We are proud to have served Africa with all we had and more. On expiry of our contract, Liberia had already been declared Ebola free by the WHO while Sierra Leone had moved from counting 100s of cases per week to pursuing zero Ebola cases. The Nigerian contingents were rated very high. The passion, drive and knowledge we brought to the fight against Ebola are on record in both Liberia and Sierra Leone respectively. This is exemplified by the many awards and recognition we received from the governments of these affected countries. The good and hospitable people of both countries see Nigerians as their God-sent. We held the flag very high throughout the mission. Albeit, they always referred to the roles Nigeria played in restoring order during their respective civil wars, the involvement of Nigerians on the ASEOWA Mission took the image of the country to an all time high. We achieved this despite very difficult work conditions.
Africa can solve her problems with better assessment-based planning, coordination, will power and sincerity of purpose. Your Excellency, our expectations of you are high, not necessarily because of the campaign promises you made some of which you already started fulfilling by declaring your assets but because of your track record of incorruptibility and love for justice. You have become president of our country at a very critical time in our collective history but we trust your capacity and commitment to change. Africa can sustain and enhance the flames of volunteerism by seeing to it that these Ebola Volunteers are made to smile again soon. No more time should be wasted on false information. Rather, all efforts should be targeted at payment of all allowances owed us by AU. Most importantly, we feel it is time for the Nigerian government to take cue from the likes of David Cameron and President Uhuru Kenyatta and bestow on us the well deserved honor. Also, it would encourage volunteers across Africa, if the AU could without much delay; award all African contingents on the ASEOWA Mission, with the promised Medal of Honor and certificates.
Our case is a huge opportunity for you to show that change is possible. We want a change in the avoidable sufferings, disrespect, maltreatment and lack of appreciation we have been through. Sir, we pray you to use your various offices to see that we are paid all our dues as appropriate and soon. We do this for love of Nigeria and Africa and we shall always fight for Africa no matter what. We greet Ebola responders across the world, we pledge support to your government and to the AU and we pledge allegiance to the flag of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Nigerian AU-ASEOWA Volunteers
(As Listed Below)
The Senate President, Federal Republic of Nigeria
The Speaker, House of Representative
Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Health
Chairman Nigerian Governors Forum
President, Nigeria Union of Journalists
President, Nigerian bar Association
President, Nigerian Medical Association
President, Association of Medical Laboratory Scientists of Nigeria
President, Nigeria Veterinary Medical Association
Secretary Registrar Council Veterinary Council of Nigeria
Registrar/CEO, Medical Laboratory Sciences Council of Nigeria
Secretary General, Nursing and Midwifery Council of Nigeria
The President, Nigerian Association of Nurses and Midwives
President, Pharmaceutical Council of Nigeria
Director, National Centre for Disease Control
Director, Port Health Services
African Union Chairperson
Director for Social Welfare – African Union
Deputy Head of Mission, ASEOWA
World Health Organization (WHO)
NIGERIAN AU-ASEOWA VOLUNTEERS AND DESIGNATION