Last Wednesday, Nigerian Army alerted the world on a very dangerous development. Though no follow-up statement on the issue have since been made known, should it continue, before long, its impact would not be too far from being seen as genocidal of multiple proportions.
Simply put, our gallant military prosecuting the counter-terrorism war in the North-east flank of the country announced that Boko Haram terrorists have resorted to poisoning water sources like wells and streams in areas they were dislodged by the soldiers or areas threatened by offensive operations.
According to the Army Deputy Director Army Public Relations, Colonel Tukur Gusau in a statement, the latest of such dastardly act was the poisoning of the cattle water ponds in Kangallam village along Marte and Abadam axis in Borno State, where a large number of cattle died after drinking water from the ponds.
Although the military assured no human life was lost, it spoke volumes of the looming danger to humanity; to us all.
The spokesman was not done yet. He advanced probable reason for the new device of insurgents to punish humanity. According to him, the act was aimed at taking their own pound of flesh on the innocent citizens and livestock as a result of the unbearable offensive operations through the combined effort of the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Air Force to route them out completely from their enclaves and hideouts all over the North East.
Even at that, the best he Army could do was to advise residents in the area to be careful and avoid as much as possible, drinking water from unverified sources, especially in locations that troops routed out Boko Haram terrorists.
Herein lies the real problem; threat to human existence!
Back into history
In the history of recurring religious and related crises in this country, there has always been one or more rumours of the opposing parties planning to poison water supply or some food items that are regularly patronised by the other party.
In the second day of the Kano riots that was sparked following the scheduled visit of German Evangelist, Reinhard Bonnke to the ancient city, such a rumour was rife. That was in the late 1990s. As the rumour spread, many non-indigenes stopped patronizing the itinerant water vendor aka Yanruwa, (Mairuwa.) Similar crises that were recorded in other parts of the country had similar rumour elements going with them. And those were beside other spoils that go with such crises.
The mere fact of such rumours making the rounds immediately causes fear and panic in the people; and it could serve a positive purpose for the peddlers.
But little did we know then that we were all toying with rumours; dangerous rumours that would someday metamorphose into reality.
Welcome to Bioterrorism
In very simple terms, bioterrorism is defined as the deliberate release of harmful micro organisms into food, water or animal products to cause harm to human beings, animals or plants. It is not a rumour; but a reality like we were told by the Nigerian Army only last week.
According to experts, agreeably, terrorism is a global phenomenon. And its derivative, bioterrorism is increasingly becoming a real threat world over. The danger here is that no special skill is required to become a bioterrorist; but its impact can be phenomenal.
It creates fear, causes illness and death, reduces the quality of health of the citizenry, endangers economic production and reduces the resources of the nation.
Experts further posit that because of the increased threat of terrorism, the risk posed by various microorganisms as biological weapons needs to be evaluated and the historical development and use of biological agents better understood. They add that biological warfare agents may be more potent than conventional and chemical weapons.
In this wise, it is instructive that the progress made in biotechnology and biochemistry has simplified the development and production of such weapons. In addition, genetic engineering holds perhaps the most dangerous potential. Ease of production and the broad availability of biological agents and technical knowhow have led to a further spread of biological weapons and an increased desire among developing countries to have them.
But inspite of the foregoing fearful scenario the potentials of bioterrorism present, methinks that relevant authorities in government are yet to begin to think of counter-measures.
Yes, Nigerians share the faith of the military that Boko Haram insurgents would be humbled by its earlier announced December date. But to us on this side, that is a long way to go. And with the revelation of insurgents now poisoning what should be healthy intake for man, animal and plant, we must watch it and be wise in every way possible.
The desire of the Nigerian Guild of Medical Laboratory Directors to partner with the Federal Government on the fight against bioterrorism therefore becomes a welcome development. According to the body, whose Abuja Chapter chairman, Mkpanem Ekanem spoke recently, terrorists are adopting different strategy everyday in order to perpetrate their evil act. He confirmed that it is another tactic adopted by insurgents to unleash attacks on the country. He added that the Association is in a better position to assist the government in this fight.
Continuing, Ekanem said it is in this vein that the body is set to eradicate quacks from its profession who are prone to be compromised.
Good one there. But I think that beyond all that, there is now greater need for sensitisation of people in the North-east geo-political zone of the country who are the immediate targets of any such move by insurgents. Simply put, on their part, there should be very observant and vigilant, as they have a greater role to play in this fight.
The general public too must note that apart from being their brother’s keeper, it is incumbent on them to report anything suspicious going on in science laboratories around them; they should not hesitate to alert the relevant authorities.
Since medical laboratories are central to biotechnology, one sure way of checking the escalation of this threat is to ensure that they are manned only by licensed and authorised personnel as employing unqualified staff easily opens the doorway for infiltration by terrorists to perfect their bioterrorism skills. Besides, this leads to quackery and its attendant threat to life because it is cheap and easy to acquire.
Also, scientists in medical laboratories must at all times allow such fine patriotic ideals to guide them to always realise that they owe the society to report emerging and new pattern of disease presentation to relevant health authorities for further necessary action.
Above all, there is need for appropriate information sharing mechanism between authorised medical laboratories and appropriate security agencies whenever the need arises.
But I fear that the discovery and consequent alert by the military in the North-east may vapourised off the memories of most Nigerians. Their vigilance as is required may also not just be there. Even with the philosophical resolve to live everything to God to take control, I wish fellow Nigerians would be well-guided by the Biblical injunction that Heaven helps those who help themselves.