The marvel of history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments – William E Borah (1865-1940)
Panoplied with all political, military accoutrements, retinue of bureaucratic paraphernalia and the trappings of majestic splendour, governors, obas, chiefs, ministers, commissioners, professors, pastors, farmers, artisans, doctors, media men, among others, drove past the colony of lepers at Iwopin, Osiomo, Ologbo and Eku etc. without batting an eyelid. There was no palpable betrayal of human emotion and concern. This writer who was equally guilty of looking the other way started wondering and asked, what and who is man?
The 18th century philosopher and poet, John Arbutnot, was flummoxed and bewildered by the evil nature of man that he asked in his poem “know yourself”, “What am I? How produced? And for what end? Whence drew I being: To what period tend? Am I the abandoned orphan of blind chance, dropped by wild atoms in disordered dance? Or from an endless chair of causes wrought? And of unthinking substance born with thought?”
Man, notwithstanding philosophical, archaeological, zoanthropical, lycanthopical, historical and scientific research through radioactive isotopes etc still remains a complex conundrum, a mystery and a prodigious myth yet to be unraveled. His chameleonic mien, wicked conduct, evil disposition, traits, characteristics and idiosyncrasies monumentally attest to this assertion. How a man can walk past his fellow man who is in lethal pains without helping, remains the mother of all heartlessness and unconscionableness.
Leprosy, which is medically known as Hansen’s disease, remains as old as man. It is a dermatological defeat which manifests initially in form of silvery dark patches on the surface of the skin. If not properly diagnosed, it is mistaken for other chronic conditions affecting the skin such as tuberculosis, psoriasis, leukemia and scurvy. Truly, leprosy is caused by a rod shaped germ. The disease is of two distinct types, one largely affecting the nerves and the other being found mainly in the skin.
The cutaneous or skin type of leprosy, according to Dr. Clifford R. Anderson in his book, Your Guide to Health, begins with small, light, red or purple pimple-like lesions that spread in clusters, giving a lion like appearance on the face when found there. Small nodules may appear on the eyelids and ulcers may occur inside the nose, causing occasional bleeding.
The nerve type of leprosy may cause anesthesia or lack of feeling in the involved limb or area of the body. Sometimes there is a painful type of neuritis, at other times the hand or feet may be deformed. Ulcers may appear on the affected area often leading to the loss of several toes and perhaps a whole foot, etc. When the ulcer precipitates gangrene the leper becomes a weird and grotesque being to behold.
Lepers are normally quarantined and hermetically insulated, while undergoing intensive and good medical care in a clearly sequestered environment. But in my country Nigeria, they litter the streets. The few lepers’ settlements that exist have been deserted because conditions there are worse than Nazi concentration camps and gulag. There are hand books from the United Nations through the United Nations Economic Social and Cultural Organisation, UNESCO, the World Health Organisation, WHO, and even the Nigerian government on leprosy control and management. But all these are empty papers, they mean nothing to the Nigerian government.
Lepers are living in ghoulish hell in our country, as they are regarded as castaways, grisly macabre creatures not fit for communal, societal and government assistance. They have come to the end of the road with none to help. Their condition in Biblical times are better. Millionaires, billionaires, non-governmental agencies, Christian organisations, oil companies etc all spend their time and monies on frivolities. Nobody cares.
Lepers have families like every other person, but the fear of contamination and contagious spread of the disease has made them to be seen as taboos in our communities. Government thought it wise to cocoon them in their own colonies for treatment and rehabilitation, but this idea has become a superlative mirage, as leprosariums are no more habitable. The situation is now so bad that lepers now litter the nooks and crannies of our towns and highways. That milk of human kindness in us has been quelled by self-and society-induced programmed solipsism (I alone exist).
Apart from the Presbyterian Church leprosarium in Itu, Akwa-Ibom State, and the New Covernant Church Leper Settlement in Benin-City, Edo State, there is no other functioning and operating one in this country. The ones at Osiomo, Iwopin, Eku and Izekwe etc have all been abandoned. This is further compounded by the failure to render any form of assistance. Churches, especially Pentecostal churches, do not feed the flock as Christ and Prophet Jeremiah admonished them. The bishops and their pastors are busy taking and giving in marriages, acquiring vanity oriented property, while the true flock languish in disease and poverty. The list is endless for we are all guilty.
What is then the solution? Government must with soldierly brevity and fire brigade urgency set up a taskforce to clear our highways of these our brothers and sisters. Leprosariums must be renovated and made habitable for them. Lepers should be taught vocational trades, clinically furnished with drugs and adequate therapy. They should be given the courage to live-on by ethical re-orientation and social re-acculturation. The larger society must be enlightened to know that lepers are human beings and not dangerous as they ignorantly think.
Finally, the Nigerian government must set up a blue print for the prevention, cure and consummate eradication of leprosy in Nigeria. State governments, Non-Governmental Organisations, NGO, churches, oil industries and individuals etc must form a solid arrow-head to assist lepers in Nigeria. The call is on all rampaging and campaigning politicians and their political parties to robustly make “Eradication of Leprosy and Concrete Help For Lepers A Campaign And Manifesto Issue”. God bless our lepers.
Gbinije is of the Mandate Against Poverty, MAP, Warri