The Ebola Virus Outbreak: The Major Challenge Of The Year 2014

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)

It is an indisputable fact that the Ebola outbreak was a major challenge during the course of last year, as it affected every fabric of the Liberian society and nationhood. It came at a time Liberians were in high hope for projects being undertaken by the government. It is a known fact that at the beginning of the year, the President launched the hydro project in Mount Coffee, Montserrado County. The hydro which was destroyed during the country’s civil conflict in the early 1990’s was to be rehabilitated to alleviate the difficulties being faced by Liberians because of the absence of electricity. The project was scheduled to be completed in two years to alleviate the major problems facing Liberia in its post-war development initiatives. The project has been affected because of the Ebola crisis.

Today, thousands of Liberians rely on generators which are costly, considering the economic pinch on the ordinary people, many of whom cannot afford to purchase or run a privately-owned generator. The project was viewed as something to reduce some of the burdens on the people. The Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) which has statutory mandate for the provision of electricity lacks the capacity because of damage done to its facilities as a result of the war.

Equally, during the course of last year, if there was anything of concern to Liberians was the issue of the holding of the Special Senatorial Election in October of that year, since the tenure of 15 of the 30 senators would expire in January 2015. Accordingly, the National Elections Commission (NEC) headed by Cllr. Jerome Korkoya began preparations for the successful holding of the election, which in the political history of the country is said to be first.

Sadly to note, while many Liberians were hopeful about this hydro project and news about the preparation of the special election, the country was hit by the Ebola virus outbreak, initially claiming the lives of three persons. It was spread by someone who contacted it from Guinea and later travelled to Lofa County, now, the epicenter of the disease. From there, some individuals who contracted the virus, travelled to parts of the country, thus spreading it with others. However, the virus that broke out in March was contained. With this, complacency and unnecessary politicking became the order of the day, thus abandoning measures to avoid its recurrence.

Initially, when the virus broke out, there were a lot of disbeliefs in some quarters as some individuals, including lawmakers said that was a concoction and fabrication by some individuals in the government to put money in the pockets of some officials of government as there was no outbreak of the Ebola virus in the country. Some others said it was only intended to extract the kidneys of people for sale. Admittedly, one of the lawmakers agreed that there was Ebola, but said that this was a “curse on the President.”

As the nation remained complacent, the virus again hit the nation in August. That time, it was very devastating as it affected every fabrics of the nation, leading to the abandonment of ongoing projects, like the hydro, Caldwell Bridge project, closure of schools, the compulsory reduction of civil servants, as well as the halt to the operations of many airlines.

The second attack of the virus on the nation overwhelmed the nation’s health capacity, thus resulting in the rapid spread of the disease, even killing health workers. That prompted strong political actions by the President, who declared a State of Emergency and curfew, to the dislike of few. Besides, the government to contain the spread, quarantined certain areas, including West Point, an exercise that resulted to the death of a teenager from bullet wounds during protest against the government’s decision to have the area quarantined, days after it was reported that a health center where some Ebola victims, were being kept was looted.

Seemingly, with efforts to contain the virus appears difficult as there was also mounting concerns about the successful holding of the Special Senatorial Election. This led to the President making an appeal to the international community and nations of the world. That, indeed, yielded fruitful results, as the country received assistance from countries, including the United States, the People’s Republic of China, Japan, Nigeria, Cuba, as well as many organizations including U.N. agencies, European Union, African Union, MSF, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and ECOWAS.

Even with convincing evidence that the virus was being contained, there were still misgivings that the much-expected special senatorial election was not possible for October. That led to certain actions, including the postponement of the elections from October to December 16. Still not convinced that the virus would be controlled at some appreciable level, a group of Liberians filed a writ of prohibition with the Supreme Court against the holding of the election on December 16 for health reasons. The Court, upon hearing arguments, quashed the writ, thus paving the way for the holding of the elections, then rescheduled for December 20.

Another lawsuit was a separate writ of prohibition by some lawmakers and Mr. Robert Sirleaf, son of the President who was one of the candidates in the just ended election against an Executive Order, issued by the President banning mass gathering and movement of people, as well as protest after the elections to avert the spread of the virus. But the matter was not pursued.

What made the holding of the special senatorial election a matter of concern and undeniably very crucial was its constitutional implications. That is, if it was not held, this could have brought about a crisis as this could paralyze the function of the government in the face of the completion of the Liberian Senate, as the tenure of 15 Senators would have expired.

Although under the Republican form of Government, like ours, there are three “separate” branches of government- the Legislature, the Executive and the Judiciary; they have to “coordinate” for the smooth running of the government, and obviously, in the absence of the completion of one, this could hamper the governance system. This is why the Constitution speaks of “three separate coordinate branches.”

Interestingly, and disappointingly, as efforts were being intensified to curtail the spread of the virus, there were others who were advocating for an “Interim Arrangement,” to abrogate the Constitution, thereby dismantling or disintegrating the entire government, something I vehemently opposed, being fully aware of previous experiences regarding the existence of “interim or transitional arrangements in this country.

In fact, I argued that while it is true that Ebola was a threat or war against the nation, that did not warrant any interim arrangements as was done before because Ebola did not break down the governance structure, as was in previous situations during the civil conflicts, something which necessitated such arrangements. We are making great strive in our democratic endeavor. Therefore any attempt to thwart it, would not augur well for all of us. This does not mean that all is well. NO, there are still challenges. I maintained that “interim arrangement” was not the best solution.

This is why I agree with the President when she made mention of the outcome of the just ended senatorial election in her New Year’s Message to the nation last week, when she hailed the peaceful nature of the process and pointed out: “We are pleased that we had a peaceful election on December 20. We congratulate our senators-elect for their victory and ask God’s blessings and direction as they prepare or continue to take on the responsibility of national service. We commend the losers for their constructive and peaceful participation in this victory for democracy and encourage them to identify other ways in which they can continue to serve their country.”

She went on: “The National Elections Commission deserves our praise for the efficient organization and arrangement of the process. We recognize the role of all political parties, independent candidates, observers, civil society organizations, the media, and representatives of the competing interests at the various precincts for their contribution to the process.”

Yes, indeed, as we reflect on last year, I am pleased for the successful holding of the special senatorial election and thankfully join the many persons, including the Election Coordinating Committee (ECC) headed by Oscar Bloh, in hailing NEC for a job well done.

Although the campaign process was characterized by tension, violent acts in some instances, lies, insults and misinformation, thank God it went on well that in the next few days, the Senate would be complete, with only two old faces, Prince Y. Johnson of Nimba County and Jewel Howard-Taylor of Bong County, as they emerged victorious in their re-election bids.

While acknowledging the successful holding of the election, it is saddened to note that some of our people are still not abiding by the measures put into place to fight Ebola. This virus is also a threat to national development; therefore, it behooves all citizens to abide by all anti-Ebola measures so that eventually this country can be declared Ebola-free to accelerate development initiatives, like the hydro Somalia Drive Road, Caldwell Bridge and the recently launched Ganta-Yekepa Road.

All in all, we MUST do everything to kick Ebola out. Much is being given to eradicate this pestilence. As such, we MUST act to curtail it. As it is said, “to whom much is given, much is expected,” therefore, much is expected of Liberians to complement the efforts of the international community in this fight.

A hint to the wise is quite sufficient. EBOLA MUST GO! I Rest My Case.