There are several labs in many cities in Europe where scientists carry out experiments in molecular biology. I was in one of them about six years ago as part of a team getting training in the fine art of environmental journalism. I will skip the niceties and fine arts in that training and dwell on the shock that greeted me when I found out that a very long time before I found myself in that lab, the first world had since moved away from the seeming naïve notions and options presented by photosynthesis as a means of food production. The experiments (and very successful ones at that) seek to distance scientists from initial beliefs that the sun is the source of all life. They successfully challenged early assumptions that were taught to us in elementary school (and which we still hold very close to our chests and hearts) that the food production process and chain nearly all began and ends with the rays of the sun helping the plant produce seeds.
In biosynthesis (as opposed to photosynthesis), scientists isolate any unproductive cells or DNA or chromosome of a plant like rice or beans or wheat or any other grain they choose. Then they remove it. But before that isolation and surgical operation, they would have also identified a productive or a very fertile cell in any other living organism of about the same size as the specimen – a maggot or housefly or termite or butterfly and replace it with the unproductive cell of the grain of wheat or rice or maize. The theory is that if the infertile cell was supposed to produce a single ear of maize, the specimen with the replaced cell should produce as many ‘seeds’ as the cell or DNA of the organism which was used to replace the infertile one. When they are done culturing this whole thing in that lab, the surgically operated seed is first planted in the lab and subsequently in the field with astonishing results – the seeds come bounteous and look healthier as well.
Such grains are hardly consumed in Europe. While some of these grains form part of the components mixed with dung in mega factories for the production of biogas, others, unfortunately for us are now being quietly introduced as staples on our dining tables. I used the word ‘unfortunately’ because there are unproven allegations and speculations by Greenpeace that these genetically modified foods, GMFs, have hidden and yet to be discovered health dangers. After I got back from my little trip, I wrote about this in an authoritative magazine with the hope that someone up there would take a listen and act accordingly – at least in getting the word out and help consumers make informed choices about organic and GMFs. There was a lot of suspicion and skepticism over what I had written back then in 2008, and therefore I did not expect to be taken seriously.
Knowing the little I know that biotechnology and biosynthesis is common in Europe and the Americas, and that the cultivation of viruses in labs has been thriving in labs in the first world about three decades ago, I have followed the ‘outbreak’ of the ‘dreaded’ Ebola virus with the kind of skepticism that greeted my write up about the GMFs. This is not to mean that some of us discount the fact that there is currently an Ebola virus around. Nevertheless, let’s pause awhile and consider the following facts. Fact – Ebola as a dangerous virus has been there since 1976. Fact – the Western world too and those with the technology have isolated the virus and have been studying it since its debut. Fact – we all suddenly heard of the ‘outbreak’ of the virus in Liberia from the ‘missionary’ activities of two American scientists in Liberia. Fact – the virus was smuggled in here by another American scientist with Liberian origin (a doctor is a scientist, agree?). Fact – the virus shares the same credentials with HIV in having no known cure but the scientists that were in Liberia are currently responding to treatment in a cubicle at Emory University Hospital in the US. Officials of that hospital have confirmed that a decade ago, they had built that cubicle ready for the ‘outbreak’ of the Ebola virus. Fact – one of the scientists, Dr. Kent Brantly – while recovering from the virus at Emory University Hospital had said in an update from the Hospital, ‘I held the hands of countless individuals as this terrible disease took their lives away from them. I witnessed the horror firsthand, and I can still remember every face and name’. I was wondering to myself when I read this – who was infected first – was it the scientist or the Liberians? If it was the Liberians who were infected first, how come the Doctor still ‘held the hands of countless individuals’ infected with a disease for which infection is via physical contact? Is this man a medical doctor or just a doctor of science? Fact – Emory Hospital in a statement on the treatment of Dr. Brantly said they were mostly concerned with treating him for the ‘side-effects’ of Ebola – side effects? Does this mean then that Ebola has good and bad sides and here we are saddled only with the side-effect? Fact – an experimental drug which is said is being used on the two American scientists is already in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea – but not here in Nigeria – in spite of the initial refusal of the American president to let it be used in places where there has been an ‘outbreak’.
Now, those who may be familiar with our colonial history may know that our leaders then were people who jealously guarded our political and economic interests from the advance of the colonialists and traders who came in the guise of Christian missionaries. The ‘missionaries’ and ‘traders’ were more of an advance party doing reconnaissance activity for a subtle invasion. In several of the cases when the guise or ruse failed, the missionaries immediately signaled to their government who moved in and sacked our towns and cities. Most of the time before the sack, they would station their weapon of warfare – gunboats – on the banks of the coastal cities as part of an attempt to cow our leaders into submission and to sign documents which our leaders were unable to read and understand – the experiences of Jaja of Opobo, Oba Ovonramwen, Nana of the Itsekiri who paid the supreme price for defending our sovereignty easily come to mind.
Pre-colonial African relationship with our former colonial masters vis-à-vis our politics and economy has not changed much. African leaders of today still defend Africa’s sovereignty as jealously as Jaja or as Ovonramwen did even though they cannot stimulate the kind of environments and people that will manufacture the gunpowder or the guns with which to defend that sovereignty. The only bombs that our people have contributed are the ones used in killing innocent and defenseless civilians. According to Jeffrey Sachs in his book, The End of Poverty – How we can make it happen in our lifetime (2005) the world economy was poor and was at par until the mid-1700s before the industrial revolution began. With that revolution, economic growth in the West which was at 25% with rest of universal economy rose and began a steady growth even up till this millennium. In Africa by contradistinction, that growth remained where it was at 25% – and affects every gamut of the African economy – science, society and its dynamism, the economy, education and religion and in the way our people think and behave today. For instance, I heard Barack Obama tell his rival Mitt Romney in the debate leading to his election for a second term as president, that today’s wars are no longer being fought and won with bayonets and bullets as was done in the World War I & II. At the ‘outbreak’ of the Ebola virus, Obama has told us that we have not fixed our health care systems and therefore he cannot allow us have th
e experimental drug Zmapp. Observe as well that a stunted economic growth and development in our education and thought seems to easily manifest in the positions we assume concerning certain issues – issues like the laws we have passed against homosexuality, for example. The civilized world of today places a lot of emphasis on what an individual can contribute to the growth of the economy irrespective of the individual’s religious or sexual orientation. Most governments in these first worlds work round the clock to protect your fundamental right to life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness, again irrespective of the religion of the individual or whether or not he/she wants to have sex through the backdoor or with a fellow man or woman. This is capitalism in its raw and unadulterated form. It is not morality. It is not culture. And the inevitable question arises: if there were to be a drug for the Ebola virus and which was produced in the USA, UK or Nigeria by a gay scientist, would we accept to use that medicine?
I do not believe that the ‘outbreak’ of the virus here in Nigeria was a happenstance. I believe that the drama we are all watching and which is being presented by the Western media, CNN, BBC et all has the elements of a well-researched programme and script. The First World, with all of its breakthrough in science and technology suddenly woke up to the realization that the Scramble for Africa brokered in Berlin aka the Berlin West African conference did not really end at that time. African countries still have high cases of power outages, inchoate health care systems, and transport and educational problems. For short, Africa is a huge market and a country there – Nigeria – has excellent GDP antecedents and huge investment opportunities for the huge pharmaceutical and monetary interests that abound in the First World. They have woken up from their slumber only to realize that only one country in Asia – China recognized this earlier and has invested massively here and is reaping handsome rewards.
The nation that controls Africa and Nigeria would control the World economy in this millennium. Could it be possible to control Africa without guns and without bombs, in spite of the fact that Africans and Nigerians in particular hold their culture and moralizing – clogs in the wheels of globalization – very dear? Sachs recommends that we surrender these belief systems and align with the first world in its drive to get everyone aboard the vehicle of globalization. As this is not happening, or that it doesn’t seem to be what will happen in a few years from today, what do you think these people wouldn’t do to get our attention?