100 YEARS AFTER THE INFLUENZA OF 1920 IN IGBOLAND (NIGERIA): IS HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF?

100 YEARS AFTER THE INFLUENZA OF 1920 IN IGBOLAND (NIGERIA): IS HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF?

By Rev Fr Angelo Chidi Unegbu ([email protected])
1) According to the reports of Elizabeth Isichei, one of the most renowned Igbo historians, “in 1920 Igboland was swept by a deadly influenza epidemic which was, of course, ¬†worldwide. In the north-east a mission doctor estimated that 80 percent of the population was affected. It was especially severe, too, in the towns behind Onitsha. In the town of Abaja nine out of ten people seemed to be down. The roads were deserted. Here and there across them could be seen clumps of feathers and ashes – the sacrifices of _dibias_ to keep away the spirits that bring the disease.
In some areas the epidemic, ‘driving men to despair and madness’, even led to a recurrence of human sacrifice.” Cf Elizabeth Isichei, _A History of the Igbo people_, 223 – 224.
2) Today (2020), 100 years later, there appears to be a replay of the same scenario though of different coloration and design but the same substance. Just like the roads were deserted in 1920 because of the influenza, in 2020 the same roads are deserted because of a pandemic.
3) Just as the _dibias_ and diviners of 1920, today’s _dibias_ and diviners, dressed in gentleman’s attire, also make their adherents believe that the pandemic is a spiritual attack that needs only a spiritual solution. Did a pastor not tell us how to call the name of Jesus 7 times before taking our bath as a way of driving away the spirits of coronavirus in our homes. Many told me how they adhered to this injunction.
4) We will shudder when we hear just 1 percent of what men and women of God told their adherents in private and public concerning protecting themselves and their loved ones from the present pandemic.
5) 100 years ago, the influenza epidemic drove men and women to despair and madness, as we saw above. There was hardly a family without casualties. Many were killed by despair and sadness generated by the loss of loved ones, jobs and properties. Today, men and women are also being driven mad not actually by the disease but by government’s ill-informed approaches to the matter.
6) 100 years ago, the pandemic even led people to perpetrate human sacrifice in order to save their heads and those of their loved ones.  In order words, human beings killed fellow humans so as to survive the influenza.  Today, traders have hiked the prices of their goods so much that many families are sitting at home today without food. Only God knows how many people that will die as a result of this. Only God knows how many people that will be sacrificed so that others will save their heads and those of their loved ones.
7) Furthermore, how else can one describe the government stay-at-home policy without accusing them also of human sacrifice? What do they expect of a situation where a family of eight is forced to stay at home without food, electricity and water?
8) 100 years ago, the disease got out of control and affected 80 percent of the population because of their ignorance of the disease and it’s spread. Today, 100 years later, ignorance orchestrated by a comatose education system and a deplorable healthcare system still holds sway. It is sad that so many people are yet to understand the coronavirus. We hope that the ignorance of many of us does not escalate the spread of this pandemic beyond control because that would be catastrophic.
9) In 1920, more lives would have been lost if not for the actions of the Catholics, Anglicans and other churches who offered as much help as possible through their health care services. Unfortunately, today, 100 years later, our churches have lost their pride of place in health care delivery in Nigeria, though many churches are improving on this and doing the much they can in recent times.
10) We must learn from history so as to improve on the gains and achievement of history and also to avoid a repetition of past mistakes.
11) Just like history has made us understand, this pandemic will also become history. We pray that it happens soon. We shall not only pray and hope for a solution without being part of the solution.
12) You and I can also become part of the solution to the present coronavirus pandemic by making sure we are not infected and when infected that we do not infect another person. Stick to the rules. Until everyone is free no one is free.
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