There are some stories you read in Nigeria that make your heart bleed and make you wonder if the people of this country are actually ready to break out of the shackles of underdevelopment.
While we are all quick to identify the speck in the eyes of others, especially our leaders, we refuse to acknowledge, let alone speak of removing the log in our own eyes. We forget that the values, moral and ethical composition of a people congregate to define the present and future of such a people.
Most often than not, we attribute all of the challenges that we face as a nation to the ineffectiveness, lack of capacity and sometimes wickedness of our leaders but we neglect the fact that these leaders are essentially Nigerians and that there are minute ways in which we all contribute to the stunted progress of our country. One of such is the almost universal careless disposition to the respect for and preservation of human life by the average Nigerian.
Let me share one recent sad event with you to explicate this point. A couple of weeks back, a man, possibly in his 60s, left a construction site where he was a supervisor for his home in the Berger area of Lagos. He crossed the expressway to make the journey to his home and was suddenly hit by a careless bus driver who had some passengers in his vehicle.
Immediately the incident happened, a witness said passengers came out of the bus, apparently not willing to be found on the scene by law enforcement agents. The bus driver was said to have hurriedly packed the writhing victim into his bus saying to those who were watching that he would take the man to a medical facility.
No one asked questions about the specific medical facility he was taking the victim to, no one took down the registration number of his bus as he was said to have been an intercity driver. He was allowed to take the man away while every other person went about their business. Oh well, there was one concerned man, who was said to have found the wallet of the victim on the spot of the accident and called his family to alert them about what happened, where it happened and the decision of the driver to, all by himself, take the victim to the hospital.
Until well past midnight, the family combed hospitals from around Berger, the Accident and Emergency Unit at the 7Up area of Lagos, where the victim would have received treatment, Magodo, Shangisha, Ketu and the entire vicinity without success.
The search continued for the next two days and it would only be on the third day that the attention of the family was drawn to a dead body that had been dumped somewhere around Orile, tens of kilometres from the scene of the accident.
The family quickly rushed to the scene, unsure of what to meet, hoping against hope that their father would be found alive rather than dead. On arrival, it was the body of their otherwise bubbly father that they found. And even as they grieved over the untimely death of their patriarch, they found consolation in the retrieval of his corpse; days after a heartless driver chose self-preservation over the noble opportunity to save a life.
This raises question about how much value we place on the lives of others in this country. In a country where people thought more about the sanctity of life, the system would provide rapid response instruments that ensure people get taken care of. And where that is not available, he would have been taken to a nearby hospital under the supervision of witnesses. He possibly would be alive with his family today but here, he had no chance!
Gone are the days when Nigerians considered the preservation of life as a common duty. This is why some medical personnel will place priority on money over the prescription of their professional pledge to save lives. I have heard of stories where doctors refused to attend to patients because they were unable to afford pittances to register in their hospitals. I actually, once, walked into a situation in which a child lost his life because hospital workers insisted that nothing would be done until his petty trader single mother paid to register the child!
I have heard of instances where mothers and newborns lose their lives to nothing but lack of prompt intervention from medical personnel. To complicate matters, the bereaved get the most inhuman treatment from the same people who could have saved their loved ones.
A recent report entitled, “Blood on their hands: Who will save the Nigerian child from ‘killer’ doctors?” published by The Cable, paints a vivid picture of the inhuman conditions that patients are subjected to in hospitals in Nigeria.
It told of the sequential loss of children in the Oncology Ward of the University of Lagos Teaching Hospital as well as the apathetic, sometimes, coldhearted reactions of medical personnel to bereavements freshly induced by their own lackadaisical behaviour.
A particular man who was said to have gone on a violent rage after losing his newborn a few hours after he was born premature got a really rough treat from the hospital. The Cable reported that he was “detained by the security men, and the authorities subsequently threatened to charge him for assault. His family members wondered if assault was anything compared to negligence leading to preventable death.” This man’s wife was still said to be in some unconscious situation at another hospital. How can such a man remain sane?
This attitude is carried over by our leaders at all levels. This is why 16 years after return to democratic governance, Nigeria cannot boast of a community health insurance scheme from which the common man can benefit. State governors would rather embark on medical trips abroad than contemplate state-of the- art facilities that would benefit their people and promote medical tourism. We are a nation where only our own lives and those of our family members matter to us. It is the same reason why the medical facility which services the seat of power in Abuja would have provisions higher than that of all tertiary medical institutions in the country put together in this year’s recently approved budget.
Outside the dysfunction in our medical facilities, you will hear stories about kidnappings for ritual purposes, about communities where young girls are paid to bring forth babies who would only become objects of ritual sacrifices moments after their first breath.
And then, the various internecine wars that the country has witnessed. Neighbouring communities fighting and killing one another, turning their fields into rivers of blood, sometimes over very trivial issues that dialogue should resolve.
That is not to talk of the over 20,000 lives that have been lost to the Boko Haram insurgency in the past seven years and the latest terrorist encroachment of herdsmen who have killed not less than 1000 people in the past couple of months.
These people were killed in some of the most grisly manners possible yet the killers still walk around unpunished. In instances like the recent attack on Nimbo community in Enugu State for example, law enforcement agents neglected to protect citizens in spite of intelligence reports of an impending attack. As we speak, no one has been called to answer for the dereliction of duty that led to the death of tens of harmless Nigerians in this incident. So, how do we deter other law enforcement agents from abandoning their duties in future?
Beyond government however, I think the average Nigerian should be a bit more concerned about the life of the other person. No matter where we find ourselves, we should ensure that no human being loses his or her life without a chance to fight for it, and each of us willing to facilitate that fight. I think this is a conventional requirement for civilisation, one classification that our country should otherwise eminently qualify for.