What is a Nigerian worth? By Akin Oluwadare Jnr.

I used to think that it was largely exaggerated but I have proofs that it’s pretty easier to raise funds to bury the dead than it is to raise funds for a living who is about to die in Nigeria. I referenced the experience of a colleague in an article I wrote sometime in March 2017 titled, “Give”, where he told the story of a friend of his who died of an ailment because he couldn’t raise N300,000 for weeks to undergo a surgery to keep him alive but a few hours after his death, his friends raised over N2m for a “befitting burial” for him. This sounds weird but it’s true. I have no way of confirming this story but I read somewhere in the print media about a woman who drowned to death under the watch of a man who was capable of rescuing her but couldn’t because “he had nowhere to keep his phone”, he couldn’t afford his phone damaging in the process of salvaging the life of a fellow human being. If the story is true, let’s estimate the price of his phone as N500,000. How much is that woman worth? Our compassion is fast giving way to passion for frivolities.

It’s becoming more regular to read stories of unstrapped containers falling off articulated vehicles, killing innocent lives. Emotions run anytime it happens. By now, one would have expected that no unstrapped container is allowed on top of any trailer on Nigerian roads but I still see them daily, manoeuvring those roads begging for attention and we wait for the next accident to happen to produce news headlines. The officers of the Federal Road Safety Corps used to be more safety conscious but it appears their priority has shifted to checking the completeness of vehicle papers for buses carrying goods than safety on our roads. These trailers and their unstrapped containers pass through them without being stopped and our emergency response team is always on time whenever the next accident happens and they usually speak glowingly of how timely they were in response to the tragedy and how swiftly they were able to pack dead bodies to make way for free flow of traffic in a manner that sometimes tempt us to clap for them in commendation for a job well done. What is the price of an average Nigerian? We are better off if these professionally trained gentle men and ladies direct their expertise towards prevention of loss of lives than recovery of dead bodies.

The news of death while I was growing up used to be a big deal but the world has since changed. The commonest causes of death then were either natural death or death caused by accident but today the news of death doesn’t scare children anymore because it’s almost a daily affair. From Boko Haram to ritual killing to death resulting from kidnapping to collapsed buildings to road carnage arising from bad roads, the list is endless. Even the way the news of death is reported has been “modernized”. At the peak of Boko Haram attacks in the North-East sometime in 2015, it was reported that over 20 lives were lost in a gruesome attack by gunmen. I watched one of the North-Eastern governors on national television where he said only (emphasis on only) seven persons were killed and not 20 as reported; he said it so casually you would think that only seven cockroaches were lost to the attack. I became weak. I was really worried about the impression his choice of word would create in the minds of children who could be watching as he described the loss of seven of his constituents in such a casual manner. I was careful not to blame him too much because I knew he was under pressure and again he had seen multiples of that number murdered in one fell swoop before than for figure 20 or seven to make much meaning to him. Sadly, this is gradually becoming our reality as death in Nigeria is becoming cheaper by the passing of each day.

Sometimes, I’m left to wonder what importance we attach to our own lives ourselves. The way Nigerians defy traffic lights to jeopardise their own lives and those of other motorists tells a lot about the value we place on lives. Have you ever seen a motorist defy red light at an intersection only to be stopped by the next traffic light 10 seconds away and you ask yourself what time has he saved? I see it a lot on Ozuomba Mbadiwe Road on Victoria Island, Lagos, between Civic Centre and Mobil. Sometimes, when the defaulter is lucky, he finds himself riding directly beside you who is traffic light compliant a few seconds later but sometimes when luck runs out of them, the result is avoidable accident that often leaves other innocent and law abiding motorists as victims. Sometimes, it could be as bad as fatal thus causing untold grief to happy families. How precious is life to an average Nigerian?

The rate of building collapse is becoming worrisome and appears to be adhering to federal character principle. It used to be prevalent in Lagos but the South-East and South-South regions are beginning to record alarming rates of building collapse that usually go with loss of lives of hapless citizens. Many times, occupants of obviously defective structures defy quit notices and hide under the guise of poverty to terminate their own lives when they claim they don’t have alternatives even when it becomes obvious that danger looms. It appears we are always more prepared for emergency management than prevention because officials of state usually speak with one voice to condemn any such a fatality in its strongest terms, constitute committees to investigate the cause of the collapse and suspend action until the next building falls. I’m thinking that perhaps if we begin to influence our mindset towards attaching higher value to life, maybe, just maybe, it will begin to positively influence our priorities as a nation. Who knows if the solutions to Nigeria’s problems lie in these lives that are wasted daily?

Social media craze is another dangerous dimension to this story. There’s always stiff competition as to who breaks the news first on social media, however gory the sight may be. The other day, a young man in his prime, a medical doctor, jumped into the lagoon on the Third Mainland Bridge and he was in the news for a long time. The best initiative from the principal witness who claimed to be riding directly behind the doctor was to take the picture of his car to post on social media for his family to know that they have just lost their loved one. In an organised society where value is attached to life, the first point of call would probably be emergency response units to explore the possibility of saving a life. Who says it’s impossible to rescue that young man alive if the Marine Police had swiftly arrived that spot immediately? We lost him and in the process of recovering his body, the Marine Police came up with the body of another man, possibly another unrecorded suicide victim. How many of these deaths does Nigeria witness daily that go undocumented?

Someone asked me if Nigerians love foreigners than we love ourselves and it took me a long time to analyse the question. Why is it that we sympathise with foreigners more when disasters befall them in their own countries but move on gallantly when deadlier disasters befall Nigerians in Nigeria? If there’s terrorist attack in Paris, our social media pages will jam with #istandwithfrance; when there was Grenfell Tower fire incident in London, Nigerians on social media stood very firmly with the United Kingdom, ‘little little’ kindness and quite good in a world that is a global village. Funeral rites for victims of such attacks in these climes are usually matters of state and beamed for the world to see as a mark of last respect for the victims. What happened at Ozubulu in Anambra State is another dangerous dimension to crime in Nigeria where it was reported that a “drug war” was stretched to the sanctuary, blood flowed freely in the temple in broad daylight but I didn’t see much of #istandwithnigeria on our social media pages or maybe, I’m not current. We have to pray so hard that another cause of death has not been added to the long list that is almost incapacitating our security apparatus.

The life of any Nigerian is priceless, this much we need to imbue in the minds of our children for a gradual change in our value system. The craze for inordinate wealth and resort to crime are direct and indirect results of a failed state but this generation can make history to redirect the course of action in Nigeria and place her on the path of greatness. My heart mournfully goes out to the families of the victims of the Ozubulu massacre and all other mindless killings before it in my beloved country. I stand with Nigeria.

Oluwadare Jnr., a financial services specialist based in Lagos wrote in via

akinjnr@gmail.com Phone:  +234-8033245434

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