What was that?
I made a u- turn and made another in quick succession, getting on my previous lane. And there he was, jogging slowly, blood gushing from the centre of his head down his trunk to the tarred Lekki – Ajah expressway. My default response of nausea at such sight of much blood vanished. I was overwhelmed, my spines responding and my heart pumping so hard that I could feel the vibration.
My mind was rent in pieces, and from the depth of my ventricles, I felt so much pity, concern and physical pain than I had experienced in years. On one hand was the urge to pull the car to a halt, help him in and race to the nearest medical centre. But then I remembered where I was. NIGERIA. The country where the relief rendered to a stranger could mark the commencement of a long 25 year jail term after allegations of murder or manslaughter; The country where a man gushing with blood wounds and broken bones may be a set-up by his gang of armed robbers; The country where hospitals refuse to treat a dying soul out of suspicion (when the doctors are not on strike, that is); it is only in Nigeria that a police officer extorts, detains and maltreats a good Samaritan for not admitting that he personally injured the victim or caused the crisis. There is definitely “no place like home”.
Tears trickled down my cheeks at the sudden realization that I was not about to rescue this dying man. I was going to drive past him as he ran to his death; for fear that I may never recover from the evil repercussions of my good intention to help. Little did I know that night that I will also never recover from the guilt of not helping out, knowing that the man was probably going to slump and die on the road that night. I felt selfish, scared yet helpless. I remembered many relevant bible passages, but I also remembered many Nigerian realities…
For decades, Nigerians clamoured, wept and anticipated a democratic dispensation. But has the eventual realization of this not resulted as the citizens’ undoing? We craved to be like the first world countries. But are these not the crises they face? Blood on their streets, terror in their homes and war on their annual calendars. We ached to experience technology advancements in our lifetimes. But are they not now been used to create weapons of mass destruction in our lands? Mass burials, state burials, nationwide gloom, states in emergency, terrorism and bomb blasts have now become entrenched in the Nigerian dictionary, even on the lips of babes and sucklings. We never saw these coming!
Reflecting on the serenity of our childhood barely two decades ago, we remember the serene plays and the sheltered days of biscuits and toys. Life was tonnes easier, simpler, sweeter and more peaceful. Do we ever wonder if our children will someday be able to talk about such peaceful playful childhoods buying ‘guguru’ and danqua, licking sweets and sucking on ice cream nylons while going home from school or walking to church? I remember when we used to play cashew-nuts and rubber-bands. I remember when we made cars out of sugar cartons and empty bournvita and milo tins. I remember when we boys drew lines between us and girls sitting beside us so they don’t touch us. I remember rolling tyres on the streets, picking bottle corks and arranging stones on the terrace. I remember playing table soccer with paper goal posts, rolled paper balls and candle wax in bottle corks. I remember rolling the white inner parts of cassettes as soccer balls. I remember going down the streets to grind pepper and mummy never feared that any harm could come on her children. I remember the innocence of our childhood and the peace that came with it. I remember when we made toy guns from planks and rubber. Who would have thought that 15 years down the line, children younger than we were then would hold real rifles and shotguns killing people their parents age in the name of religious and ethnic wars? Who would have thought that the holes which we bore in sand hills with our hands will someday be replaced with bomb spoils? Who envisaged that bursting balloons were not the loudest things to be heard in neighbourhoods when Christmas knock-outs were not yet sold? Who would have thought that thieves tearing house-nets on Sunday mornings to steal Television sets and pieces of meat would be substituted with aircrafts breaking into buildings on Sunday afternoons claiming lives and destroying property? Who would have thought that armed robbers that removed car mirrors and collected handsets and wrist watches were not our greatest fears? Who would have guessed that greater causes of death than poverty, disease outbreaks, nature and old age would ever arise as ‘natural’ causes to further reduce life expectancy in Nigeria? Whoever thought that someday we would have to also look up and look down for aircrafts and bombs before crossing the road? Who ever thought that children will neither be safe in their houses nor in their schools? Who ever thought that going to church for worship will someday become a potential suicide mission? Who ever thought that car accidents were not the most dangerous public occurrences? Who envisaged that life under General Abacha’s regime would be safer for the common man? Who guessed that minimum wage and freedom of information were given to us in barter trade for our lives and property? Who would have thought about bomb blasts in Nigeria? Who? We never saw these coming!
Tuesday, December 13, 2011 witnessed the President allocating N921.91 billion for security alone, being 25% of the annual budget. Yet, the state of security in Nigeria has been on a perpetual downward spiral, causing concern for all and sundry whether the sector is eternally preposterously problematic or merely coincidentally transiently plagued. The US Department of State only recently warned her citizens of the risks of travelling to Nigeria. And out of the 36 states, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Rivers, Abia, Edo, Imo, Plateau, Bauchi, Borno and the gulf of Guinea are termed high- risk areas to be avoided. But why not? The New York Times on January 2, 2012 released an article by a professor of history Jean Herskovits analysing the security threats and issues in Nigeria and advising categorically that the United States should divorce itself from the mêlée in Nigeria. He revealed that Boko Haram is now being franchised by several criminal gangs operating under its name, and identified the unwise doings and statements of the Nigerian president irrespective of enormous support from the United States. The question remains however that if we do not even know the realities in our country, the sources and causes of renewed clashes and strife, how then do we combat it? If foreigners have a better insight into the fundamental perils plaguing our homeland, then where do we go from here?
From the two car bombs during the independence day celebrations in October 2010, the suicide bomb attack in Abuja on August 26, 2011, similar suicide bombing in the church in Madalla on December 25, explosion in Delta state on December 28, bomb explosion at the fish bar in Abuja on December 31, gunmen strike in Gombe state on January 5, another similar gunmen strike occurrence in Adamawa on January 6, bomb blasts on the premises of Thisday newspapers in Abuja and Kaduna simultaneously on April 26, several multiple other bomb attacks and explosions in Kano, Kaduna, Borno, and other states across the country. The list of terror unleashed incidences seems endless. And I ask, “how many people must die before enough is enough?”
Looking back with retrospect at the hurt in our hearts over the recent mishaps across the country, it becomes easily discernable that our fatherland has become unsafe to inhabit. Of a sudden, we have become so accustomed to the tales of hundreds of deaths that it no longer makes front page news in our dailies. How sad! Hundreds were killed daily in Kano state for weeks in January and yet no remedy was found. Is it not bad enough that our people are beaten, broken and battered from the hardships of daily living? Is it not saddening enough that families live on less than a hundred naira a day? Is it not incredible to realize that so many Nigerians do not have their daily bread? How unfair is it to add murder to our woes? People kill one another; the government kills the people, hunger kills the people, bombs kill the people, fear kills the people, even the people that cannot afford to fly by air have the aircrafts come to kill them in their bedrooms. How long will we have to go through these and repeat this cycle? Would we have to literally march to Aso Rock in unison to fight the government before anything is done? We never saw these coming!
It is now certain that the thoughts and plans of our leaders for us are thoughts of evil and not of good to give us a rapid end. We have been short-changed, cheated and deceived. Our leaders have taken pleasure in watching us cry rivers time and time again. We have been forced to believe that it is extremely impossible to effect a change. But should we dash our hopes? Should we all give up on our expectations of the morning after the night? Is this the end for Nigeria? I don’t think so. We may faint but we must not die. We may hunger but we must not starve. We may even get weary, lose our voice and grow lean but even with tears in our eyes, aches in my heart, and even if it is with our last breath, we must remember the fallen soldiers, the victims of the various bomb blasts, the air crashes, the multiple accidents, the fire outbreaks, the religious attacks, the victims of the Jos crisis, the starved in the creeks… We never saw these coming.
May we never again have a better yesterday.
Sanmi Abiodun (2012)