I was taught early in life that life is sacred and has always viewed it as thus -- something only the gods, or perhaps legal governments, have dominion over. I know death usually does not tell of its coming and even when its visit is inevitable, men are known to do all they can to at worst, delay the inexplicable.
Living in a country like Nigeria affords one the unfortunate experience of seeing death at close range when one would have wanted to be at arm’s length. Here, the society does not grant those who are not involved with dealing death the luxury of not knowing its face.
Death, when it is not natural and is brought about by the premeditated actions of someone, is termed murder. Murder and its less dreadful brother man slaughter are frowned upon by people the world over and the society has laws to punish those who are found culpable of such crimes. Death, illegally and knowingly brought unto another, carries the death penalty in certain countries, Nigeria inclusive.
Though we all seem to agree that death ranks amongst the greater crimes and would do everything within our power to ensure that a relation, no matter the circumstances surrounding his/her death, gets the ultimate respect – a decent burial – many here are not usually moved at the sight of a stranger’s corpse.
I do not know for sure if this apathy to death not within one’s family or social group has any cultural expression, however, the Igbo people summed it in the adage: "ozu onye ozo na’adi ka nku." – The corpse of a stranger is like firewood.
The adage quoted above is old, from the days of our fathers, and if what they say held true then, I am really disappointed to say that it still does today -- even though it should not in a modern society like ours. With sayings like this, it would appear our elders knew the worth of a stranger’s corpse, but even they made sure there were provisions to handle the disposal of such bodies, or to inform those with more stake in the person to
With the foregoing in mind, anyone with a sense of decency can guess my reaction, when returning home from work last week; I beheld, in a dry gutter beside the golf course fence along Works Road in Ikeja GRA, Lagos, the very still form of young man, probably in his mid-twenties. Shocked and moved by a sense of charity, I moved closer. Leaning over the body, I sought for signs of life. Not noticing the usual up and down movement of a breathing man and judging by the tell tale signs of withered leaves on and around him and the faint smell of decay in the air around him, I assumed that the feller was gone and not recently either.
I stood there for a moment, overcame. This was a Youngman in the prime of life, someone who could have been anybody: a brother, a father, an uncle, a cousin, a friend, a lover, somebody’s best friend, anybody.
Okadas and cars zipped past and other pedestrians paused to see what it was that had held my attention with such intensity before hurrying away at the sight of apparent death. I did not blame them for not lingering to share in my pity for the young man, I am sure they too felt pity, but not enough to risk remaining at what perhaps is a crime scene, or too averse to death to stay long. I did not need to ponder at their actions; we are all Nigerians and know well enough that it is advisable not to linger close to crime scenes, not to talk of reporting such.
Forced back to the moment by the cry of JESUS from the lips of a young school boy also then passing through and the sight of a police van speeding by, I recalled that just down the road, at a junction not too far away, a police team is wont to be found. Always constant, controlling the traffic gridlock on that stretch of road. I speedily walked down the road to the junction where I reported what I had seen to the police officers chatting away in their van.
In truth, the police officers acted shocked and concerned, different from what I had expected, and even appeared curious as to what would have caused the man’s death and asked about the state of the body. I allowed them speculate about “all these wicked hit and run drivers” before asking them what was to be done. The sergeant in charge told me they were going to check on the body and report to their office. As I went on my way, they were reversing their car to go check.
I felt somewhat accomplished as I headed home, feeling that the dead man would at least be taken
Police officers "busy" with an "arrested" van. Surely they do not care about the story behind the rotting corpse a few metres away. Since they do not care about how an adult male came to be dead, surely they won't be much bothered about the harzard the rotting corpse presents to the living. Naija ! Where are we headed?
off the street and some sort of investigation begun to identify him and, hopefully, what killed him.
I did not pass through that route on my way to work the next day, but as I walked down that road by closing time, I found the body still there. Infuriated, I went to see the officers I had spoken to the day before but met a different team in their stead. My anger further boiled when they admitted that they knew about the body, and that it had been reported to them by someone two days before.
What then is keeping you guys from doing something about the body? I asked
We are not the problem oga. It is the council (Local government authorities) that is supposed to remove the body. They said
But that is not right, I say. What about investigation?
Oga, no vex, you know how this work bi. I promise you it will be gone by tomorrow morning.
I walked away as the corporal I was talking to brought out his phone – to call the council people, he said.
The next day... you guessed right, the body was still there. This time I did not bother wasting my breath on the police but sent a photo of the dead guy and the location of the body to facebook and twitter, hoping that someone with the right authority would see it and compel the police to do something about it.
The body as it was the second day I saw it
I saw the body on Wednesday 23rd Nov 2011, the police officer I spoke to the second day said the body was first seen two days before, on the 21st. By 28th Nov when I last checked, the body was still there, in an advanced state of decay.
On 28 Nov. My photo caption on facebook was "Despite several attempts by me to get the police to remove this rotting corpse of a Nigerian man from the gutter along Works Road Ikeja GRA, or even look into his death, the body still lies there. Nature is already working its thing and maggots and the weather will surely remove all sign. However, this is the true worth of a Nigerian. Death without question. I do not have the means to do anything physical about this body, but hope that someone with the right authority can compel the police to do its duty."
This is the worth of a Nigerian life. Except you are the child of the rich, the ones with the means to search for you, your death might not mean much to the Nigerian security apparatus. What is more, our society has so degenerated that the decency that should be the right of those who can no longer help themselves, is no longer assured. The maggots get the dead here, no questions asked.