Sunday, May 27, 2012

The General, GEJ Voltrons and Hyperboles

I used to admire General Mohamadu Buhari a lot. In him, I saw an Incorruptible Nigerian, whom given the chance, could rid our country of its greatest challenge—corruption in high places.

My view of Buhari’s incorruptibility remains unchanged, but in view of his actions and inactions in the wake of the crisis that followed the April 2011 elections, I do not consider him qualified to air ideas about Nigeria’s snail paced crawl towards political and economic emancipation from the brigands that now hold her captive.

Buhari, I have said before, lost all rights to talk when elder statesmen are called upon, just as he has lost the goodwill that has ensured he returned time and time again to compete for that exalted but oft raped position of this nation’s president. While I still say that Buhari did not ask his supporters to take to the streets and slake their rage on innocent Nigerians, doing nothing to call them to order painted him in colours that are not so different from those he was seeking to oust.

Anyway, this post is not really about what the man did, or didn’t do, after the elections last year. This post is about what the man is doing now and what he intends to do come 2015. Buhari as he is wont, warmed his way back into national consciousness by declaring in no small words that come 2015, naija masses will revolt if INEC does not allow for free and fair elections. we go again, was my reaction when I saw reference to the statement on twitter, knowing the dams would soon burst and all hibernating GEJ Voltrons, as tweeps call them, would awake and be up in arms. My, my, was I right? Reno Omokiri, a young man most armchair activists like myself have come to expect the most uncouth behaviour possible in the course of defending his government pay cheque did not disappoint—kind of reminds one of pre-activist FFK’s brashness. Reno attacks on Buhari’s audacity to attack the hallowed PDP machine signalled other hibernating voltrons into action and the battle to ‘call Buhari to order’ was on in earnest.

While I think the PDP, and GEJ’s camp, are right to defend themselves if someone wrongly accuses them of wrong doing, in this instance they are absolutely wrong.

Why? Simple.

First: Because Buhari, though he might have accused them of rigging elections in the past, was only warning of the fall out of any attempt to rig the 2015 ballot. Second: Other, both highly and lowly placed, Nigerians have issued similar warnings in the past, and no one bothered to send out the verbal attack dogs.

I think GEJ is still missing the whole point of being president. He has to understand that as president he is number one and therefore the first target when things go wrong, and also the first when praises for things being done right are dished out.

Also, most of the technocrats drafted into government to help this unassuming man navigate foggy landscape of government-citizen relation are still dozing in the zombie days of military dictatorships, where any and every ‘his/her Excellency’ is sacred. Gaddem! This is a democracy, no matter how flawed, and people should be allowed to have opinions. I think it would serve GEJ and those who purport to speak for him to stick to the substance of opinions, not insinuations and hyperboles.

For PDP and its supporters: you may have ruled naija for the past 12 years, but you are not Nigeria and do not represent the masses. It is not given unto you to react to every statement from perceived political opponents as if you are Nigeria.

For Buhari: you lost your chance when it was clearly there for the taking. Go home, rest and advise younger protégées on how to take political opportunities. Also, talk smart, you are no longer in the army.

For the naija people: it is coming again, and we are losing ourselves once again to that sectional divide. When did Boko Haram stop being a PDP invention abeg? We need to wake up and smell the beans before it burns once again.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Our Roads; Our Death and a Nation Where Life is Cheap

It is almost impossible for anyone travelling between towns in Nigeria not to pass a recent road carnage. These carnages, usually auto accidents with fatalities, are becoming more commonplace in Nigeria and are exacerbated by the extremely low road maintenance culture that is synonymous with every government since the Gowon years. If you are in a mass transit bus; as you pass by the twisted chunks of metal and mangled body parts, you hear gasps of sorrow and shouts of ‘Jesus’, as fellow travellers call on higher powers to ensure they do  not meet the same fate.

We do not really understand what is at stake when one talks about death on and by our national highways. To make it clearer and perhaps bring it home, I will dwell on my own personal experience. This year is yet half way through but I have lost three people close to me to auto accidents in the three geographical zones of Nigeria. The first was my cousin, Eddy Oha, whose journey to Lagos from Akure where he resides with his wife and children was truncated at Ijebu Ode when the commercial bus he was travelling somersaulted severally. He died later that evening at the University of Ibadan teaching hospital—where little was done to save his life.

A few weeks ago, I learnt of the death of Adolphus, a cousin’s husband, in an auto accident as he was returning to his base in Malunfashi from a business trip to Kano. Another shock came on 28 April when the news of Kenechuckwu Igbo’s death via an Okada accident in Enugu reached me.

The above mentioned people represent numbers in the statistics for those lost to all manners of auto accidents. They are numbers on a sheet of paper to the government employee that will type them out by this year’s end, they are numbers to the head of the FRSC that will read them out to show whether safety on our roads have increased or decreased when 2012 is reviewed. To people who study the charts for thesis and whatnot, they are numbers on a page. Whether those who write them down or those who quote them remember that these numbers represent individuals, represent dreams untimely broken, represent tears and sorrow, is a guess that I do not think of dwelling on at this time.

Millions of Nigerians are travelling along our highways as you read this. Chances are that many, passing wreckages not yet removed or recent carnages, will have tales of near misses or other gory scenes witnessed in times past. They will wail and gnash teeth at the thought of lives lost, but soon minds are forced to less depressing thoughts, after all, the death of a stranger is not much of an incident—or so the old Igbo adage infers. However, chances are, in passing vehicle, or even the unfortunate ones, there is someone heading to the funeral of someone who died in an auto accident. To people like the fore mentioned, the scene just witnessed poses deeper meanings, for them the statistics represent loved ones, untimely taken, for them it is more than just a number.

For me, the statistics stopped being a number about three years ago when I lost my best friend to an auto accident in Kaduna. My friend, Chimezie Okieyi, survived an earlier accident in 2003, which kept him at in a ward at the orthopaedic hospital in Enugu for a year and maimed his left foot, but the second one took his life—here again the hospital were helpless.

Our hospitals, our death

Of the people we have buried in my ancestral village this year, the vast majority died as a result of accidents, deaths I feel could have been prevented in more ways than one.

To give a perspective, I will dwell a bit about my cousin’s death. Eddy Oha was involved in the auto accident at about 9 am on Tuesday the 31st of January 2012. As is the Nigerian experience, good Samaritans rushed him to a hospital, where nothing was done to save his life. It took calls on his phone for his friends to find out about his situation. His friends rushed from Akure to the hospital in Ijebu Ode to meet him lying on the floor with only a drip on him, still the hospital charged N25000 for that drip, a tranquiliser and the floor space he had occupied for about five hours before his friends got there and they were allowed to move him to another hospital. The debate of whether to take him to LUTH or University of Ibadan Teaching Hospital was quickly solved on account of Lagos’s perpetual traffic jam. All the hope of prompt attention expected for accident victims disappeared on getting to Ibadan where the hospital officials appeared more interested in documentation and payments than diving in an attempting to save a life. Eddy Oha, with broken legs but no external injuries, died at about five PM, two hours after arriving at the teaching hospital. In the two hours, he was there, only a drip was administered to him, while we ran around, queuing up to pay for this and that. I still believe that had instant medical attention being provided for him, my cousin would be alive today.

A few years ago, I witnessed an instance similar to the one that played out with my cousin when a fence collapsed on a woman in my then neighbourhood. We had rushed the woman to Ikeja General Hospital, thinking they would be better equipped to attempt saving her life. The woman was conscious, talking all through the episode, but it was obvious to all that she was in deep pain. We go to the hospital anxious and keyed for the type of haste we see in western movies in emergencies, only to be disappointed by the lackadaisical attitude of the hospital staff. We had to beg and plead before an attendant made the move to take the woman from the danfo bus we came in into the emergency ward. From there it was downhill. We were asked to go and register, pay for x-ray and whatnot. By the time we raised the money required (it was about 12 midnight) and the woman was wheeled into the x-ray room, she gave up the ghost, like my cousin, a victim of the careless attitude of our hospitals, from internal bleeding.
Our Commercial vehicle, moving coffins

How safe are our commercial vehicles? How sane are our drivers? How greedy are owners and operator of transport companies? How concerned is the government and it agencies?

These questions are very important if we ever hope to save lives on our highways. If we can find answers to why the people who are empowered by government to oversee the cars that ply our highways, fail to see dangers of improvised seats in commercial vehicles, then we are well on our way to abating premature deaths on our highways.

If no law exists to prohibit nonstandard seats in commercial vehicles in Nigeria, perhaps it is time to legislate on one. We all know how much research goes into designing cars, and how disastrous any alteration that goes against the design can be. People in other climes have claimed billions of dollars in damages from car companies because of defective parts. Here, we knowingly distort the design to create space for more passengers and make more money.

While the greed of the owners of commercial vehicles knows no bounds, the acquiescence of the security agents, who do little to secure the lives they are mandated to, should not be forgotten.

Why do we insist on having these little Toyota buses and van transport our people? We all know the bigger buses are safer and better. Is it not time we make them the transport vehicles of choice.

Our cars are death traps, our roads are death traps, our hospitals are no help, and the government looks on, mute to our spilled blood. Death, it appears, is our lot in our travels everyday—unless we have the means to fly.

That is our dilemma, our circles of inefficiencies kill our people, and no one cares enough to make a change.
I am all about change. We have to make a difference; we have to save lives, to force government to make the effort and accept that every Nigerian has the right for a chance at life. We have to question why almost everyone with internal bleeding, but without the means to go to a well-stocked private hospital, stands little chance of surviving at any government hospital. 

To do this, I say we put a name to the statistics as I have done above. If you have ever lost someone dear to an accident on a Nigerian road, please comment on this post and put a name to the number. We can change the attitude.