By Rotimi Fasan
THERE is no better way to state the point but to put it as starkly as it is: Nigerians are a suicidal lot. A traffic caution broadcast through social media in the wake of the DANA air disaster in Iju-Ishaga, Lagos, captures this aspect of the Nigerian character very well.
The message extends that warning every pedestrian traveller, especially school children have inculcated into them, to look left and right, and then left again before crossing our dangerous roads and streets. This time we, both adults and children alike, are cautioned to -yes- look left and right for cars and okadas (motor bikes); look up for planes and look down for bombs.
And not to forget, after taking this elaborate precaution to check for reckless cars, concealed bombs and even falling aircraft, we are finally warned to look back for kidnappers. Only then is it safe to move out on a Nigerian road. The images in this message, for me, capture the precariousness of life in present day Nigeria where human life has become so cheap it could be easily snuffed out.
As I said, the traffic caution came in the first days after the DANA plane crash, a crash which like most before it was only waiting to happen even when it was not at all inevitable. In one fell swoop, over 150 lives perished right before incredulous eyes that saw hell brought into their homes and neighbourhood.
The figure of 153 dead passengers and crew and six or more people on ground, murdered in their homes, can only be mere guesses given our poor record keeping ways. Who knows how many people were on that plane whose names were not on the manifest or whose names were on the manifest but were not on the plane- people who probably bought their tickets through alike authorised or unauthorised third parties?
And what is the actual figure of the residents of those houses destroyed in the crash- how many visitors, squatters or innocent pedestrians died in the mishap, how adequately have such persons been accounted for?
Raising questions such as the foregoing is not merely playing the devil’s advocate. Let’s not forget that at the same time as the crash was announced, there was also the report of the attack against a Winners’ Chapel church by the terrorists that have been mindlessly killing innocents in different parts of northern Nigeria.
The affected community in Bauchi, that is the church involved, has disputed the casualty figure given by the police, which is very good at tinkering with figures in such circumstances, as gross underestimation. So truly, nobody can be sure of the number of people who lost their lives both on the aircraft and on the ground in Iju.
But the point of all this is that Nigerians are fast becoming a suicidal people both by choice and inclination because most of the deaths that are daily recorded in our midst are quite avoidable. But we have developed very thick skins to news of deaths and mishaps such that we no longer bother to take necessary precaution to protect ourselves or others.
Nigeria is now a killing field of sorts and human lives are taken by both authorised and mostly unauthorised means and persons. While the likes of the terrorists without any logical agenda are busy killing and maiming without any reprieve in sight for hapless Nigerians, victims of these murderous attacks, kidnappers are doing their bit on the side for very handsome pay cheques. What about armed robbers that knock on people’s doors or write dark love letters to their victims well in advance of their unwanted visits?
When you move beyond all of these groups of unauthorised killers, you thereafter have to contend with others who have control over your life simply because you have to do business with them. They exercise enormous control over other people’s lives but either fail or refuse to take the right steps to safeguard such lives. These are the kind one might call licensed killers.
In this category are commercial drivers who are not bothered about the safety of their passengers; airline companies that parade decrepit aircraft, flying caskets and morgues, that have been licensed to operate and officials who ought to make such erring drivers and aviation companies comply with required regulations and standards but fail to do so for personal and official reasons.
Now Nigerians mourn the dead and complain about the rot in our aviation sector in the spirit of righteous anger. But the rot didn’t begin today or the day the DANA aircraft went down. Indeed, there are indications that something ought to have been done about the aircraft that has brought tears into many homes well before the disaster. Nothing was done when the disaster could still have been avoided.
All waited until it was too late to act. We have no value for our lives and the authorities fail to place necessary value on human life when they allow the kind of criminal negligence that leads to loss of lives and properties that is to be found in different sectors of our society.
Not satisfied with killing ourselves at home we are now exporting our murderous ways across our borders. The Nigerian aircraft that went down on a busy road in Ghana killing people in moving vehicles is one indication, if no other, that we are taking our indifference to human life beyond reasonable bounds.
It is remarkable that the Ghana incident is similar to the Iju-Ishaga case in that both aircraft went down in built-up areas, not some far-flung regions that is inaccessible to rescuers. Which is not to say that the rescue efforts that followed these disasters made any impact. In both cases the casualty figures were high.
But now the period of national mourning is over and the outrage over the DANA crash gradually peters out, as it would in a short while, we would return to our old ways, sweep the report of the panel that has been instituted to investigate this crash and previous reports of earlier disasters under the carpet and go on in our practised, slumberous manner until another disaster shakes us out of our slumber.
Then would we turn out in ash and sackcloth, once more in sorrow, for the dead while calling for the head of those we believe are responsible for our latest pain. It is the nature of an unthinking people to move around in circles while imagining that they are moving forward.
It is time we took seriously the protection of life and put a halt to the wantonness with which we deal with matters that bear very serious implications for how we conduct our affairs. Let us clean up the mess on our roads and air spaces.