By Tabia Princewill
The story of the man who jumped off Third Mainland Bridge into the Lagos Lagoon is yet another terrifying example of the brevity and utter meaninglessness of life in Nigeria.
Death comes in so many forms in this country: from armed robbery to bad roads, to fake drugs and expired food. Even those sworn to protect and defend Nigerian lives, from the police to the government itself, have killed countless innocent men and women with their convoys, harassment or overall persecution.
We live our lives facing extreme obstacles and are expected, virtually on a daily basis, to do the impossible by finding solutions to increasingly severe threats not only to our livelihoods but also to our sanity.
A country where employers expect their workers to labour for months without pay while executives drain the company finances with frivolous expenses, a country where pensions are looted and pensioners die queuing to receive their paltry entitlements, a country where landlords demand two years’ worth of rent up front (nowhere in the developed world does this occur), a country where struggles seem unending while hope for better days is finite, a country, finally, where hypocritical religious leaders can only but compound the problem by extorting tithes and other material things rather than addressing the social corruption which keeps their congregation poor, is one where death might at times seem preferable to life.
A high court in Abuja recently sentenced a 21-year-old to death by hanging for stealing a mobile phone. His teenaged accomplice was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Yet, men and women accused of looting billions of dollars get away with their crimes by claiming the huge sums of money deposited in their accounts or found in uncompleted buildings belong to their “dead mum” or were “gifted” to them. In this same country, a former governor, James Ibori, who was convicted by the UK government no less, claims he was never guilty. What purpose would “witch hunting” him have served Her Majesty the Queen’s government? There was “wild jubilation” to quote newspaper reports, over the return of electricity to former minister Okonjo-Iweala’s hometown after a “seven year absence”.
Imagine spending seven years in complete darkness, living in subhuman conditions while one watches “sons of the soil” talking about being “witch hunted”.
Isn’t all of this enough to drive anyone insane? What reward is there for hard work and honesty in Nigeria? None. We are governments unto ourselves, we provide for extended families and it is no surprise that there is only so much the average human being can bear.
The man who reportedly jumped off Third Mainland Bridge was a medical doctor, a well-educated person who perhaps, went through the common travails of Nigerian students who due to strikes and other government failings, take five years to complete three-year courses.
I wonder what the sum would be if economists were to total the overall losses to the economy in the past 20 years, that is, losses due to our human capital being wasted, lives and opportunities cut short by injustice and the cluelessness of successive administrations.
This doctor took a Hippocratic Oath: he was sworn to assist any and all persons in need of medical attention no matter what. Imagine the soul-crushing events people who fundamentally chose this career path out of caring for their fellow man, must face, when they are unable to help victims of accidents because the victims aren’t armed with a police report, or because they lack the equipment or even such inane supplies as cotton wool.
We all complain when teachers and doctors go on strike, refusing to imagine what their lives must be like at the hands of those who owe them months of salaries. How do they feed themselves and their families? Perhaps, this man was fed up. Perhaps, he got tired of waiting for change. Perhaps, his heart had been broken once too many times by the disasters he had witnessed, the patients lost through no fault of his, or his family looking to him for answers as to their future.
The average Nigerian lives a wretched life where suffering is part and parcel of everyday life.
When does it end?