By Muyiwa Adetiba
I woke up late morning to a darkened room and looked out to see heavy clouds. I had started my morning devotion when the elements opened up. Thankfully not in torrents but in drizzles. It was one of those days you wished you could stay in bed and curl up with a good book. But it was a day I needed to venture out and rain would be a dampener.
My outing was in the early afternoon and I had hoped the rain would have cleared by then. It didn’t. It went on in fits and starts instead. By the time I got ready for my mid-day service, the sleets had become heavy; heavy enough for me to require an umbrella and a car for what should have been a seven minute walk. Even then, my shoe and parts of my trousers got wet between the church entrance and car park. It was in this kind of foul weather that a man approached me after Mass. I had just scampered into the car and was folding the umbrella. I could have ignored him and sped off.
But I reminded myself that I was just coming out of church and my conscience would have needed appeasement if I had done that. I wound down. He wore a light raincoat which covered his head and the knapsack on his back. He was, from his intonation, not a Nigerian. He started a long story about how the Liberian war brought him to Ghana and then Nigeria. But I felt uncomfortable seeing him in the rain. Besides, my window was open and rain was beginning to soak my shirt. So asked him to get to the point. He said he was hungry but what he needed was not money to buy food. He needed money to get to the refugee camp in Sagamu. I asked him to see me same time the following day to present his case.
I am not that naïve not to know it could be a scam. I still remember the story of an elderly man who approached me near LASU Teaching Hospital in Ikeja with a heart rending story of a child that needed to buy a few life-saving drugs. I emptied my pocket expecting a grateful old man to dash straight for the hospital gates. This old man didn’t. That puzzled me, so I kept watching him from the rear mirror. When he felt I was out of sight, he simply crossed to the other side to continue his trade. I felt cheated. This ‘Liberian’ could be another smooth operator. But suppose he wasn’t. There is this one in ten or even 20 chance that he could be genuine. Could my conscience live with it? Besides, what he was asking for could barely cover lunch.
My day was to be spent with friends at a golf club. It was a day I was looking forward to and which I hoped the rain would not dampen. We would fete ourselves on ‘amala’ and wash down with choice liquor, often wine. Invariably, someone on another table would send a complimentary bottle to us in a spirit of fellowship.
The gesture would sometimes be reciprocated by us. We would also fete ourselves on politics and current social events. I look forward to it because it is not a regular occurrence. It happens whenever a friend who lives in the US comes to town and rallies the group. It was on one of those dates that we decided to task ourselves to intervene in basic medical needs of the indigent once a year. We gave ourselves a levy that must be completed by the end of the year and then we would visit any hospital to pay medical bills or help with surgeries.
Our day went well as expected. Armed with little delicacies as take-away, we were heading for our various cars when one of us gave a heart-rending medical story as told to him by a Professor of medicine. A man was rushed to a Teaching Hospital in pains. His prostate was swollen and was having problem passing water. He was stabilised and put on medication. The Professor who treated him was surprised when he was brought in again in pains barely three months after. He was asked if he took his medicine religiously. He was affirmative. He was treated and admonished to take his drugs. When he came again in pains a few months later he met a naturally upset professor. The man said he was prepared to die now because his mission was accomplished.
He confessed he could not afford to buy his drugs because all the money he made was to pay his son’s bills in school. His son was then in the final year at the University of Lagos. It turned out the son made a second class upper. We, my group at lunch, surmised that 10,000 Naira a month would have kept this man healthy and possibly alive. There and then, we agreed to contribute some money every month and let someone from the professor’s office administer the money for the critically ill. I have gone to these details so I can arouse the human kindness that is innate in many of us. For the price of a few bottles of wine, we can save a life in Nigeria. There is a story of a young man who was so disturbed at the poverty around him that he cried to the Lord to ask why. The lord’s answer was ‘that is why I created people like you to help out.’ I am aware that there are people who go to hospitals periodically to pay bills. I read about a young man who pays for goods he doesn’t need just to help roadside market women. There is a group of young people in my church that intervenes positively in the lives of the poor irrespective of denomination or even religion. But there is so much to be done. Let us from our little corners, touch and save lives. There is nothing as sobering as a visit to a Teaching Hospital.
For those who think this a task which only governments can handle, I will leave you with the story of an old man who walked a beach putting young crabs into a basket and throwing them far into the ocean. A young man who had been watching him said: ‘What you are doing can’t make a difference. There are just too many crabs around.’ The old man’s reply was simply: ‘It will make a difference to these ones who are getting another chance to live.’
This article was drafted during the raining season and must have been subconsciously kept for the Christmas season which is a season of gifts. Make yours meaningful. Spend on the underprivileged. Touch a life, save a life.