Columns

June 23, 2024

Is there really right to life in Nigeria? By Tonnie Iredia

Is there really right to life in Nigeria? By Tonnie Iredia

In developed democra cies, citizen patriotism is exceedingly high because the right to life in such countries is a priority both in theory and in practice. For example, the US government would take every possible step to stop whatever can bring harm to any American citizen. Indeed, the death of one American citizen especially outside the country ’s shores is enough to lead to war.

Commendably, they generally don’t wait for a calamity before action is taken. This is why the country’s embassies by convention issue periodic advisory releases to serve as early warning signals for their citizens wherever they are. It is therefore not by accident that such citizens are able to develop a high degree of affection for their country.

In the developing world on the other hand, the reverse is the case; not because people have no knowledge of the value of patriotism but because the right to life of a citizen is not similarly a priority in governance. Until the recent creation of the Diaspora Commission, which now seems to put everyone on notice, officials of government were not used to bothering about the fate of their country’s citizens. The common narrative has been that our embassies are frequently hostile to their citizens abroad – a situation that is yet to substantially change. At home, the people are themselves eyewitnesses of daily avoidable deaths which the authorities do nothing about. This seems to explain why Nigerian citizens openly chorus the saying that their country is not worth dying for.

Right to life is one of the fundamental rights provided for and documented in Chapter 4 of the Nigerian Constitution but in all honesty do our people enjoy the right to life? Hundreds of people die daily from basic ailments and even hunger, yet the same Constitution says the security and welfare of the citizenry is the primary purpose of government. In reality however, it is an open secret that the real primary purpose of government is the luxury of the ruling class. In the last few weeks, cholera, a contagious but preventable disease has been recorded in not less than 30 states in Nigeria with no concerted efforts to stop the fatalities. Painfully, this is an annual occurrence during the rains between December and June.

Although the World Health Organisation (WHO) had announced a spike in cholera in several regions of the world, with about 195,000 cases and over 1,900 deaths reported in 24 countries since the start of 2024, Nigeria is one of the countries that appear taken aback. In Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, Cholera death toll increased to 24 in Lagos State alone some 48 hours ago. Professor Akin Abayomi, the state health commissioner who announced the increase advised residents to ensure personal and environmental hygiene. It is however simplistic to imagine that it is Lagos that has been most hit simply because other states are as usual playing down the epidemic.

According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, over 1,141 suspected cases with about 40 deaths in 96 local government areas in 30 states have been recorded in the first half of this year. This establishes that right to life is not really a priority of government if these preventable deaths were allowed to happen. If the truth must be told, the priority in Nigeria is politics. In Edo and Ondo states where the governorship elections are around the corner, nothing else interests anyone. Even in states where there are no elections until 2027, it is politics, politics and politics.

In Rivers state, the priority today is whether or not the tenure of local councillors and the chairmen have ended. Already deaths have as a result occurred.

This is therefore not the best time to monitor the status of cholera in Rivers state even though 9 people were reportedly killed a few months back following an outbreak of cholera in Soku community in Akuku-Toru local government area of the state. Some community elders told the media that the outbreak was as a result of bad and contaminated drinking water. Similarly, whether or not there is cholera in Kano cannot be the issue at stake now. Following judicial pronouncements that do not mean the same thing to any two lawyers, the state government has been forced to concentrate on the Emirship of the ancient city. The fact that the court concerned is a federal high court that has chosen to deal with matters assigned to state high courts has also forced the entire nation to see the subject as the matter of the moment.

It is however observed that some efforts have been made in Kano to advise residents against drinking rainwater which the health authorities in the state say can prevent the spread of cholera as the raining season has set in. Other states are also restricting themselves to issuing guidelines on the subject. In Oyo state for instance, the Education Board has asked food vendors and handlers in public schools to follow hygiene practices to prevent contamination. In Akwa Ibom State, the government says it has initiated precautionary measures to prevent outbreak of cholera in the state. Last Friday in Uyo, the state Commissioner for Health, Prof. Augustine Umoh, said the state government had commenced sensitisation of residents in all its 31 Local Government Areas on the need to maintain personal and environmental hygiene.

Whereas counselling people on hygiene is good health education, it is important to observe that contaminated water is the only readily available source of drinking water across the rural areas of Nigeria. In the circumstance, is it irrational to conclude that the welfare and security of the people is not the priority of government? This question is relevant when it is realized that the country does not budget enough funds to stockpile certain essential items like vaccines in anticipation of health emergencies. For this reason, Nigeria has remained incapable of providing adequate cholera vaccines to meet the needs of its people. Jide Idris, the boss of the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control and Prevention was in fact quoted by the media to have said that the date of delivery of an order placed by the centre for more vaccines from donor agencies is unknown.

Each time a legislator moves a motion on what is usually described as a matter of urgent national importance, it is often about the welfare of the lawmakers and never about the people they represent. Once a speaker is unable to increase the luxuries of his colleagues he is removed. At least 4 speakers have since been so removed in the last one year. But for the timely intervention of Governor Bassy Otu, the current speaker of the Cross River State House of Assembly Alver Ayambem would have been out. He was saved after a closed-door meeting with the governor where the grievances of the legislators were addressed. Why can’t our legislators use same strategy to get governors to prevent unnecessary deaths of their people from ailments like cholera?

Some of our governors themselves do not believe in the mandate which makes the welfare and security of the masses their priority. Although Governor Agbu Kefas of Taraba intends to construct several projects such as schools and hospitals to transform the state, it is instructive that the intention was disclosed at the commissioning of the remodelled governor ’s lodge in Abuja. It would have been salutary if the remodelling of the lodge was thought of after schools and hospitals had been built. Instead, the opening of the lodge got a LIVE television coverage showing clearly that it was considered a priority. From the commendation which Kefas got from Usman Ododo, his Kogi state colleague, it is clear that some other governors would follow the same example while the masses remain in penury and want.

During electioneering campaigns, some contestants always argue that their political ambition is not worth the life of any fellow citizen, yet the same politicians recruit several thugs to harm fellow contestants. While in office, they earn incredible salaries and allowances. Our current federal legislators are spending billions of naira to procure official cars and to construct parking lots for the cars. But the masses are left to live in squalor and be subjected to contagious diseases such as cholera while the ruling class watches on.