By Lanre Asiwaju
From issues of corruption, epileptic power supply, poor health system, bad roads, to lack of potable water etc., Nigeria is definitely not a good place to be born. But one problem I find quite worrisome is the little value that we place on human lives. Quite shamefully, some folks even compare the rights accorded to animals in Western countries to that of humans in Nigeria. Make no mistake; this is not just about government, it is about all of us. But of course, this story can change with good leadership and revolution in attitude of citizens.
Recently in my locality, I have observed the increasing number of big kerosene tanks (for commercial purposes) in residential areas. This perfectly highlights whatever value we place on human lives. From local government officials who either issue illegal permits or close their eyes to such awaiting disasters, to folks who because of profit choose
to endanger lives of fellow citizens, and to neighbours who finds nothing wrong with such businesses; we all simply do not value human lives. A sad example of the consequent of this bad attitude was the December 2012 Jankara Market firecracker disaster which killed 1, injured 40 and razed at least 12 houses.
“How did they get in? How did they enter? Who shipped them? Who imported them and who cleared them? Who approved them to come in? Those are very serious issues. We must also ask ourselves, must we do every business? The way we do business, does it benefit all of us or do we do business without consideration for other people’s safety as long as I make money, I don’t care if people die, I don’t care if properties are burnt? All of us have a duty and I am renewing my appeal again, let us stop this dangerous businesses because once there is an error, the consequences are devastating as you see.” – Governor Babatunde Fashola on the Jankara Market firecracker disaster
I remember searching for an apartment in my undergraduate days and I had to go see a few houses. Most rooms had no window or at best, a very small one. I wondered if human beings were supposed to live in those rooms. Apparently, all those landlords cared about was the rent they would garner from the poorly ventilated and lighted rooms, not minding the hazards that such rooms portend. There hardly would be any driver who has never been angry with other road users. The craziness on our roads is legendary. Some folks drive with so much reckless abandon such that I consider them a problem alongside the bad road itself. Yes, government can do better with the training and licensing of drivers, but ultimately, the responsibility to drive safely and not constitute a hazard to each other lies solely with all road users.
Another example was a story told by an uncle’s friend who works with an Italian Construction Company as an environmental and safety officer. The company won a contract to build a high rise building and he was due to sign off on the work-plan but to his surprise, he observed that the bill of quantities (BOQ) had been revised (by Nigerians who worked with the firm) with no more provision for disable walkways, and decreased number of accessible fire exit doors and toilets. He declined appending his signature to the plan and eventually, he met with the Italian boss to explain himself. He was shocked to hear the Italian say the cost (bribe to corrupt officials) of securing the contract had to be defrayed somehow. On his insistence, the boss approved a few more toilets and accessible fire-entry points. He wondered why Nigerians would encourage a foreigner to execute a shoddy job.
I could relate with his story because my family runs a small civil engineering and construction firm. The reality is that business owners cut cost often at the expense of safety and convenience of end users, and they continue to do so because people are hardly punished for their greed and ‘anyhowness’. While this shows the culpability of public officials and appointed consultants who look the other way at the sight of brown envelopes, there is also the serious issue of government’s lack of capacity to ensure absolute compliance with safety and environmental laws and the readiness of professional bodies to promptly sanction erring members.
Synagogue church disaster
On Friday, 12th September, a guest house belonging to the Synagogue Church of All Nations (SCOAN) and undergoing further construction collapsed in Ikotun area of Lagos State, killing 115 persons, out of which were 84 South Africans. The church had earlier linked the tragedy to a strange aircraft wandering above the building shortly before it fell and much recently to controlled explosion. However, records with the Lagos State Building Control Agency (LSBCA) showed that the church got no approval to add additional structure to the existing two-storey building.
Without missing words, the response of the Lagos State government has been shocking and it is a dent on its reputation. Although, the rescue team arrived at the disaster site in fairly good time, their inability to secure access to the collapsed structure hindered prompt evacuation of victims. Given the unfortunate loss of foreign nationals (mostly South-Africans) in the disaster, the Federal Government should have acted to salvage Nigeria’s deteriorating relationship with South Africa. It was therefore disappointing to watch Governor Fashola and President Jonathan pay ‘condolence visits’ to a man who should be assisting government agencies investigating cause(s) of the collapse, instead of survivors in hospitals and families of victims. A visit to the South African High Commission would not have been out of place too.
“Surviving alone is too painful when 200 lives are unaccounted for…. I take full responsibility.” – Kang Min-kyu; Vice-Principal of Danwon High School whose students where onboard the ill-fated ferry, MV Sewol, in a suicide note
From allegedly bribing of journalists to calling victims of collapse ‘martyrs’, Mr. T.B. Joshua’s conduct so far has been that of the typical Nigerian big man who feels and acts above the law. But then, he is not to blame. The Nigerian State is! Thankfully, the Lagos State Government has instituted a coroner’s inquest to establish cause of the collapse. Even at that, I am not getting my hopes high.
Religion and governance
I am a Christian and will therefore limit this to my faith. Religion is big business in Nigeria and every other Sunday, worshippers get weekly doses of mind-control and false hope. The most vulnerable to these ‘pastorpreneurs’ are those folks (irrespective of age, education and status) who cannot search their scriptures. I have often warned of the rising number of Christian terrorists and sadly, the action of members of SCOAN validates my viewpoint. Or what other name should folks who stalled rescue efforts for over 48 hours and even attacked journalists be called? Clearly, those brainwashed members were acting on the orders of the church to cover up its culpability and number of casualties. As of Tuesday 30th September, the church has provided no information on the victims.
“When the government puts its imprimatur on a particular religion it conveys a message of exclusion to all those who do not adhere to the favoured beliefs. A government cannot be premised on the belief that all persons are created equal when it asserts that God prefers some.” – Harry A. Blackmun
Last year, on harassment by Imo Christian leaders, Governor Rochas Okorocha did a volte-face and repealed the ‘abortion bill’ passed into law by the Imo House of Assembly. Rather than allow people procure safe abortion (particularly, in cases of rape and incest), we have allowed our ‘religiosity’ send citizens who continue to patronize quacks to their early graves. But I quite understood Rochas. Imo is a state with Christian majority and therefore insisting on that law might cost him and our party dearly at the next polls. Nevertheless, repealing that law despite its overwhelming benefits was the wrong thing to do. This might also explain why neither President Jonathan nor Governor Fashola will move against Mr. T.B. Joshua, a ‘man of God’ with such huge followership when elections are just months away. Unfortunately, government policies and decisions have now been reduced to winning elections rather than being premised on the principle of greater good for the greater number of people.
Citizens and especially poor folks must stop to fight against their own interests. A very good way to start will be a campaign to end state sponsorship of pilgrimage to holy lands. I mean, what does the state benefit from this kind of patronage? Furthermore, in the race towards 2015, we must refuse to vote candidates into office just because they are Christians. Candidates irrespective of their religion must possess the capacity, competence and character required to get the job done.
“Elections belong to the people. It’s their decision. If they decide to turn their back on the fire and burn their behinds, then they will just have to sit on their blisters.” – Abraham Lincoln
Today, as we celebrate Nigeria at 54, we must pause and reevaluate choices that we continue to make both as leaders and followers. Nigeria can and will be great again if we all act in the nation’s best interest.
Postscript: Oritsejafor’s private jet brouhaha
For a start, I am not a fan of Pa Oritsejafor. The pomp with which he goes about his business contradicts my idea of Christian leadership. At the point of receiving this ‘gift’, I remember asking where Papa was going to get funds to maintain the jet. But then, Papa’s ego had to be massaged. I am therefore not surprised at the conversion of a supposed evangelical tool to a commercial enterprise.
For the records, this is a simple case involving Pa Oritsejafor. But he could not resist the temptation of having to drag the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) into the mud with him, thereby, eroding whatever credibility was left of CAN. Without doubt, Pa Oritsejafor understands the psyche of Nigerians; In the face of religion and ethnicity, the average rational Nigerian becomes irrational. And so, rather than explain his involvement or otherwise in the violation of South African laws, he has shamefully resorted to making this a Christian versus Muslim, North versus South and PDP versus APC thing. No matter what Pa Oritsejafor wants us to believe, he bears vicarious liability.
Lanre Asiwaju is a Petroleum Geochemist. Follow him on Twitter: @lenin4real