Who will save the common man?
It is with a heavy heart that I write this piece. Heavy because, as usual, thoughts of the Nigerian situation depress and sadden me. More so, because the decadence and rot in the system has once again hit close to home.
Over the weekend, I got a message from a friend informing me that his brother, who also is a friend and former course mate had been shot accidentally at a funeral. In fact, three of them had been shot by a Nigerian policeman in what we popularly term “accidental discharge”.
As expected, the battle to save his life began immediately. The first hospital he was taken to in Kachia was unable to treat him, so he was referred to a hospital in Kaduna. The hospital in Kaduna also could not handle the case and referred him to the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital in Shika. Shockingly, the teaching hospital in Kaduna State could not handle the case and referred him once more to Sokoto in the dead of the night. The torture and agony of friends and loved ones especially his pregnant wife was unimaginable, having to move him from one place to another with a bullet in his neck. Thankfully, an alternative arrangement was made for the specialists to converge in Zaria.
Everything about this young man’s situation is pathetic and appalling to say the least. Firstly, the police had carried out a more popular deed than their actual duties – the accidental discharge. In 2012 alone, countless cases of accidental and indiscriminate shootings were carried out by the Nigerian police leading to injuries and in many cases, death of the victims. Accidental and reckless shootings by sometimes intoxicated officers are so popular that the ordinary person knows better than unnecessarily stay around or have an altercation with an armed police officer.
This indicates how in our typical fashion, we have adopted foreign systems without tailoring them specifically to meet our needs. Though what we now have as the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) was imposed on us by the colonialists, it is interesting to note that with the exception of Northern Ireland, the Police Force in the United Kingdom do not carry firearms except in special circumstances. While the armed system of policing in Nigeria was introduced since the late 1800s, it is now about 53 years post -independence and no meaningful reforms have taken place within the police force.
It is befuddling that in this time and age, most of the370, 000 ill-trained and poorly remunerated policemen are armed. If the properly trained and well remunerated policemen in the UK are unarmed, it is difficult to understand why our case is different, given that we adopted their model of policing. Considering their poor service conditions, how can we expect any better?
Another issue brought to the fore by this accidental discharge case is the dilapidated state of our health services in the country. As at the time of publishing this piece, my dear friend still lies in the hospital with the bullet in him, almost two weeks after the ‘accident’. It is quite unfortunate because he would have been flown out and possibly recuperating by now if he had affiliations with the high and mighty. These influential people within government, rather than fix the existing medical infrastructure, are more comfortable and interested in sending their loved ones abroad for the slightest headache, usually at public expense.
A few months ago also, another friend was at the mercy of well-meaning citizens to raise funds for a kidney transplant. It has become the trend in recent times for those in dire need of major medical attention abroad, to solicit for funds via social media. This is so because we have limited specialists, poorly equipped medical centers and only a few have access to health insurance.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) “Abuja Declaration” adopted in 2001, by Heads of State of African Union countries requires at least 15% of Federal budgets be allocated to health. Ironically, Nigeria who is a signatory to the declaration, has in the last three years (10 years later) budgeted 4%, 5% and now 6.04% of the budget to healthcare respectively.
Nigeria’s health indices are poorer than those of most other African countries, including Ghana, South Africa and Kenya. Little wonder that Nigeria was ranked 187th out of 191 member countries by the World Health Organization in 2000. The situation in 2000 has not significantly changed till date. At this rate, is there really any hope for the much needed drastic improvement in the health sector?
Being someone who has had to receive treatment from public hospitals myself, I can only pray that I have no reason to go to the hospital – or maybe not often. In my opinion, the hospital can aggravate your illness. The hospitals are congested, have very poor hygiene standards, the doctors overworked and aggressive, and the response time, painfully slow. Little wonder at the number of deaths that occur daily in these hospitals especially those from illnesses with non-existent mortality rates in more developed nations.
To worsen matters, until sometime in 2012, the Act to Make Provision for the Compulsory Treatment and Care for the Victims of Gunshots and Other Matters Connected Therewith had not been passed. In spite of its passage, many healthcare providers still do not treat gunshot victims without doctorsand police reports, inevitably leading to the loss of numerous lives. Ironically, the Act to prohibit marriage or civil union entered into between persons of same sex and solemnization of same (also known as Same Sex Bill) was initiated and passed second reading in 2012. Putting aside all bias, judge for yourself which bill is more urgent.
It is important that the youth know their rights in order to fight for them. Rather than bicker over irrelevant issues and continuously highlight our areas of divergence, it is time for us to face the major issues. We, as a people, are faced with the same daily challenges irrespective of our ethnic or religious affiliations. It is time that we realized that it is not a war of Christians versus Muslims or Hausas versus Yoruba, Igbo or Ijaw: It is about the downtrodden versus the oppressors in authority.
We need to realize that although social media activism helps highlights the problems within the system, it only cuts across a certain cadre of individuals. While it may cause some discomfort within the politicians, we need to ask, has it resulted in any major change compared to the protests which took place across the country in January, 2012? If the youth do not take up the challenge to fight for what is theirs and get involved, we would all just crumble like a pack of cards and become victims of the rotten system.Because, in the end, you and I are the ‘common man’.