On the fourth day of the medical mission, I walked over a makeshift bridge. It was dangerously constructed. Beneath me was greenish estuarine water. The water was green from zoo- and phytoplankton, a situation that the dumping of all sorts of organic waste had helped establish. I treaded carefully. One careless step and into the lagoon I would have tumbled. As I moved to the other side of the bridge where two pigs were nosing through the grassy mud for whatever it is they feed on, I saw an elderly woman approaching. She had just had eye surgery and had to climb this unsophisticated and perilous contraption. She moved to the foot of the bridge, and as deftly as her age and years of poor nutrition and far from ideal lifestyle could allow, she clambered aboard the wooden gangplank. She moved nimbly. Soon she passed by me. As I muttered a Yoruba greeting to her, I wondered in my mind why I had felt she would have difficulty getting up on the bridge or getting across it. She had been doing this and other similar manoeuvres since she learnt to walk. I walked on, careful not to miss my step. I was cautious, not because I didn’t have a spare change of clothes, but because I cannot swim and I am not sure if Benin tradition would allow me a proper burial if I died in water. I soon got to the other end and was about to jump off the bridge unto grassy land. Then it struck me!
We are in a rot in this country because of the attitude I had just exhibited. That gangplank was unsafe and it did not matter that the people of that village have been climbing on it for a million years. It jeopardises lives every time it is climbed on. But we love to make do with far from ideal situations in this country. And we proudly call it ‘managing.’ A doctor comes to work, and there’s no methylated spirit to swab an injection site, so he dips in his needle just like that. A driver turns on his ignition and finds that the return spring for his clutch is faulty. He still fills his bus with an excess of passengers and ferries them across town. We say ‘we must manage. God will see us through.’ Sometimes he does. Nine hundred and ninety nine people would go over that bridge or in that bus and get home safely, but there would be one person who would fall into the lagoon or run into a building when the supporting planks give way and brakes fail. But the loss of that life won’t mean a thing to us. We would brush it aside saying it was a chance accident. Some would proffer that it was caused by evil forces, and being a very superstitious people, no one would bother with an enquiry into the circumstances of the accident. The Lord gives and The lord takes away would be the conclusion of the matter. The dead would bury their own, and a father, a brother, a mother’s hope and a sister’s role model would have died for nothing.
If we are to emerge as a strong, healthy nation, we must begin to reckon with the safety and progress of individual lives, and not with statistics. We must come to know that the duty of us all is to totally or extensively negate unforced errors in the aspect of safety, and not just safety, but in every area of our existence. The people and government of our dear Nigeria must hold life as sacred and must do all they can to safeguard it. Let the government give its people electricity that we may have ice for hot, dry days. Let them fill up pot holes on our roads and clear out our drainages. If we want to swim, we can go to the beaches. Let the ministry of health ensure that we get cotton wool so we don’t stop a child’s bleed with the edge of his mother’s menstruation stained wrapper. These things will go a long way and I dare say, all the way to give Nigerians a sense of dignity, and national pride.
I walked away from the bridge and into our church hall turned clinic, and there waiting for me was a beautiful fourteen or fifteen year old mother. She had brought her eleven month old son with a false complaint so she could get a free mosquito net...... (to be continued)