HOW DO PEOPLE DIE?
The prevalent question sounds trite. But that's indeed how people die: on things ordinarily commonplace. For citizen Chidinma Abalakpa who literally watched herself die, five years ago, it may sound trite but she could not pay for antenatal services and thus opted to self-medicate in pregnancy. When the matter went far beyond her elementary understanding [she had survived two previous pregnancies] niegbours bundled her to the hospital in labour pains.
The rest is history. I have declined details of that incident given that they serve no useful purpose for now. This happened in a week when a Nigerian offered to pay one billion naira for his own baby should any medical operative cause his wife to have a kid with his blood. Yet some other citizen could not pay five thousand naira for antenatal services. We ought to reframe the question to read thus; how do people die in Nigeria? Just how?
Take the next situation in which I was witness to near disaster. Last Sunday's downpour was rain of ruin in lagos. I had a taste of its ruinous package in neigbouring Ogun state. The parlous state of roads in Ota came to the fore at the Owode end of the town. The bad road, which was gateway to the place, had the double jeopardy of being ravaged by erosion. Gullies ran a ring around the road causing motorbikes and vehicles to dance along their way. Then a vehicle, a saloon car, came on the dance floor. It took the wrong step and emptied into a ditch and, wait for this, a baby slipped out of her mother's hands in the vehicle, landing in the ditch.
It was a motorbike rider who threw caution to the wind, virtually jumping down from his moving bike to follow the hapless baby to the ditch that pulled her out. The baby was soaked and had taken a mouthful of the dirty drainage. She lived for that moment. She cried. She looked all right but no one could vouch for what becomes of such a baby. A tender under one baby stands a little chance of surviving dirty mud water in her system. The recurring question again rings a bell; how do people die in this clime? Just how?
Later the same day, nightfall had consumed visibility in Isashi end of the Lagos Badagry-Expressway; our car ran into a gully of a pothole, skid off the road and the front tyre cut beyond repair. Another car ran into the same ditch and barely escaped a summersault. The question lingers: if occupants of our car or the subsequent one had been injured or forcibly sent to the great beyond, to what would the fatality be ascribed? It still begs the question. How do we indeed die in this country?
Thirty minutes after we changed tyre and continued on our way, driving through Lagos State University, we hit the brand new LASU-ISHERI double lane road and got on the last lap of our trip home. The litany of police officers on the road ignored us. The commercial buses were not ignored. They were the golden egg whose 20 or 50 naira oiled the daily returns of the boys on the road whose bosses have done little to dispel or indeed, disprove, the belief that returns go right up to top echelons of the force.
The commercial vehicles perhaps made up for the rain drizzles, which the officers commendably stood on the road to soak into their dark uniforms and bodies. We journeyed on along the road, recently constructed by a Chinese firm. At the Officers village end we saw the last batch of policemen. They ignored us and we drove on, moving ominously, as it turned out, over a culvert and turned into our estate, a lagos government concern, now in advanced stage of dilapidation.
The rain of ruin had turned the adjoining roads into a large stretch of river, the potholes came into an unholy alliance [nothing democratic at all] to make driving a rather herculean guess work. Little wonder our car ran into the second and final ditch for the day, from which it had become rather late and difficult to pull out. That's how we showed clean but helpless heels as we finally trekked the last few metres to our apartment, leaving the car to the vagaries of rain that nearly ruined it after water sipped into the cylinders and narrowly missed knocking the engine. Yours sincerely now needs to break the bank to put it back on the road. But that is not how people die in Nigeria.
Here is how they die.
The next morning, my son went to buy fuel at the filling station, a daily routine, and came back rather late. His explanation sent tremors through my spine. It became evident that I had benefited from a miracle. A culvert had caved in on the LASU-ISHERI road, splitting it in two, forcing vehicles on both lanes into one. Even those like him who trekked found movement rather cumbersome. Enquiries later revealed that the culvert caved in exactly 15 minutes after our car had plied through the previous night. What if it had caved in on us? What if…, what if… that's how people die in Nigeria.
The road had barely been completed, yet we hear the contactors had been paid up front and in full. This same firm had a short bridge collapsing on that same road. It had turned the place into a permanent construction site, building and rebuilding. Rumours say a certain godfather of lagos politics is the benefactor of the construction firm and everyone must look away. This is most probably replicated in several other states in the country. Tax payers money become harbingers of their untimely demise. Please tell me, how do people die in Nigeria?