WEEKEND ARENA

When life loses value like the Naira…

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A friend told me a story that got me thinking what life is worth today. The story is repugnant, distasteful, awful, and in the words of Hon. Patrick Obahiagbon or Pastor Chris Okotie, would amount to ‘molestus foedius’.

 Here: A man was test-driving a car he had parked for a long while and suddenly needed to apply the brakes, only to realise that the braking system of the car was faulty. He intuitively veered off the major road (to save his life) into an apparently less busy route. But right in front of him was a crowd of people, peasants mainly, doing their usual hustling of buying what to eat, negotiating for manual duties to execute and the likes. Although he managed to alert them by honking, he ran into the crowd. Many were lucky and escaped unhurt but a few got away with minor injuries while one was crushed to death!

That impact brought the vehicle to a halt and the crowd surged around the man, who was terrified wondering what would be left of him. Would he be lynched and his car burnt out of anger? For once, he wished SARS operatives were around to save him, realising how readily people on that rung of the economic ladder are to vent their frustration on anyone perceived to be on a higher scale.

He started pleading with them, getting off the car promptly to avoid being roasted inside it. However, instead of punches and kicks synonymous with such moods in downtown Nigeria, a call for negotiation was what he got from the crowd! The people who gathered, apparently the friends and relatives of the deceased were willing to be compensated, so they could bury the guy in peace.

That sounded nice and redemptive to the man and he asked how much they were looking at. They said 250. Two hundred and fifty million was a lot of money for him, he reasoned. But he did not get their drift. They were actually asking for N250k! Going by today’s exchange rate, that is less than $500! It was ‘a good bargain’ for the man who was steel-stiff with fear a few minutes earlier. He went for his wallet, pulled out his debit card and luckily there were ATMs and plenty POS outlets there. He arranged for N350K instead of the N250K they were asking for and ‘settled them’. The indifferent relatives collected the mangled body and wheeled him away in a cart to be buried somewhere. They said the money was for logistics of the burial and compensation for the victim’s people! They sounded grateful and even helped the man to push his car to a nearby auto-mechanic, and that was the ‘end of the story’ amongst the victim’s friends and relatives.

The kernel of this entire encounter is that life in the country, just like the currency, Naira, has also depreciated so much that people would settle for N250k as value for a human being. But this is what you get when the government appears ineffective in restoring confidence in her citizens. That is what one gets when bad governance seeps in and saps every iota of hope amongst the people. In reality, what value does the Government of Nigeria place on her citizens that have been crying for N30k minimum wage for years with some governors still refusing to pay while sitting on hundreds of millions a month as ‘security vote’? Today, one hardly wakes up without hearing that scores have been killed by bandits and herdsmen across the country without any commensurate actions from the authorities. In place of hope and courage, the citizens get threats of military action.

When your country places value on your life you would know. A certain Igbo woman illegally took custody of her two kids with a black American man by smuggling them back to Nigeria in spite of the court ruling in the US bequeathing the kids to her estranged husband. The ex-husband reported to the authorities and one very early ‘mor-mor’, American authorities were in that Lekki neighbourhood to retrieve the two kids from their granny. Will Nigeria go after any of her citizens in a similar manner if it happens? Not likely, unless the persons’ lives have something to do with the oil income the government needs.