Category Archives: Death

The Police is Indo-Nigerian

India and Nigeria are very much alike in several respects. There is sprawling poverty across the two countries vis-à-vis the wealth of a few. The two countries have a problem controlling their population meaningfully in the face of dilapidated social amenities. In the two countries, there is widespread mistrust in key government agencies, especially the police. Among the various similarities, I would like to focus on public policing. This is based on the recent incident in India involving the gang-raping of a young lady. The lady’s partner just spoke for the first time since the incident and recounted what happened (here). According to his report, he and his girlfriend were dumped on the street from the bus after the lady was mercilessly abused. However, upon arrival of the police, they delayed taking her to the hospital for about 30 minutes over disagreement about who had jurisdiction over the area the incident took place.

The above situation is exactly what happens in Nigeria. If it were Nigeria, the police men would come after a long while, and thereafter haggle over who had jurisdiction, which Divisional Police Station should document the incident. But that wouldn’t be the only thing they would argue over. They would tell whoever is around that there is no fuel in their car to take the victim to the hospital and therefore would require someone, possibly the victim, to provide some funding for such purposes. If there is no ready cash, they would insist on going on bike with whoever would volunteer to go to an ATM to get money. This would have followed lengthy exchanges about how the woman had invited the rape on herself by going out with a man or dressing in a particular fashion, as though one’s dressing is the molder of another person’s animal instinct.

According to the reports, the Police Authority in New Delhi immediately rebutted the young man’s accusation, claiming that they arrived the scene within three minutes of receiving the alert and left for the hospital twelve minutes later. This is typical of Nigeria’s Police Force. They are always quick to put the blame on the citizens, but hardly accepting responsibilities. In fact, if it were Nigeria, the Police would probably have announced how they had to airlift the victim due to terrible traffic congestion as a means of saving her life. Though also injured during the incident, the lady’s partner was not considered as being in need of medical care. But, he was considered fit for continued police investigation. So, rather than let him be taken to the hospital, the police kept him in their station for four days. A very typical Nigerian situation. In fact in Nigeria his family would have had to come and bail him out, except civil society groups cry out and the presidency intervene through the Inspector General of Police. If he were a girl in Nigeria, it is highly likely that she would have been kept as suspect in the police station and duly gang-raped while there.

Like in Nigeria, there was public apathy towards giving help to the victims after they were dumped. No one wanted to play the Good Samaritan because in the face of inability of Police Authority to make headway in a case, they are likely to drag innocent citizens into the web of lengthy legal cases. That is a commonplace experience in Nigeria where we have had experiences of illegal arrest and accidental discharges. If the Police don’t get the suspect, they are ready to lock up his aged parents, pregnant wife and even infant child. If they don’t get any of these, then the neighbours – far and near – are likely victims. In the face of such threats, people who would otherwise offer timely life-saving help are cowed and become apathetic in responding to situations of emergency. It takes more than a casual disposition or desire to help to provide adequate assistance during such critical moments.

I’ve experienced the corruption of the Indian Police at the Mumbai airport during the process of declaring foreign currency in my possession and I wasn’t surprised at all because I had a baggage of similar experiences by the Police in my own country. That was in 2009 and since then, I knew that India was no different from Nigeria. In fact, I have come to know that the police in both countries have dual nationality – Indo-Nigerian. Nigerians may be heading to India on medical tourism, but I have also realized that funding of some of the medical trips by public institutions have been characterized by corrupt practices involving Indian health consultancy firms and Nigerian agencies. No matter the level of technological development or economic growth, the people must remain central to every society. The recent rape incident in India juxtaposed against Nigeria’s widespread sex crimes is a reminder that we live in unsafe world and that women are being constantly abused and then blamed for the abuse in addition to inadequate justice system to protect those hurt.The culture of silence engendered by hostile male-dominated environment has made it even difficult for women who are abused to seek justice or even come out to talk about their experiences. Many of them choose to suffer the indignation with attendant trauma all life-long.

Just while the world vents its outrage against the sex crime that is common in India, the Child Protection Network (CPN) in Nigeria has released a Report that chronicled 95 child rape cases which have been recorded in five northern states of the country. Guess what? A police officer couldn’t miss being among those indicted. Unfortunately these cases involved mainly minors, some as young as 14 years. The incidence of women being gang-raped eats at the core of survival of a society and it is of such hurtful nature that were the women to push for castration of the male folk, they would have sympathizers. It is bestial to inflict such violence on others and also painful when this is perpetrated by young persons or those who have to been placed in positions of trust. We have a duty as individuals to watch and act, because those who perpetrate these sex crimes live in our midst. We must also support organizations, especially credible civil organizations that have taken over the fight to stop these abuses and seek justice for those affected. Beyond the actions of individuals and civil groups, this is the time for leaders to demonstrate their will and take actions that are necessary to give justice to those affected and promote the rights of the vulnerable, whether they are women, children or men. This is one way to guarantee the sanity and health of the society we live in.

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The Animal Instinct

It’s just one of those moments when my mind spins on its orbit and my heart traces and retraces varied paths my consciousness has travelled. Now, I’m wondering what constitutes the subsistent element of human life. Though I wonder about this, I let not myself wander much into the abyss. It’s because I love life and its potency in bringing forth beauty, growth and life. I’m not surprised that blood remains life’s precious fluid. It might not be subsistent, but blood is certainly elemental to life, whether it’s human or non-human. Looking back through history, blood has always been viewed as being coterminous with life, and rightly so. It is not surprising that blood is shed during the birthing process in order to bring forth life. This is in spite of the fact that recent statistics point to hemorrhaging as the commonest cause of death among pregnant women in Nigeria. Shedding one’s blood to give life to another is an altruistic act which has sustained the human population all through the ages.

On the flip side, however, so much blood has been shed in Nigeria, deliberately and carelessly. When we talk about the shedding of human blood, I’m referring to the senseless murders that have taken place across this country in the past one year? I don’t mean only acts of terrorists who bomb people dead or slit the throats of innocent citizens as though they were readied for suya meat. I also mean the murder that bad roads have committed, because those who have responsibilities to repair them have embezzled the money with impunity and got rewarded with juicier positions in government, leaving the pot-holed roads to the recklessness of drivers and siren-blaring public officials. It feels as if there is a god-goddess enthroned somewhere, whose delight is to feast upon gourmet blood. When I talk about blood-letting, I’m referring to the hospitals, where the voiceless and poor are legally murdered due to lack of adequate equipment and competences. I’m also referring to the extra-judicial killings by agents of the state and the attendant reprisal killings. I’m thinking if all the blood that has been shed in Nigeria this year were collected and contained in some form, they would sure sail a ship steadily from Lagos to Maiduguri.

The country is soaked in blood and this is not good for true development. When bloodletting is not curtailed, peace is endangered. Our search for solutions through political correctness and maneuvering will lead us along a path that is not sustainable. I’ve often wondered how people feel when they take human lives, directly or by proxy. Thinking about this now, I remember a discussion I had some years ago with a retired Colonel of the Israeli Army. He happened to have been one of those who, as a young officer, carried out the Operation Entebbe of 4 July, 1976 during the reign of Idi Amin of Uganda. Knowing him to be a veteran sniper and blunt too, I believed he would be sincere with me. We were discussing his various engagements in the military when I asked him, “Looking back, how do you feel recollecting those moments when you had to aim the gun at someone and then pull the trigger?” The retired colonel looked me intently in the eye and responded “Charles, I’ve never let my eyes look into a man’s eyes when I pull the trigger. No true human being does that. At the point you pull the trigger, you must submit yourself to the animal instinct.” I was subdued by his frankness, but I learnt something deep.

Recently, a colleague’s brother was coldly murdered in Bornu State and months ago a video of communal homicide was posted on the internet, of how four young men were murdered by a community in Rivers State. During the year, there was also the circulation of a video of children, mainly under six years, who were murdered by some terrorists. All through the year, we hear stories of deaths, of carnage across the land. Going by the bloodletting that has become pervasive in Nigeria, I truly believe that it takes becoming an animal to kill a human being. Respecting the preciousness of human life and its sanctity bestows some form of purity on the human soul. Our land needs healing, as the cries of the innocent resound across the space and those they have left behind bewail their suffering. The healing must start from our hearts, as we seek peace, breathe peace, speak peace and work for peace. Each positive action we take to stop a human life from being a victim of the animal instinct is a valid action that contributes to our collective and individual healing and sanity. We need this healing to grow, to overcome the hurdles politics, religion, greed, hate and egos have placed on our way.

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Nunc Dimittis

Freedom
I’ve not been in my best creative mood lately due to the passing away of a beloved one in the family. I don’t think there is a creative way to mourning. Well, there are creative ways to coming to terms with the reality that strikes one, but I’ve had many encounters with death to know that the dead don’t truly go away. Every death holds my hand and leads me backwards to the beginning, to the earliest of my experience. But, I’m always trying to walk away, to live only in the now. While growing up decades ago, I served as an altar boy at several burials and each brought me close to the dead and the dying ones. I think we are all dead people or dying people, in some form. Each time we lose a loved one or encounter death, a part of us dies. Inevitably, each dying moment of life decays from our grasp and becomes history.

It’s two weeks since Elizabeth, my elder sister, left us physically, and her departure brings back memories, of the various deaths I’ve grown up to know. Her death was just three days away from five years memorial of Gloria, my young niece who lived with me and died out of careless medical doctor’s handling while I was thousands of miles away. Eli’s portrait has hung on my phone since her departure, as a memento of the love we shared, with a radiant smile that mocks death.

I gaze upon her face, intently, but all I could see is her smile, and memories. Memories we shared, growing up. There are so many cherished memories I have of her, but one stands out. Hers was the only childbirth I have ever witnessed. I was a child then, under ten, when she had her first child, attended to by a midwife at home. I was straddled to our mum’s apron string when she went into labour and everyone was so busy trying to attend to her. I saw her hung on the thin thread between life and death in that exerting trice, with her muscles contracting as she pushed to bring forth life; then, the pool of blood flowed. I never forgot and since then, I knew I had witnessed enough child birth. One was truly enough and I wasn’t going to be a midwife.

As I look upon her memories, a tear traces its feeder path from the reservoir of my eyes through the cheeks, branching off into tributaries downwards. Her smile is imprinted upon my heart as I keep vigil upon memories of her. Eli was a teacher with a passion and we had discussed plans of establishing an educational institution together sometime in the future, to assuage her teaching appetite and my knowledge-searching mind while experimenting an educational model. We had disagreement about where we would establish the institution, but it was something close to our hearts. She was my senior, but would readily concede to me on so many fronts, though our ideas often overlapped, after some fine-tuning. Our last discussion was on her son who just got admission into a private university in the country to study Mass Communication, on mentoring options for the young man. We had plans for the year end and even for February, 2013. She was a sister close to my heart.

With Eli, you could never relapse into the past. She was the Now person, with so much excitement about it, and glowing gaze upon tomorrows. Her disposition reminded me what St. Therese wrote over a century ago, “If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient, but I look only at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future.” She was patient, diligent and full of life. Her love for simplicity and humility was exemplary and I loved her more for that. It feels so strange to refer to her in the past tense, as though she were a word, not the beautiful soul I know. Yet, I know, she is.

Since her departure, so many deaths have plagued our world. Many children have been killed in Connecticut, bringing the issue of gun-control in the United States to the fore. Since her death, a naval helicopter has crashed in Nigeria, killing six people. Since her death, a friend has lost his first child to stillbirth after waiting for eight years of married life. Since her death, many children have been born into a world ridden with guns, disease and debilitating human conditions. Since her death, we have found a reason to live the miracle of a new day. Since her death, we have shed tears we could not control and controlled ones we could not fathom. Since her death, we had wished a thousand times that she was alive. Since her death many have carried on as though their lives could not end today. Since her death many people have amassed so much wealth as though they would never die.

Her death is a reminder, like every other should be. We live not for yesterday or for tomorrow. We live for the now, for the only true day we live is the day we die. The day before doesn’t matter, neither does the day after. The day we die is the only definitive day of our life. It is today that we can do the good we can, express the love we can, pour out our soul into the moment as much as we can and connect with our purpose as much as we can. As I am drawn into this dance with death, I cannot extricate this consciousness from my mind. A friend heard about Eli’s departure and complained that I should’ve told her, if she were truly my friend. It was a comic relief for me as I wondered what was so newsworthy about death to broadcast as though it were a sympathy-seeking incident. I’d more readily talk about my daily struggles in preparation for mine than someone else’s.

I remember having to visit many funeral homes while growing up and watching the different mourning patterns, with a somewhat sociological eye. I often thought then that people cry over their loved ones for various reasons. Some cry because they would genuinely miss the person for the bond of relationship they shared; some mourn because of the material warranty they would lose; some cry because they are mindful of the cost of burial they are likely to incur; some mourn because they missed a chance to build a better relationship with the person. I don’t think the reasons have changed much. I try not to mourn for Eli in any obvious way, but my spirit grieves deeply over her departure and I know however reflective I may be over her death today, I’ll mourn her more appropriately in years to come. Our beloved ones don’t leave us alone; they live in us every day and a part of them grows in us. What we owe their memory is to live each day as though we are prepared to meet them. If we truly love them we would be prepared each day and live as though it were our last, not with nihilistic fear, but with conviction that each day is a sub-project that must be completed effectively for another to be built upon.

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Safer Onboard

It was a scorching afternoon as I stood there, at the lanai of the Accident and Emergency Unit of the hospital. Like an ambulatory patient, my eyes were taking in spectral glimpses of multiple faces interacting deeply with the atmosphere. Over there was a man being lifted out of a car onto a wheelchair. He was frail and elderly. There was another man by a pillar supporting the covered porch, seated on a stone on the ground. His head was bent in deep recollection, supported by his two palms. Closer by, was a woman on the phone. She was telling the other party that her son had gone to the bank to pay the required money and would thereafter bring the teller. Not far away a lady circled with a child dressed with only diaper in her arms, trying to pacify her to stop screaming. Close by was a group of four, three women and a man. They had questioning eyes that sought answers from each other. Just about where I stood, a young man was assisting another to offload cartons of Parazone® bleach being supplied to the hospital.

I stood and sipped the flurry of movements, people going in and out, with eyes and hearts ached by varied pains in search of unknown reliefs. It was in the midst of this thoughtful repose that a young man approached me. He, without asking to know if I was familiar with the environment, enquired where a bank was close by. I pointed to a microfinance bank I could see in sight, but he declined and said the hospital sent him specifically to a particular commercial bank. I pointed to a security operative some distance away, advising him to seek his answer there. I was left to return to my conscious engagement with my surrounding.

I had gone to the hospital to see a friend who was coming also to see a friend whose child was admitted at the hospital. We had agreed to meet at the hospital and I arrived earlier than her. It was while waiting for her arrival that I took in the above snippets of my environment. As I stood there, one thing that came so strongly to my senses was the hospital smell. I don’t know whether to call it a stench or a scent. Well, I don’t think it was a stench, though it had a choking sensation on me. But there is a strong impression the hospital environment leaves on the olfactory senses. Something uniquely hospital-like, though hardly hospitable. May be it was my mind, but I sensed it as a child, about thirty years ago. I grew up, without being taught, to identify it as the smell of death. Yes, the smell of death.

If you have been to Nigeria’s hospitals, you would have, no doubt, perceived the smell that distinguishes the hospitals, something that hovers between dearth and death. I’m referring to the dearth of healthy medical facilities, of committed and competent medical personnel whose primary drive is service over money, the dearth of needed equipment to forestall increasing deaths. Many Nigerians have lost family members and friends to the dearth of good medical facilities, lack of electricity, poor recruitment process, bureaucratic bottlenecks in hospitals among other causes. Unfortunately, the problem isn’t abating. With increasing polarization of socio-economic status and inequality, little commitment is shown towards empowering healthcare facilities in the country. Many medical personnel are recruited through personal contacts, sometimes with a history of doctored competences, rather than on merit.

As a child, there were two inviting professions that stood out as being at the service of the individual, with a twin commitment to salvage man disease of the body and the mind. They were the medical and teaching professions. Both existed to complement each other in treating the somatic and psychic ills of human existence. They delighted in helping you live healthy life and enjoy the delight of study in building the mind, the reservoir of human well-being. But the times have changed. Though I have met a few doctors who are driven with a commitment to save lives, I have met many who are presently brazen-faced in their drive for money over service.

The smell of death that enmeshes the hospital is so pervasive that you can visit the hospital healthy and return ill, either by just being in the hospital ward or using the toilet facilities. It is the vicious circle of medical care and it probably accounts for bouts of in-patient/out-patient interaction that characterizes the medical treatment process. I’ve been to tertiary hospitals, as well as private ones, where water does not run, and you have to use bucket to fetch water and flush the toilets. I’ve been to ones where medical personnel are lackadaisical in responding to patients, no matter how obvious the patient’s health condition might be. I’ve sat before a doctor who had to google symptoms and prescribe medication without running tests. I have lost family and friends because of the negligence of medical personnel.

I must admit, I have met wonderful doctors who are selfless in their practice, but they are getting fewer by the day. The work ethic of the medical professionals is dwindling by the day and no matter how much money is injected into the health sector in building hospitals, providing equipment and paying emoluments, if the work ethic is not addressed, death will always lurk in the atmosphere of the medical facilities. If truth must be told, I feel closer to death being at the hospitals than being onboard an aircraft in Nigeria.

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When Memory Took a Walk

It wasn’t that I burnt the bridges
Nor set ablaze the ship at shore
To fight the battle of life and death;
Neither was I invited
By the drumming of a distant land.

I was choked by the flames of hate
And wantonness ravaging my land
As I ran beneath the thatched foliage
Just before the droning voices
Of Papa, Mama, Martha and Baby Amah
Receded in their screams for salvation;
The silence was deadly, choking me more
Than the blow of eternal extinguishing
Or heat of hatred could ever hit.

Drowned in the pool of extinction,
I bellied on wet grass, groping in fear,
Cloaked like a serpent: if only I could sting;
And when darkness threw its thick embrace
To hug my eerie eyes and stymied soul,
I knew I could crawl, lifted off the earth
To trudge along the penitent’s way,
My back turned to my woes.

Then in that dead of night I walked,
Sometimes afloat, formless and freed,
Receding in time and spaces unreached,
Lost to the consciousness of my being
Until I became a spark of nothingness
Inhabiting a stream of memories
Long interred in the voices I last heard.

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Floating in Space

There is something intriguing about death, something exciting, spontaneous and deep. I love the concept of death, its reality and persistent changelessness. Its ubiquitous presence, far beyond the preponderance of the Internet, makes it an exploratory delight. As a child, death began to lose its mystery grip on me as something far-offish. It had to be, after serving at many funeral services, for both the other-worldly and this-worldly rich. I think death should be intriguing for anyone who loses a father at ten, mother at twenty seven and several siblings in-between. Well, it may not be, if your reality isn’t real to you!

Death has a tangible presence on human consciousness and the more I embrace its truth, the more I come to value the dynamics of its Siamese twin, life. I’d be dead by now if death were not a living part of my life. There is nothing surreal about death. With every death, a part of me dies just as a part of me reaches out for life. On this threshold of life and death, I seem to always live on a wavy levitational sphere.  

It might interest you to know I’m writing this piece at about twenty thousand feet above sea level, onboard an aircraft from Calabar to Abuja. I write with memories of recent past, conscious that anything that gravitates can lose its gravitational bearing and crashes. In fact, I’m scribbling this piece on the reverse side of my e-Ticket Receipt and Itinerary. As I write this, the aircraft is struggling to steady itself on the uneven and stormy cloud. It feels so real, whatever it is I’m feeling. But I can’t help smiling at my thoughts.

Let me tell you the truth. As I write this, a fleeting thought crosses my mind. Two thoughts, actually.  There is that faint thought of not ever getting down to posting this on my blog. I even think about the countless people who never got a chance to talk about their last minutes and seconds. And just as the thoughts come, so they recede as I revert my mind to scribbling on, looking out and enjoying the thought of floating in space. Isn’t that what death does? Bestowing on us the capacity to float in some form? Even in life, some of us float through it, without ever steadying ourselves to actually live.

Do not assume I’m writing about death here. I’m writing about life too. As I write, I’m thinking deeply about the latest air crash in Nigeria, involving the Governor of Taraba State. I’m really not thinking about him as such. I’m thinking about something else, something far beyond plane crash, which I hope to return to very soon. Well, if you are reading this, it means I did get around to post it. It wasn’t altogether a safe flight, but we landed without an incident, and I am set to fly again within the next forty eight hours.

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