The Nigerian ruling elite can be repulsively arrogant, disgustingly snobbish and frighteningly coldhearted. With the superciliousness only fitting of colonial masters and medieval feudal lords, they ride roughshod over the masses of Nigerians; treating them as though they deserve no respect and their lives count for nothing.
The worst job recruitment accident in Nigeria was the death of 23 job seekers, including four pregnant women, at different stadia where they were herded, in tens of thousands, for the Nigerian Immigration Service recruitment test. The Goodluck Jonathan’s administration’s handling of that national tragedy was an unvarnished testament to the Nigerian elite utter disdain for the masses. The Minister of Interior, Abba Moro, was neither remorseful nor apologetic for the deaths, injuries, pains and sorrow that were direct consequences of his ineptitude and greed. His utterances were unconscionable; they insulted the memory of the dead, offended the sensibilities of the bereaved families and irritated most Nigerians.
Following the explosion at the ammunition dump at the Ikeja cantonment that devastated adjoining civilian neighborhoods and took excessive toll on human lives, Olusegun Obasanjo arrived in Lagos to review the extent of the destruction wrought by the explosion. Quite naturally, the desolate and disconsolate residents of the affected neighborhoods crowded around him because they rightly considered him a beacon of hope. After all, as president he personified the powers, resources and resourcefulness of the federal government. Although people were killed, injured, dispossessed and bereft as a result of Federal Government’s negligence, he still could not conceal his entrenched contempt for the have-nots. Instead of showing compassion: consoling, apologizing and promising investigation, rehabilitation, compensation, etc, he lost his temper and scolded the crowd.
From the siren-blaring motorcades that terrorize other road users, cause fatal accidents and waste human lives to the hounding and brutalizing of the poor trying to eke out a living by selling on the streets; and from the penchant for owing workers’ salaries on ends and punishing those that ask for part payment of their backlog salaries to the Apartheid-styled bulldozing of homes of the indigent without due process, and abruptly throwing children, babies and pregnant women out in the rain and cold, the Nigerian power elite continue to dramatize their scorn for the people and their indifference to their ever worsening social circumstances.
But like tiny rays of light piercing through an encompassing gloom, there are a few recent refreshing reports of elite decency: respect for human lives and sympathy for the distressed. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, was at the Muritala Mohammed Airport to receive Nigerian deportees from Libya. A female deportee, named Gift, broke down and wept as she recounted her harrowing experience in Libya. As she sobbed uncontrollably, Mrs Dabiri-Erewa hugged her, and put her hand around her neck and comforted her: that is okay, stop crying; you are now home; we will take care of you. In our class-conscious and wealth-obsessed society, it was poignant to see Dabiri-Erewa, a former Chairman of the House of Representative Committee on Diaspora Affairs and now a senior special assistant to the president, a consummate “thick madam”, hugging, comforting and encouraging a deportee from Libya – just a destitute in every sense of the word.
Again, it was wonderful that the governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, paid a condolence visit to the pregnant widow of the commercial driver, David Okoniba, pushed to his death by an irate policeman. He promised to foot all the medical bills of the traumatized widow that had been in shock since the death of her husband. He also set up a N10m education fund for her children. The picture of the sobbing widow in the consoling arms of the governor was moving. In a country where the power elite, in their arrogance and megalomania, behave like demigods and hold the masses in utmost contempt, that picture seemed out-of-sync. It was momentous; it is the best picture of the month.
The governor’s visit can be misconstrued by cynics and criticasters as a political cum image-making ploy. However, regardless of the connotation attributed to it, the visit was most pertinent. For irrespective of the lowliness of the individual, his life remains sacrosanct. And any violation of the sanctity of human life is abhorrent, and should elicit our collective outrage. In this particular case, our collective indignation should be even more inflamed because the culprit was not a psychopath on the prowl to steal, rape and kill but a policeman. Supposedly, a policeman is a sentinel of law and order imbued with professional discipline and self-restraint. So, when the police, in wanton brutality and in betrayal of the trust reposed in them by the society, murder those they were enjoined by the law to serve and protect, Nigerians must unequivocally repudiate such bestiality and stand in solidarity with the bereft family.
Just as wealth and power, and all their attendant pomp and privileges cannot nudge anyone beyond the human realm, poverty and powerlessness, and all their associated distress and despair cannot relegate anyone beneath the human realm. We all remain human beings. And irrespective of our stations in life, human beings are essentially the same, equals, the embodiment and expression of God. If Nigeria, as a country, is to ever amount to anything, Nigerians must first learn that every man is a “special thought of the Creator’s mind”, and, as such, must be treated with utmost respect and everything about him handled with exquisite discretion.
For the few amongst the Nigerian power elite, like Abike Dabiri-Erewa and Godwin Obaseki, that, in a break with elite arrogance and callousness, have demonstrated respect and compassion for the distressed and downtrodden, I say, “jide ka iji”, meaning, keep up the good work.
Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria
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