Tuesday, January 19, 2016

UPDATES: Nze Sylva’s Corner: How much is a Nigerian life worth?

By Sylva Nze Ifedigbo
Placing value on human life is likely to be seen as a controversial, if not callous, topic, especially in our superstition soaked reality. Economists in more serious climes have worked out various indices for calculating what the lives of their citizens is worth and this provides a basis for economic planning and other academic exploits. But that will be making it all seem like rocket science. You do not need complex economic analysis to know what for example an American life is worth. You easily decipher this value by observing the care and attention the American government places in ensuring a certain quality of life for her citizens and their reaction when a citizen is in harms way or when there is an unplanned event that threatens the delivery of that quality of life.
So I ask, what exactly is the worth of a Nigerian life?
Recently, the entire world, the part of it that is still sane that is, mourned the brutal killing of 17 people in France by Islamic State actors in one night of madness. These mourners included Nigerians, some of who were quick to tweet hashtags. Yet, the murder of over 1000 people, including whole families, in Nigeria by Boko Haram at about the same time hardly attracted a mention in the news, not even the usual terse statement from the Presidency.
How many Nigerians have any form of health insurance? You my dear reader, do you have a health insurance cover? If you fall ill and require urgent surgery costing several millions of naira, can you pick the bill from your pocket? There exists a national health insurance scheme that hardly covers anything beyond malaria treatment and antenatal care. Even then only people in the formal sector are covered by it. The taxi drivers, the market women, the farmers in the village, the unemployed graduates, your gateman, etc. These people are no less Nigerians. Do their lives matter at all?
A friend recently told me of a sad experience involving the gateman of his rented apartment who was knocked down by a hit and run driver. Awoken at about 2 am by a relative of the gateman, he had zoomed into action to save the man’s life. Seeing that the facility he was rushed to was in no position to do much, my friend made efforts to move him to another hospital. Getting an ambulance to do this was the biggest hitch. Even the much advertised Lagos State emergency service refused to help, citing the flimsy excuse that they don’t evacuate patients between facilities. There was hardly any care that somebody’s life was at stake. After many hours, my friend managed to get the man to Gbagada general hospital, where he got the shock of his life. The dying patient was abandoned right where he was dropped at the hospital entrance. No urgency. No remorse. No care. Even after making several payments from his pocket, registering, opening folders, buying drugs — which were prescribed many hours later — my friend’s gateman died. He was a Nigerian.
Boko Haram terrorists with a Nigerian soldier on his knees; credits: Daily Mail
Boko Haram terrorists with a Nigerian soldier on his knees; credits: Daily Mail
Teaching hospitals are supposed to be tertiary healthcare institutions, the place you get ultimate care for cases that clinics and general hospitals fail to resolve. In our country, The Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) is among the most reputable of them. In truth, the place is just a big sham. Of eight (8) possible surgical operating theatres, only one is currently functional. So surgeries are queued up for weeks. Emergency surgeries have become elective by default. As if that is not alarming enough, the whole of LUTH boasts of only two functional life support ventilators in its Intensive Care Unit. Just two. And believe me, its the same situation across other teaching hospitals across the country. Little wonder the people whose duty it is to use our common wealth to put these things in place, jet out of the country when they catch cold.
Other countries come all the way here to help us fight deadly diseases not because they love us but because by helping to contain it here, the chances of it getting to their people back at home is reduced. These are people whose citizens worth a lot. How do we react? We sit around picking our nostrils. Lassa Fever is claiming lives across the country and we are playing hide and seek with the national budget. The health minister is busy measuring out blames.
Trigger happy cops kill people every day sometimes for reasons as flimsy as N20. Security agents open fire on citizens on peaceful protests and nothing happens. The state unleashes soldiers on a religious community and carries out a massacre and there is not even a whisper from the Federal government, even in the way of acknowledging that such a thing happened. A deranged gunman kills Americans and Obama is on television shedding a tear. Our secret police is flaunting court orders and infringing on the right of citizens and the one who swore to uphold the constitution justifies it and even gets cheered.
The daily queue at various embassies in Lagos and Abuja, populated by young Nigerians eager to ‘check out’ of this country, does it not say anything to our leaders? This is not to mention the many who try their luck through other routes and means, many ending up in unmarked shallow graves in the Sahara or in the belly of sharks in the Mediterranean Sea.
The brilliant writer Chigozie Obioma recently penned the harrowing experience of young Nigerians in Northern Cyprus in search of education. Did you even realise such a place existed on the map? A country that cannot protect her people at home, how well can they protect them abroad?
When news breaks about a Nigerian dying under strange circumstances abroad, does anyone lift a finger? Even when they are said to have been involved in crime, do we even show up?
What exactly is the worth of the Nigerian life? Not much I say. Even to ourselves, we seem to have resigned to the fact that we are not worth much. If we do not care anymore to raise our voices against the injustices committed against our own, why should our leaders or even the rest of the world care? We rather daily prefer to spend time on social media re-enforcing our differences, fighting proxy political wars, and defending the daily malfeasance of the people whose duty it is to give some worth to our lives. As long as this persists, our worth, like our currency can only continue downhill.