On the 21st of December, 2011, I was to undergo a surgical operation at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital Complex, or “THC” for short. As a student of the institution, I was given certain privileges like choosing the day, time, and even the type of anesthesia used —whether general or local. I was the first patient on the list so I had to be there early. In fact I was there before 6 am. After waiting at the reception for about 30 minutes, I was called into an inner waiting area. A young doctor explained the procedure that was to be performed to me. He then gave me several papers to sign, explaining jokingly that signatures were required to prove that they didn’t just go into the streets, kidnap people, and perform surgical operations on them.
After that I was asked to change into hospital clothes, which didn’t feel like clothes to me as I was still butt naked. It was a sort of gown with the back side open. I was then led into the operating theatre. Two doctors came in and introduced themselves to me; they were to perform the operation. As I lay on the operating table, there was a flurry of activities around me as the doctors and other staffs checked their equipment and carried out other preparatory procedures. Just as they were about to begin the operation, the lights went off. From the doctors’ reaction, I could tell that the cut in electricity supply was abnormal. After a few minutes, one of the doctors asked his colleague, “What’s happening?”
Just then, a woman, who looked like a matron —not that I know what a matron looks like anyway—walked in. She was fuming. She said nurses had just embarked on a nationwide strike action, and the nurses at the THC had gone to the power plant and shut it down. She was angry because, according to her, they had babies in incubators and they needed electricity to power the incubators. When I heard that, I asked one of the doctors—who seemed to be the senior doctor—what would have happened if the operation had begun before the lights went off. He answered that they would have had to go ahead and complete it using a rechargeable lamp. I then asked him, what if they had needed to use one of the equipment they were checking earlier on. He replied, “Well, we’d have hoped we didn’t need to.” I shuddered at the thought.
I waited around for about 30 minutes, and the electricity supply was still not restored. So I returned to my hostel. On my way, I called home and explained what had just happened. The instruction I got was simple, “Come back home!” My roommates, who were medical students, told me the electricity was not restored that day. So the following day I was on a bus back to Calabar. I did the surgery when I returned back to school the following semester.
Whenever I think about that incident, my heart goes out to those babies in incubators. Did they survive it? Did the hospital look for other means to power the incubators? I can’t say. Sadly, they could be told to “come back home.”
Were the nurses prosecuted for shutting down the power plant and putting people’s lives in danger? Definitely not! And therein lies one of our biggest problems in Nigeria:Impunity. Anybody can do whatever they like, and there will be no consequences for their actions.Most of the vices perpetrated in Nigeria are as a result of the deeply entrenched culture of impunity at all levels of government and society.
For example, every day, we hear of Nigerians who are murdered by one security agency or the other. The perpetrators are never held accountable for their actions.Between December 2016 and April 2017, the following are reported cases of Nigerians who were killed by stray bullets from policemen:
5th of April, 2017: A police officer shot and killed a petty trader identified as Kudirat Adebayo near Onipanu bus stop in Lagos as the officers were reportedly chasing a suspected internet fraudster. Eyewitnesses said they officers then left the woman’s corpse on the spot.
3rd of April, 2017:A policeman allegedly killed one Bashiru Ayedun for protesting against the arrest of his colleague, who was a suspected internet fraudster in Ile Ife.
31st of January, 2017: A painter identified as Nse Akpan was killed by a stray bullet from a police officer in Port Harcourt. An unidentified police officer in one of the police vehicles escorting a bullion van released a bullet which hit the painter, who was walking on the other side of the road. The police van did not stop despite the incident.
11th of January, 2017:A fashion designer, Mr Hassan Taiwo, was hit by stray bullets allegedly fired by a police officer attached to the Lion Building Division on Lagos Island. The policeman was said to have fired the shots while pursuing hoodlums around the popular Folawiyo market on the Island.
28th of December, 2016: A shot fired by an unidentified policeman attached to Police Area Command, Idi-Ape Ibadan, hit the eye of a man identified as Mr Yomi Olaitan, around Oje market, Agodi Gate Road, Ibadan.
23rd of December, 2016: a police officer, attached to a bank in Zaria, allegedly killed his colleague attached to the same bank, and a university student, following disagreement over monthly stipends being given to them by the bank.
It must be emphasized here that these are only the few cases that were reported. Majority of the cases go unreported. And these are cases involving the Police alone. Since 1999, the Nigerian military has carried out several misdirected reprisals against civilian populations, destroying entire communities and murdering hundreds of Nigerian civilians. How a military can carry out reprisals against its own citizens in a democracy is inexplicable! When you add up these figures to those of other gun-toting security agencies, it becomes clear that Nigerians are killed more by those who are paid to protect them than Boko Haram, militants, and other criminal elements put together.And yet, no one has been held to account. No wonder the late afrobeats maestro, Fela Kuti, quipped, “They leave sorrows, tears, and blood; dem regular trademark!”
In our current democratic tenure—if indeed there is anything democratic about this racket practiced in Nigeria—we have seen far too many instances of criminal perpetration of violence and death on Nigerians by the government and its agents. How come nobody has been tried or jailed for most of these? They end up where they are reported in the media without further information about arrest and prosecution.
When there are no consequences for people’s actions, impunity reigns. The same attitude is amplified by our political elite. Why do you think there is so much corruption in government? Why do politicians and public office holders embezzle monies meant for people-oriented projects? The answer is simple.They know that nothing will be done to them. The worst that can happen is that they are taken to court, in which case they can always hire thirteen SANs to defend them, and drag the matter for so long that even Madam Justice grows weary and throws the matter out. They only have to put up with the minor inconvenience of showing up in court once in a while. And when they do, they appear with that knowing smile of someone who has successfully scammed the system.
And it is not only politicians who are acting with impunity. The culture permeates all government institutions and agencies. Government officials approach their jobs with so much lackadaisical attitude because they know that nothing will happen. Such a system does not promote professionalism. It’s why some view “government worker” as a derogatory term. Sadly, this culture seems to be at its peak presently. Right now, anybody can do whatever they like, and disrespect who whoever they want to. In fact, the ability to disrespect government institutions, such as the National Assembly, is now worn like a badge of honour. While one may not like those “honourables” who make up the legislature, having government officials disrespect them openly sets dangerous precedents. It makes the institution they represent appear weak, which is not good for democracy.
Unfortunately, we are all complicit in this matter. We have become a rather pliant citizenry who are often misled by the political elite to fight each other. So when they commit crimes, they are quick to play on religious and ethnic sentiments. Then those defend them who share the same affiliations. We then begin to compare crimes. Instead of calling for criminals to be prosecuted, we bring up arguments like, “My politician did not steal as much as your politician.” “My murderer did not murder as many people as your murderer.” “When your kinsman ordered the military to decimate an entire community, was anything done to him?” “You’re just painting the government bad because your kinsman lost in the last election.” “My kinsman is not the only politician with forged certificates. Why are you not talking about the rest?” And as we continue to compare crimes based on who committed them, we strengthen the culture of impunity.
What we forget in all of this is that the consequences of corruption do not discriminate according to religion, ethnicity, or political affiliations. The outbreak of meningitis currently ravaging Nigeria is killing people across the country. When you study the number and spread of deaths caused by it, it becomes obvious that the disease is not a respecter of where you come from, or the religion you subscribe to. Stray bullets too do not ask you whether you are related to so and so politician, or whether you support this political party or the other before killing you. Corruption, promoted by a culture impunity, will get you whether you like it or not, one way or the other. It is either we kill it, or it kills us.
We cannot move forward as a nation with this culture of impunity. When people are not held accountable for their actions, they will be encouraged to improve on their previous effrontery next time.We must treat all crimes for what they are, CRIMES! We must demand that people are held accountable for their actions. When someone forges certificates or declares to possess certificates which they do not, it is a breach of public trust, a crime against the people. It does not matter whether the certificate in question is just the “first school leaving certificate.” The person ought to be prosecuted. Likewise, if a politician or a public official goes against the laws, they should be prosecuted irrespective of the littleness, or seemingly harmlessness, of their crimes. Crimes are crimes, no matter who does them. The job of forgiving them their sins should be left to the courts to handle. These are things we should demand from governments at all levels. It should be the basis on which we elect people into public office.
Finally, we must be vigilant to ensure that we are not given mere promises. Government rhetoric must be followed up by meaningful actions to bring public officials to account or prevent future abuses. Any government that, however, decides to maintain the status quo should be voted out.
Image Credit: http://www.randomthoughts.in