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Living in dystopia

Imagine fighting as a soldier in the Biafran war, surviving it with a bullet lodged in your skull, then years later setting up a world…

Imagine fighting as a soldier in the Biafran war, surviving it with a bullet lodged in your skull, then years later setting up a world class hospital, sometimes treating people for free, and then lying close to death, shot by the  now ubiquitous UGM (Unknown Gun Men), a catchall name for these bandits / terrorists / criminals who operate around Nigeria (particularly the South East) with wanton disdain for lives and authority, and having no one come to your aid. Apparently, those around to whom you could have asked for help were busy filming and stating the obvious into the camera like untrained actors to their imaginary audience. How are you whipping out your phone and filming a dying man so that you can share on social media and claim what prize exactly? What is wrong with our people?

I have had many conversations about this and some have pointed out to me that nothing could have been done for him, that the people filming could do nothing at all that would have made a difference, that had they taken him to any hospital, they may themselves have ended up in police wahala , that no hospital would have taken him without police report etc etc etc.  All very well. They were helpless to offer practical help BUT did they have to film a dying man, soaked in his own blood? One of the most touching stories from the 9/11 attacks in New York was that of a man who, powerless to aid a woman who’d been burned  (she later died), held her and prayed with her. He wasn’t a doctor, he wasn’t a priest. He was just a fellow human being who didn’t want this woman to die alone. At that moment when Dr Akunyili was dying with not a single friend or family member present, when he was dazed by the attack that came out of nowhere, any one of those folks filming and commenting could have provided the comfort of a human touch. Or give him the dignity of not filming at all. Is that really too much to ask for or to expect?

Apparently it is. Someone reminded me that ours is a country where robbers or suspected robbers  are garlanded with burning tires. “Human lives have no value here,” this person told me wearily. And I can see why they think so. Google “Burning robbers in Nigeria” and weep. Everyday, on scales large and small, we see the brutality meted out on bodies here. People pouring hot water on their house helps, for instance. Perhaps, when one is confronted with daily assaults on the body, one loses a sense of their own humanity as well as the humanity of others.

Yet, it is, ironically,  to this environment that the Akunyili’s – Dr Chike and Prof. Dora-  gave their best by putting their skills to the service of humanity. The husband was a philanthropist; he organised outreach programmes, and offered healthcare to the poor. The wife sought to ensure that Nigerians did not die as a result of fake drugs and adulterated products. They did this because they saw the lives of their fellow Nigerians as valuable. Human lives are not seen as valuable here? Clearly, there are those who haven’t lost their humanity.

Nevertheless the season of wanton killings seems to be upon us. A Twitter user lamented about this being our new normal. Killings in broad day light by UGM (or whatever particular group under that umbrella is responsible). Folks afraid to leave their homes after 6pm hoping to guarantee their safety that way. Nigerians in the Diaspora afraid to return home and south easterners, who live outside the south-east, afraid to visit home. I have a few friends who have put their proposed Christmas visit back to their villages on hold. They are afraid of being victims -targeted or accidental- of the security lax. They do not want to be the ones writhing on the ground while strangers’ phone cameras capture their last moments for the sadistic voyeuristic pleasure of other strangers.

Dr Chike Akunyili did not deserve to die the way he did. He did not deserve to spend his last minutes on earth surrounded by nincompoops. He should still be alive, doing that which according to his family made him happy – living a life of service- and watching his grandchildren grow up. Last week Tuesday should have ended differently for him.

Unfortunately, what happened to Dr Akunyili was the continuation of a trend that has plagued the South  East for some years now and getting increasingly worse.  Fingers have been pointed at IPOB and at aggrieved unscrupulous businessmen whose businesses suffered under Prof. Dora Akunyili’s reign as NAFDAC chief and who sought revenge. Some have said it was a case of mistaken identity. Whatever the case is, the irrefutable fact is that a man was shot dead in broad daylight. And those who did the killing had no fear of being stopped (by the police or whomever else is in charge of stopping bad guys from operating) while those who witnessed had no compulsion to be human. Maybe that is what the person I had a conversation with meant when he said that “human lives have no value here.” Maybe that is what it is to live in a dystopia?

I wish the Akunyili’s and their relatives the strength to bear this massive loss. May this season of anarchy come to an end.

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