COUNTERPOINT With Femi AKintunde-Johnson
By some stroke of providence, I came upon a sad story tucked somewhere in our newspapers. It tugged at my heartstrings for days. Basically, the news report epitomises for me our abject lack of vision, hard-headed misplaced priorities, and a clear indication that there’s hardly any morsel of dignity within our humanity to fertilize anything worthwhile for generations to come.
It was reported that about the time Nigeria was celebrating her 60th Independence with some dodgy un-emblematic logo… about the same period the newly re-elected governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki, was gyrating across the nation in grateful genuflections to regional tin-gods and newly minted godfathers, on account of his hard-fought victory, captured – “by-force-by-fire” – at the jaws of popular defeat… About that same period, an academic staff of Tayo Akpata University in Ekiadolor, Edo State, Friday Orobator was hatching plans to take his own life, and put an end to what his existence had become – a tedious, miserable, beggarly life supported merely by kind-hearted friends and colleagues during bouts of illnesses, and the insufferable daily grind of surviving with a family left to hang dry in the air, for lack of funds, and hardly any hope of a change in misfortune.
Orobator was a principal lecturer in the Department of Adult Education of the former Edo State College of Education, and for 13 months (not weeks, mind) he had not received his paychecks from the same state where political dogfights for power grab must have gulped billions of naira within the last three months of electioneering manoeuvres.
On that same October 2, when Orobator was putting finishing touches to his suicide plot, by hanging himself inside his apartment in Obakhazbaye area of Edo’s capital, Benin City… the nation was raging on all sorts of distractions – including the needling ‘mis-yarn’ of the president’s October 1 speech, excoriating Nigerians for grumbling about rising cost of fuel pump price, when it was much more expensive in Saudi Arabia! (the paucity of thought and reflection that lent itself to that sentiment have been adequately dealt with by sundry commentators). No digress. It may not be difficult to imagine the perplexing gloom that pervaded the home of Lecturer Orobator during that baleful Independence day broadcast by both the President, and his governor. In sharp bursts of exasperation at the confounding, detached rhetorics of his governor and president, his gaze must have fallen on his new born baby who arrived at such a deplorable moment in his chequered 50-something years. It’s not unreasonable to imagine that the optics of both Buhari and Obaseki churning out disproportionately untenable statistics and achievements, when for over a year, no government cared to cater for his health and living conditions.
For months on end, Orobator had depended on his friends in Lagos and Edo, according to his colleagues, to take care of a stubborn health condition, and keep his family afloat. When his union colleagues mounted a campaign to demand for their “abandoned” salaries before the September 19, 2020 governorship election, they claimed that their efforts were frustrated by hints from official quarters that their effort was nothing but a “political agitation”. How politicians could swipe a dismissive hand over agitation for payment of withheld salaries as being “political”, while political office holders were jumping from one party or posts to another without regards for decency or decorum. Not one of them “criss-crossers” complained of being owed salaries for one week!
When sympathisers saw the body of Orobator that October 2 afternoon, as it was been conveyed to the morgue, with the killer rope still on his neck, the unspoken worry was: how would Orobator’s wife and four children survive the ignominy of suicide, of lack occasioned by governmental irresponsibility, and the emotional devastation of living without their husband and father.
Yet, we will not be surprised, when in the usual cavalier ineptitude of knee-jerking governance, the state government rouse themselves in days ahead, and commiserate with the bereaved family, by not only paying his 13-month salaries, but flying the kite of supporting the children’s education up to tertiary level, and such other sweeteners (which no one hold them accountable for after the media charade).
All these belated efforts, if they dare to repent for their inglorious negligence, will simply to douse the nonchalant disregard of a state government to the safety and welfare of its own workers. Of course, there are sundry vital governance actions and imperatives that have been left to slide because of partisan politics and such other demons that politicians toy with in the guise of power play.
May the families of Orobator, and his grieving colleagues made near destitute by circumstances beyond their control, acquire the stamina and subtlety to interface with a bullish government which sees a 13-month long unpaid salary as “no big deal”! May the vicarious killers of Orobator, who stride the land pompously in tinted motorcades, find the will to pay those who work honestly and for long hours developing our most important tools for advancement – the human capita! Or else, they should dig more graves, and expand the reaches of the communal burial grounds for the next wave of epidemic they are incubating in Edo, and such states ruled by irresponsible potentates!
“Ta La Se…?”
All sorts of emotions trigger all sorts ideas. For me, encounters with dirt, or dirty habit, in real life or on television, brings up a swell of revulsion…which often set me thinking on ways to mitigate the offensive acts, and create a clean and decent environment.
Few day ago, while walking in my neighbourhood, a young man’s action of flinging a half empty bottle of water, absentmindedly, on the roadside…right opposite me! I was beside myself with a sharp flush of a corrective frown on my face… He didn’t even notice. It was pointless admonishing him without some power of coercion (what with children of nowadays not disposed to regarding greying beards as something to tremble before)… So, I chewed in my animus… and started wondering if we couldn’t empower and pay hundreds of thousands of Litter Lieutenants (mobile waste control officers) who will reside, operate and maintain coercion within each neighbourhood – such that anyone who throws or drops any piece of rubbish on the floor, streets, in public and semi-private spaces, will not only be forced to “take him Wahala”… but also pay a token as fine/levy so as to drill the message home very well.
Every where you go, dirt, litter, rubbish…every where… We have no control or discipline in keeping our environment clean – and some get irritated or offended when you advise them to stop dropping stuff in public space!
Yet, we complain when our gutters and drainages overflow… flooding our roads and homes… Drowning our children, and making raining season, which ought be a blessing, a season of distress and disaster, for some of us.
Leads me to wonder aloud: Ta la se? (Whom did we offend?) Who did this to us?