We live in a country where we have little or no value for the human life. The security of lives and properties which is a fundamental necessity for the existence of a society are greatly lacking. We live in a place where people can die from very absurd reasons and unimaginable conditions. If you are not killed by a car, you might just be the victim of a drunk police man with his rifle or a crazy driver running away from a police personnel. Life here is not just secured. From people lynched because of religious remarks or an inter-ethnic war arising from mere cases of disrespect for the wife of a leader of a road transport workers association, people live their lives in fear.
Recent issues that have made the news has also shown more or less this chronic disease of our polity. From the Soft drinks saga to the Meningitis outbreak, our deep rooted malady have showcased again. The lackadaisical attitude of NAFDAC and the Standard Organization of Nigeria is beyond words. Even if the fact was granted that the difference in temperature between Nigeria and UK necessitates a higher level of acceptability in regards to the Benzoic acid, the fact that no review in the standards has been made since 2008 is a call for concern. Or are those that were supposed to be the experts in such issues unaware of studies that are being done to show greater health risks in Benzoic acid which has necessitated the drop in the acceptable level? And to think that this particular matter has been dragged in the court for 8 years, leaves much to be desired. And then to think that this issue will not have been raised if not for concerns expressed, not by a Nigerian Laboratory but by a UK laboratory. As noted by Simbo Olorunfemi, for example, the standard set by Codex Alimentarius Commission(CAC)- (who sets international limit) as high as 600mg/kg was reviewed to 250mg/kg. The United Kingdom and other European countries have set theirs at 150mg/kg including Ghana in the same tropical region with us. But even the argument of difference in weather is misplaced. As Simbo noted, “ But then, after learning that benzene was present in some products, research was undertaken by both FDA( their version of NAFDAC) and the soft drinks industry in US to understand the factors that contributed to benzene formation. This revealed that ‘elevated temperature and light can stimulate benzene formation in the presence of benzoate salts and vitamin C’ So, I am left again with more questions: If elevated temperature, as is the case in tropical Nigeria, is a factor that can enhance benzene formation- a well-documented carcinogenic substance, how then does it make sense for the prescribed benzoic acid level in Nigeria manufactured soft drinks to be higher than that of a temperate United Kingdom and other European countries?” And in a country that care less about causes of deaths or sicknesses (but rather give you drugs to cure symptoms), who knows the untold harms that would have been caused by such negligence and carelessness about the value of human lives.
While countries are researching every time to make sure that the health of their citizens are in the best state and to review what needs to be reviewed to achieve that, we here care less. As Simbo concluded in his first piece on this topic, “But then, this is even beyond Fanta and Sprite. The more pertinent question brought to the fore by this are- Are there more things we need to be worried about? Can we be sure there is someone out there really looking out for the safety and best interest of Nigerians? To lose faith in an agency such as NAFDAC with charge over food and drugs is no good for the system. It has a lot of work to do redeeming itself.” And this is not just a NAFDAC issue, it cuts across varied institutions and what their practices tell us about their value for the human life.
Well, weeks have passed after the whole drama and just as the rug was being rolled, another issue related to our value for the human life arose. It was the case of the outbreak of Meningitis in our dear country. Again, Simbo Olorunfemi gives some insights. “According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease control, (NCDC), as of April 3, 2017, a total of 2,997 cases, with 336 deaths, have been reported, with 146 of the cases being laboratory confirmed.” Though these outbreaks have occurred in the past, yet we have not been able to adequately contain these outbreaks. In 2015, “this outbreak lasted 17 weeks, and affected 1039 villages in 21 local government areas in three states- Kebbi, Sokoto, Niger.” Though excuses have been cited that this current one is serogroup C and it is new occurence while the previous ones were of the serogroup A and that vaccines for the former are not easily accessible. But as Simbo noted, “We are told that the C strain is a relatively new occurrence, but the scientific study I read reported that in 2013 and 2014 in North Western Nigeria, ‘two sequential, localized outbreaks of meningitis were caused by a new strain of Neiseeria meningitides Serogroup C (NmC)” And even at that year, the study had already suggested that, “a Vaccination campaign against NmC with a long lasting conjugate vaccine should be considered in the region”. Apparently, no one has cared. We would rather give religious connotations to the problem, than acknowledge our folly and repent of them. In a country where the lives of citizens are not valued, such reports lie useless in one box while life continues, hoping it will not come again. But alas, it came. For many of us, as long as it is not our family members or our friends, who cares? We have gotten so used to so much deaths from preventable causes that we no longer seem to see it as a problem that needs urgent redress. Do we really value the lives of thousands of people that die on our streets, in our half-baked hospitals, in the hands of uncaring nurses and reckless doctors? Do we really care for the lives of our citizens that die on bad roads or those who in the 21st century still have no access to portable water? Do we value the lives of the youth corpers that die yearly just because they want to serve their father land? Do we value the lives of those who die on fake drugs and smuggled products or those who die as victims of the recklessness of our own security agencies? Do we even care? Are these lives worth it? Does it have to continue like this? Are we cursed to this continuous tears and loss?
But beyond these two examples, the one that worried me most was the outbreak in Queens College, Yaba. The report by Sahara Reporters says “A recent laboratory report has shown that since the beginning of January 2017, over 1222 students of Queens College in Yaba, Lagos State have been treated at the school’s clinic for abdominal pain, fever, vomiting and diarrhea”. The problem? “The analysis also indicates that the boreholes that provide principal sources of water for the school are too shallow and too close in proximity to the sewage systems, to which the contamination has been traced”. But what one of the kitchen workers said was worrisome. She said the school principal, Mrs Lami Amodu “buys spoilt fish and molded rice at cheap rates for the student’s consumption”. When one of the students died, the school management denied any death and was still trying to allay the fears of the parents. But then the report of another death came to public knowledge. But when you think it can get worse, you read, “ Despite the Lagos State government’s recommendation that the school postpone classes till the premise are cleared of bacterial infections, the management of the school has asked the JSS 3 and SS3 students to resume without taking necessary precautions to ensure the students will be safe when they return to School.” How can repeated cases of same or similar symptoms be ignored from January until it became epidemic in April? How can a principal put her own profit as priority above the students’ health? How can they be indifferent until the intervention of Lagos State Government and Minister of Health? How can they reopen the school without any change in conditions? How can they deny the death of a student and give false security? What height of selfishness and irresponsibility! But the worst of it all that should bring pain to any heart is what was said by the Principal and his Vice as reported by Chidi Anselm ( President of Unity Schools Old Students Association). First the principal, “there is no epidemic, epidemic is when threequarters of the population has died”. Then the Vice, “We are looking after 2800 students and we are being crucified because two die”. Do these people even have blood in their veins? Would they have made those statements if it were their children? The lives of two young ladies with future aspirations are worth nothing? Nigeria, how did we ever get here? How did we grow callous? But while all these ravaging issues were taking place, Nigerians and our media outlets were more concerned about Apostle Suleiman and Stephanie Otobo, Dino Melaye’s certificate, Hammed Ali’s uniform, Saraki’s SUV, Big Brother Nigeria and the married lives of some so called celebrities. Can we focus on issues of greater proportions and issues that deal with the very values that make society possible? As Ayodele Adio stated, “A nation without a conscience and the slightest of compassion will continue to recycle injustice and rebellion at the cost of innocent lives.
But in the midst of all these bad news, I was so encouraged by an article I read on the 30th of April, 2017. I have written in greater depth and details on this issue of the value of human life in an article titled, “The Value of The Human Life” on Fadelessvision.blogspot.com. The article went beyond the symptoms to the real issues and possible solutions. But I was urged to take up the pen again on this topic, not to go over the explanations again but to show that all hope is not lost. The article was written by Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa and Bill Gates, one of the richest in the world. It was titled, “Why we are Hopeful about Improving Health in Africa”. The article introduced us to what these men have been doing to make sure that Polio is eradicated in Africa. They met in 2010 in a conference concerned about this same issue. Since then, they have been working on complete eradication of the disease. More than 180,000 vaccinators have been sent into 5 African countries. They had supported the establishment of emergency operations centers in Nigeria. In Kano, they are working to ensure that “children can get essential childhood immunizations against Tetanus, pneumonia, liver cancer and measles. They have plans for nutrition programs in 12 states. They have also launched a campaign to end Malaria.
But what impressed me most was not what they have done or plan to do, but what I saw as their motivating ideology. I derive that from this statement, “At the time(referring to when the conference held in 2010), Nigeria had done an amazing job tackling polio- reducing reported cases by 95 percent in just one year. But it was still circulating in six Nigerian States. While 95 percent might seem like success, as long as a single child remains infected, children across Africa and around the world are at risk” Wao! I have not read
something as moving as this in years. True to their ideology, Borno is now the only State out of the 6 where Polio is still circulating and they are working relentlessly to end it there. To them, the life of one single person matters. Is it because they are so rich and wealthy? In fact that should be the reason why they should not care. These are guys that have all the comfort and security anyone can ever wish for. But there is an ideology, a commitment to the value of one single human life that drives them on in this mission. We might not be as rich, but if we have the same mentality like they do, that every single human life is precious and important and deserves life and security and comfort, then we can do the little we can in our corners. We can brighten the corners where we are. When the ideology is there, it will find expression, either in big deeds or in little acts.
All is not gloom, all hope is not lost. Let us as individuals and as far as our voices, pens, influences can go, make a commitment to the sanctity of the human life and commit to live every day of our own lives in view of that fact. We need a massive revolution of mindset in this country, individually and institutions wise. It can begin with us. The Nigerian life is sacred and it should be treated as such. Whether sick or whole, whether in the womb or out, whether male or female, whether theist or atheist, educated or illiterate, poor or rich, privileged or not, irrespective of race, tribe or religion, every human life is precious and we should treat it as such. And it still remains my conviction that this is true because every human being is created in the image of God.
Ayodele Adio, Nigeria We Hail Thee, Opinion.premiumtimes.com.ng, April 30, 2017
Aliko Dangote, Bill Gates, Why We are Hopeful about Improving Health in Africa, Opinion.premiumtimes.com.ng, April 30, 2017
Chidi Anselm, Death of Innocents at Queen’s College: Crime of Involuntary Manslaughter, livebip.com, May 1, 2017
Owolabi Paul, The Value of The Human Life, Fadelessvision.blogspot.com, June 12, 2016
Simbo Olorunfemi, Are we Doing Enough to Contain this Annual Outbreak of Meningitis, Opinion.premiumtimesng.com, April 5, 2017
Simbo Olorunfemi, More Questions on Soft Drinks, Benzoic Acid and Nigerian Regulators, Opinion.premiumtimesng.com, March 20, 2017
Simbo Olorunfemi, Should We Now Be Worried about Drinking Fanta and Sprite,Opinion.premiumtimesng.com, March 17, 2017