Nigeria is a mental case and its doctors are busy working on it. The prescriptions are a perfect match for the competence of the physicians. Because Boko Haram remains deadly 10 years after its debut, our army has gone on its knees, deploying prayer ballistic missiles against bombs and tanks. A governor followed suit in Mecca clutching prescription notes to buy expensive prayers for the defeat of terrorism in North East Nigeria. We have closed the borders so that our Customs will stop collecting bribes. We are storming garages and parks for cars smuggled into our country by spirits when our hardworking border officers were asleep. We are befriending bandits, wedding robbers and kidnappers and jailing critics so that the nation can be safe. We are doing many more great things to get the nation going – like mercy-killing the sick so that he can live. We will soon sack workers so that we can pay them the new minimum wage. It is not wickedness. It is love uncommon; we do it all the time.
William Blake, 18th century English poet and master of oxymoron, told us that “cruelty has a human heart.” He was also the one who wrote in his ‘Proverbs of Hell’ that “If the fool would persist in his folly, he would become wise.” Blake was not the only one who pilloried idiocy with sneering praise. There is a people in Eastern Europe who speak of themselves as becoming wise only “when the damage is done.” Those ones must be Nigerians born in another continent. We are ruled by soldiers who gas us repeatedly so as to save us. You remember that American officer who told his general that he had to destroy a town in order to save it? That is what we get from our loving leaders all the time. And we are all guilty. We can never have enough of the benevolence of leaders who fail and tell us fools that they have passed. We keep taking our ailments to their hospital because they are our saviours; we trust them. Yet, one historian would sneer at our commitment and tell us that “real folly consists of making the same mistake twice.” You remember that anecdote of the woman who laments that a man tricked her into exposing her nakedness twice? With us and the leaders, seeing the expose is in orgasmic multiples.
Beyond sarcasm and satire, our case is a scary mix of grave and dire. One poor man in a corner of Nigeria complained of critical illness, his family said he needed a doctor to triumph over his health troubles. He found a physician who said he needed surgery to get well. Even in his poverty, he managed to raise the huge money demanded by his doctor. On the surgery table, he laid dreaming of life more abundant. But this doctor who wanted to help the sick to get well saw in his inside two ‘things’ which he did not understand. A report said the doctor opened the supine patient and saw those ‘things’ which he believed “ought not to be in the stomach.” He removed the ‘things’ and handed the stuffs over to the patient’s relative for burial. Well, the severed organs turned out to be the patient’s kidneys and the removal marked the beginning of the patient’s journey to his Maker. This is a true life story which happened very recently. The setting was Nigeria’s Adamawa State.
Mismanaging Nigeria as a medical case may not have any consequence for the bumbling leadership. Muhammadu Buhari is not the first – and won’t be the last doctor to collect his fees and leave the patient sicker than he met him. Wickedness, stupidity and crass incompetence in public office attract no fine. However, for the poor Adamawa doctor, there were consequences for playing Nigerian with a poor man’s life. The Nigerian Medical and Dental Council Tribunal reacted promptly with a trial of the physician. It entered a guilty verdict and deregistered the doctor. Chairman of the tribunal, Professor Abba Hassan, while delivering the tribunal verdict reportedly held that “the respondent exhibited incompetence in the assessment of Hamma. He failed to correctly diagnose the illness of Hamma and advise him. He undertook a surgical operation on the patient and removed an organ he could not identify. The respondent failed to refer Hamma in good time when such referral was necessary. He failed to do all that he reasonably ought to have done under the circumstances in the treatment of the patient.” That was how he judged the case. Fair?
Now, I ask: Why should that doctor suffer for doing what our leaders do daily and repeatedly with the sick body of Nigeria – without consequences? Why deregister him when we have in Abuja – and in all state capitals – untouchable doctors who, with impunity and relish, eat the heart of Nigeria, their patient? If we’ve been doing with failed leaders what the system did to that doctor, would you and I be gasping for breath as we are today? Nigeria’s history is a celebration of mismanagement, regrets and blames. Nigerians entrust births to murderous midwives then wail almost immediately later that the baby has turned out not a child. I see a clear parallel in what our leaders do to the country and what happened between that helpless man and his doctor in Adamawa. Following every failure is the excuse of good intention. Even with the sack of that doctor, unless he is tired of treating patients, he will continue to be patronized by sick Nigerians. Nigeria does that all the time; it goes back to recycle failures and expect sparkling success. Incompetence recommends relics to the country as leaders, then the hungry becomes hungrier, the angry angrier, the sick sicker. We reinforce failure, empower and reward calamities with leadership prizes – then we start grumbling that the country is on a free fall.
The government says it is serious about bailing 10 million poor people out of poverty this year, 100 million in 10 years. Then in quick succession, it increased VAT from five per cent to seven and a half per cent. Nothing spoil; it is just a 50 per cent increment. It also announced that toll gates will return to our collapsed roads. You and I will be paying tolls for using extremely bad roads – and by so doing, their voodoo regime says the poor will become rich. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has introduced what it called processing fees for withdrawals and lodgments. You lodge above N500,000, you pay two per cent; your company does same and pays three per cent. You withdraw above N500,000 from your account, you pay them three per cent; your company does same and pays them five. Our CBN said the policy is to encourage our people to stop messing around with dirty cash. All those are in addition to existing charges. In Buhari’s era, bank charges have become like police criminal charges – countless, illiterate and whimsical. It is as if Nigeria was created for its people to suffer. But we – they – are not tired. Nigerians know they need help, yet their spring water sees no existential harm in flowing into death’s molten lava. What should we expect from a river that pours its waters into hell’s sea of sands? It is death – like the lot of that patient whose head took him to the wrong hospital, paid dearly for life but got cheap death from his overrated doctor.
I listened to the president’s October 1 speech. He asked Nigerians to “join hands (with him) to defend and protect our nation from all those who would wish us ill.” Did the ill-willers include xenophobic South Africans? South Africans insulted, assaulted and killed your people, then you went there to befriend their complicit president. Should it not have been the other way round – the aggressor appeasing the victim and his abused spirit? But it was you who went there and you did not leave the place without telling your injured people to do what Romans do as long as they want to live in Rome. Was that the right thing for the leader of a victimized people to say in that circumstance?
What exactly did our president want his countrymen to learn from South Africans that would cure the xenophobic fiends of their hatred for the other man? Some wailers, supported by irreverent children of anger, would vow that to ask Nigerians to do in South Africa what South Africans do was to incite them to violence – pay bad with bad. Something like a fundamentalist reading of Robert Burton’s 1621 book, The Anatomy of Melancholy. Robert, miming the Catholic saint who invented the Roman phrase, said that “…like Mercury, the planets are good with good, bad with bad. When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done, puritans with puritans, papists with papists.” In Buhari’s Nigeria, that statement (doing bad to bad persons) would be treasonable felony punishable with detention without trial. And the detained would remain unreleased for as long as the courts, scared by the skeletons in their cupboard, play ball…
The president is back from his friend’s South Africa. He is deep at work in his monastery, praying and fasting hard to create a hundred million billionaires in 10 years. I know that wailers would say “welcome to our president” while awaiting the next charges from the CBN – and the police.
By Lasisi Olagunju