What did the visiting doctors see? About 200 children had died within three weeks. Over 1,233 graves had been dug near the camp in the past one year. On a bad day, 30 children kick the bucket. The children whose pictures were taken during the MSF’s visit could have died by now. Only bones were left! The images remind us of Somalia.
Biafra’s kids of the late 1960s (like me) were not like that. With the blockade, food was not coming into Biafra, and farmers could not go to the farms because the federal troops “fought” harder in villages than on warfronts. But our parents were able to boost the protein content of our diets with the meat of rats and ants. There were vitamin-rich leaves and fruit to be plucked and nuts to be gathered in forests. Nevertheless, there were kids who couldn’t make it; about 5, 000 kids were flown to Gabon. From the entire Biafra! Now, thousands are dead or dying at Bama alone.
What could have happened to the truckloads of food items occasionally advertised by the Borno State government and NEMA? They must have been diverted by corrupt officials. Whoever thinks corruption is not deadly should just visit our IDP camps as the MSF did. It’s likely those charged with ferrying or distributing the food items did “brisk business” with them. They could have sold them in open markets or sent them to their own homes. That’s how fertilisers were being stolen until a few years ago.
I heard that the state government has been looking for those who revealed this secret, not those who had been stealing from the displaced people and causing the deaths of innocent children. Which way, Nigeria? So more than two million people who fled from Boko Haram have merely jumped from frying pan to fire?
It’s dangerous to live in a country that maltreats the poor in this way. The few rich are mainly those who have got drunk with the blood of the poor. That’s why a gang conspired to share $2.1 billion (N600 billion) meant for arms purchase. They knew full well that those being killed by Boko Haram were poor people; the rich’s children were living in London or Dubai or America. Adolf Hitler said it: The poor can always be dealt with.
The poor have no voice. These days, especially, news reporters don’t visit IDP camps or remote villages where newsworthy events happen every minute. Instead, they visit state houses to receive press releases and bribes. Some governors pay to keep away “unfavourable” news about their states. Accordingly, all manner of crimes are committed daily in several states but they go unreported. Only charities like the MSF and foreign journalists occasionally reveal the truth.
Many otherwise law-abiding Nigerians have taken to crime just to avoid being poor and thus treated like the Bama kids. For survival is the first law of nature. Nigeria may be uninhabitable, but many of us have little choice. Sooner than later, the rich in Nigeria will also cry. Are they not crying already? When there is no public power supply, they turn on generating sets that pollute the environment. They get kidnapped for ransom. Armed robbers are everywhere. The ultimate nightmare is not far ahead. As John Kennedy said, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” One day soon, anarchy will set in, and those who seek refuge in better-managed countries won’t have a home to return to.
Another place I’ve seen starving men who looked like the Bama children was a prison yard. Each state’s chief justice occasionally visits prisons to show mercy on some inmates. During one such visit, many years ago, we accompanied a judge to a prison yard. All the inmates were brought out and kept on an open field. You could see skeletons! You could see men who were not likely to live a day longer. Fungi had grown on the skin of some. Again, Nigerian prisons and police gulags are inhabited almost exclusively by the poor.
A society is judged by the way it treats its poor, said a wise one. In Nigeria, government exists to protect the rich and punish the poor. It is little wonder that the local government system has not survived here. The idea behind the system, when it was introduced 40 years ago, was to take governance to the grass roots. Today, governors do whatever they like with local government funds. Cronies appointed as chairmen, supervisors and kings share the crumbs.
In nations that value human life, every life is considered important. Here, we’ve become so used to murders that we no longer give a damn. If the dying/dead children of Bama had been children of the rich, wouldn’t the federal and state governments have taken an interest? We prove George Orwell right every day: “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.”
The consequences are never far away: Patients are dying! The sick are getting sicker. And private hospitals are taking their pound of flesh.
We now take everything for granted. In another clime, however, a strike by health workers could bring down a government. Perhaps, workers’ unions should invade international airports to turn back all those travelling to Europe, America or Asia for “health tourism”.
As the economy bites harder and workers become more impoverished, a demand for better conditions of service is inevitable. It’s better to placate labour unions now than face a revolution later.