• Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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BusinessDay

Trivialising a human tragedy

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Everywhere you turn your head in this country, you are very likely to see one human tragedy or the other. All the tragedies are not necessarily so much on the scale that we currently see in the northeastern parts of Nigeria, but they come with varying levels of impact. There are small human tragedies of our mortal existence that are so impactful on our lives that they make many an easygoing Nigerian shudder at what lies ahead for the future of this country.

Sometimes, the shuddering is not really over the tragedies themselves, but how we respond to them both as ordinary citizens and public officials, especially those public officials who have a primary responsibility to protect life and property of citizens. A lot of that speaks to the capacity of public officials to really lead and govern. This becomes immediately glaring in the initial response, and then gets terribly horrible in the way and manner that responses are eventually executed. We might sit down and say that we have men and women from all walks of life, competent, astute and all that, in public service and in politics; but the truth is that all those men and women have their brains coloured by various externalities that render them incompetent to render public service effectively, especially to deal with the present challenges that confront this country.

Our officials like to think that compensations are now a normal thing to do to ameliorate tragedies. There is a bomb blast in a city that consumes tens or hundreds of lives. Government officials saunter to the city, display public sympathy, go to hospitals to make a public show of visiting victims and sympathising with them, and then the next thing you hear them say is that they are making donation of money or promising compensations of all sorts to the victims. Both victims and members of the public are supposed to see this and clap and then move on.

Sometimes families and friends just need closure upon the loss of their loved ones in such tragic circumstances, especially those that are avoidable. They need explanation as to why certain things happen, especially why they should happen at all. The penchant for political leaders and government officials to think that everything can be wished away when compensation is doled out upon the loss of lives is a serious flaw on the mental capacity to deal with citizens’ concerns over what is happening around them. In some cases it hovers around the thin borderline of disrespect to think that when lives are lost, offering monetary or material compensation can pacify the aggrieved. It shows how much things are really bad in our society. The pain for those of us who are keenly observing and are not in a position to do anything is immense, because my experience elsewhere is that when tragedy happens, government makes every effort to find answers to a myriad of questions that are raised by such a tragedy. Is this how much life is worth? Could this tragedy have been avoided? What can we put in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen again? These are the sort of questions that are asked and which responsible governments and their officials go all out to provide answers for when tragedies involving the loss of lives occur.

Last weekend when the tragedy that cost some lives occurred at some venues where hapless citizens gathered to take a job entrance test, a number of questions were raised by this tragedy. Should citizens be subjected to this kind of treatment? What manner of government goes about recruiting workers in such a scale that it is clear that 99 percent of those who sat for the test do not stand a chance of getting employment? What are the best practices in the world? And why do we subject ourselves, our country, to using the lowest standards in conducting a recruitment exercise?

As if it was not enough to subject such a large number of people to a stampede for very, very few openings, thereby causing the loss of lives, it then emerged that these same people had been subjected to paying for application forms for a Federal Government parastatal’s job openings! Were higher officials in government sufficiently angered by this? If they were, it did not show because in all the responses from the Presidency, even at the Federal Executive Council meeting that held the Wednesday following the incident, nothing suggested that higher government officials had any serious concern about this development. There is something fundamentally wrong about this!

Instead, what came out of that meeting was the news that the president had decided to offer employment slots to families of those who were killed. This is part of the Nigerian official compensation culture. It is perhaps sufficient to take away the tragedy of losing their loved ones. But this, to me, is trivialising this monumental human tragedy. It’s like Queen Marie Antoinette mockingly asking the French, during a period of financial crisis, why ask for bread when there is cake! But that this is trivialising such a tragedy is better explained by what might well be the little or no thought that went into it. For instance, did anybody ask the families whether they have people able to take up the slots on offer? Is it taken for granted that members of the families will fit into the Immigration Service? Does it not confirm that government officials like promoting mediocrity, especially because it has been assumed that the affected families would have qualified people to ‘walk’ straight into the service because the president has so promised!

This is a tragedy that needs probing. There were so many things wrong about it. To immediately rush off to set up a committee to conduct a fresh entrance into the service belittles the tragedy that has occurred. And it shows the depth of our governance and how mentally engaged government is with the issues that confront us! God help Nigeria!

PHILLIP ISAKPA