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Sunday, 6 March 2016

The Country They Created

James Ocholi

Nigeria's Minister of State for Labour, James Ocholi, and his son, died today in an automobile accident along the Kaduna-Abuja road in northern Nigeria. His wife who sustained serious injuries, died in the hospital where she was rushed to for medical attention. There were two other unnamed victims, most probably the driver and an aide who may have been a policeman.

This unfortunate incident throws up many things that are wrong with Nigeria today which the common man feels everyday, and which the ruling class work so hard to insulate themselves from. Mr Ocholi chose to travel by road, most probably because he was genuinely afraid of flying from Abuja to Kaduna. Nigeria has had a notorious record of fatal and near fatal local air mishaps in the last decade. These plane crashes that have taken the lives of many prominent Nigerians, show the rot in Nigeria's aviation sector, a situation that is yet to be looked into, despite the huge sums allocated to the aviation sector annually. The monies are usually stolen, and the last aviation minister, Mrs Stella Oduah, has two armoured BMW saloon cars to show for her profligacy. I bet she has other assets as well as fattened bank accounts which are further testimonies of her thievery. She has still not returned the cars, and neither has she been prosecuted, nor even questioned by the authorities about how she was able to afford expensive armoured vehicles on her salary. She was a member of former president Jonathan's cabinet and was among those given free reign to steal government funds.

The Ocholi family chose to brave the bad Nigerian roads (although the roads in the mainly muslim northern part of the country are much better than those in the mainly christian south) than risk air travel. They eventually came face to face with the fate which they may have been seeking to avoid. Nigerian roads are among the worst in the world (I have not seen the roads in other developing countries, but I do not believe there are roads that are much worse than those in Nigeria) and the fact that there are no standardized driving tests means that anyone who is able to get (or more appropriately, pay for) a driver's licence can get behind the steering wheel of a car. The result is anyone's guess.

The two undisclosed persons who died along with Mr Ocholi's family, one of whom I strongly suspect will be a police officer, attached to the Ocholis, also highlights something I would like to mention, albeit briefly. Anyone who can afford to, in Nigeria, could hire a regular policeman, for a fee of course, to act as a bodyguard, removing this public servant from the pool of poorly motivated and poorly paid police officers available to Nigeria's under-policed streets and citizens. Several police chiefs and elected officials have all promised to stop this grave anomaly, but many well heeled individuals still get this service. 
  
While I am not in a position to ascertain the extent of Mrs Ocholi's injuries, to which she eventually succumbed, she would at least have had a fighting chance in a more decent society; one in which human life is considered invaluable. Most government hospitals and primary healthcare centres are poorly staffed and do not have the facilities to handle emergencies and more complex medical problems. Mrs Ocholi would have required an x-ray to check for fractures or a CT scan for head injuries, but these, especially the latter, are a rare luxury in many hospitals. Even where they are available, they are out of the reach of the average Nigerian who can barely afford the basics of food, clothing, and shelter. At least 70 per cent of Nigerians live below the poverty line. I am also quite certain that she was taken to hospital by the occupants of a second car which was travelling behind the car occupied by the Ocholis, because there would have been no emergency services available. The fact that those who extricated her from the badly damaged SUV probably had no medical training or rudimentary knowledge about how to handle such a delicate situation may have aggravated her injuries, and even contributed to her demise.

There are thousands of Nigerian medical personnel in Europe and North America; experts in their various fields and who are contributing excellent and world class healthcare services to the citizens of these countries whose leaders know what it means to run a country. Those entrusted with our common patrimony, chiefly derived from the oil that is abundant in the bowels of the Niger Delta, are only adroit at devising ways to steal as much money as they can. Many of these men and women in power enjoy the best healthcare in the world paid for by the oil money that is supposed to be judiciously employed to provide the same world class healthcare right in their own backyards. As well as quality roads.

Mr Ocholi resumed office about five months ago, and so the car he was riding in was about that old. It would of course have been a brand new car, with at least a three-year warranty. But on Nigerian roads, I doubt if this warranty would hold up, because the state of the roads would certainly ensure the car would be in much worse shape than the manufacturer would expect it to be after three years. I remember Peugeot cars, which used to be assembled in Nigeria in the 80's, carrying a sticker which read 'BUILT FOR NIGERIAN ROADS'. The Nigerian leadership who must have commissioned that assembling plant with so much fanfare (the plant has since gone bust) must have missed the sarcasm in the phrase. They would have assumed the French car maker was talking about building strong cars. One thing I have always had at the back of my mind as a driver (I got my licence in Nigeria at 15 after my driving instructor had bribed an official on my behalf) was to always monitor the state of my tyres, including tyre pressure. He stressed the importance of good tyres to driving, something that has stayed with ever since. Mr Ocholi's driver may have neglected this very important factor, which may have contributed to the puncture, while at top speed, of one of the rear tyres - the cause of the accident. Punctured tyres are a common cause of accidents in Nigeria, and this is due to a number of factors, including, but not limited to very old tyres with lower than the minimum thread depths, incorrect tyre pressure, and wrongly fitted tyres. The poor state of the roads, may have also contributed to the damage to the offending tyre.

The cars on Nigerian roads are issued a 'certificate of road worthiness' on registration. Please bear in mind that more than half of the cars on Nigerian roads are used cars imported mainly from the USA and Germany. The 'certificate' is for life, as no other routine maintenance is required, unlike the rigorous annual checks required for cars after a certain age, in saner climes, even if the manufacturer's warranty is still in place.

I am deeply saddened at the demise of the Ocholis, but many Nigerians may find it difficult to feel sorry for them because it is those like him who have created the Nigeria we are all living (and dying) in today. Nigerian leaders surround themselves with sycophants who daily sing their praises and shower them with encomiums. These thieving leaders, at every level of government, are extolled for even the most insignificant actions, and the parochial sycophants that make up their milieu even go as far as taking their praise singing to the pages of newspapers, and on radio and television. These sycophants only succeed in separating the leaders from the reality faced by the people, which is why successive presidents and state governors have continued to read prepared speeches about how they have improved the life of the average Nigerian. They really do not know better. That is leadership Nigerian style, and from time to time, like today, they get to feel the pinch we feel every second of the miserable existence to which they have condemned us.