By Owei Lakemfa
Two different but related cries ring in my head. “Let the Poor breathe” and “I don’t want to die.” The first is the cry across the country as the masses are being suffocated by inflation and over 90 million poor get hungrier.
The second is the plaintive cry of young medical doctor, Vwaere Diaso, whose calling is to save lives. However, when her life was in danger with her limbs broken by an heartless system, her blood flowing from various parts and she knew her life was ebbing and she desperately needed help, her dying cry to her colleagues was: “I don’t want to die.”
Dr. Diaso graduated from medical school in 2022 and was two weeks away from completing her housemanship at the Island General Hospital, Odan, when last Tuesday, August 1, 2023 she routinely took the hospital lift from her ninth floor official quarters.
Now, for some years now, doctors at the hospital said they had complained about the poor state of the lift. As soon as she entered the lift, it took a downward plunge crashing to the ground floor. There were people around, including on the ground floor, who knew somebody was in the lift, but a rescue team did not arrive until 40 minutes later.
Dr Moye who was at the scene narrated what happened next: “They tried to use rods to open it, to be sure it wasn’t a joke. They finally opened it and the sight was gruesome. Muffled sounds of excruciating pain and agony became apparent.”
”Her forehead had a horizontal cut, her mouth had another one and she had raccoon eyes. She was lying in between the base of the elevator and the ground floor, with the engine hanging over her head, which meant any miscalculation in movement, she’ll be crushed to instant death.”
”She was literally sandwiched in-between the hanging engine and below the ground floor with blood on broken glasses and fractured limbs. It’s not a sight to describe.”
”I remember telling her to relax that help was coming. She said: ‘Don’t tell me to relax, tell them to get me out of here’. We eventually got her out and she kept saying she thinks she’ll die.
”Emergency care was almost zero and inside a hospital for that matter.”
So, youthful Dr. Vwaere Diaso died an avoidable and agonising death, another monument to a dysfunctional system; all that is left are her grieving family, mournful colleagues and a Tribunal of Inquiry.
The loud cries of “Let the Poor breathe” eventually penetrated the hallowed chambers of the Senate. But to the Distinguished Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it was a joke. So they turned it into a comedy skit. Senator Akintunde Abiodun who had moved a motion that another round of increased electricity tariff should not be visited on the populace had repeated the cry: “Let The Poor Breathe!”
The President of the Senate, Chief Godswill Obot Akpabio, then sarcastically put to voice vote a motion that the Nigerian poor should be allowed to breathe: ”The prayer is that, let the poor breathe, and Senator Mustapha has seconded that the poor should breathe. Those who are in support of the additional prayer that the poor should be allowed to breathe, say ‘aye’ and those who are against say ‘nay’”. The Senators crooned ‘aye’ and the chamber burst into laughter.
The laughter was not unexpected; our situation is not different from 1821 when the poet, Percy Bysshe ‘PB’ Shelley wrote: “The rich have become richer, and the poor have become poorer.” Our Senators get such jumbo pay, that to mention their humongous monthly pay, has become treasonable as such revelation can lead to a national revolt. Additionally, they award ‘Constituency Project’ contracts to themselves which does not pass through contract scrutiny, open award and accounting process; they account for and to themselves. Again like former President Muhammadu Buhari cried out for years without taking steps to curb it, the National Assembly, NASS, has a tradition of padding the country’s annual budget for their own private interests. As I write, there is a N500 billion palliative targeted at the poor and the NASS has a princely cut of N70 billion from it. If this largesse were to be divided equally amongst the 469 member-NASS, they will each get about N150 million. You see why our Distinguished Senators can afford to mock the poor?
Then, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, seems primed to invade our neigbours in Niger Republic over the military coup in that country. Nigeria is expected to provide the bulk of the invasion force. Secondly, such an invasion would be quite problematic unless Nigeria participates. This is because the three other members of ECOWAS having land borders with Niger: Benin, Mali and Burkina Faso, are opposed to the invasion. In fact, the last two along with another ECOWAS member, Guinea, have pledged their support to Niger were ECOWAS to invade. The three other countries having borders with Niger: Chad, Algeria and Libya, are not members of ECOWAS and are unlikely to allow ECOWAS troops use their countries to facilitate such an attack. Chad, although an ally of France – a country that desperately wants the invasion – is also ruled by a military junta; Algeria is opposed to any invasion that can send refugees across its borders, while Libya is a failed state with four contending governments.
Even if the Nigeria executive were to support the invasion, under Section 5 of the Constitution, it needs the express approval of the NASS to levy war. Specifically, 5(4)b states that “except with the prior approval of the Senate, no member of the armed forces of the Federation shall be deployed on combat duty outside Nigeria”.
In compliance with this provision, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu wrote the Senate expressly stating that the “actions expected” of Nigeria include the: “Military build-up and deployment of personnel for military intervention to enforce compliance of the Military Junta in Niger Republic should they remain recalcitrant.”
The Senate on Saturday, August 5, 2023, rejected the President’s request for the deployment of Nigeria military personnel to Niger. Rather, it advised President Tinubu and “other leaders of ECOWAS to strengthen political and diplomatic options and other means with a view to resolving the political impasse in Niger Republic”.
However, Senator Akpabio in briefing Nigerians on the resolution of the Senate claimed that the President never requested for the deployment of the Nigerian military for action in Niger. I had to go back to read the President’s letter and concluded that while President Tinubu wrote his request in the official English language, Chief Akpabio must have read it in his native Anang language.
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