Moral Questions Nigerians Answer

Have you ever been in a situation that appears familiar, a sort of déjà vu? Not déjà vu in its strict sense, but a re-enactment of a description in a book, a scene in a movie or a vivid dream. Yes? No? I had one of those last month.

***

The sun is the highlight of the afternoon as we walk down Awolowo road. Four of us—three guys and a lady—are eating groundnuts, talking, smiling and laughing at inside jokes. The sun is like a punishment.

No matter what we do, we’re either going to be the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan

We all stop talking and focus on a body curled on the floor a few metres from us. Black T-shirt, black jeans, low-cut albino hair. We walk closer and notice his phone in his hands—a white Tecno phone, his palm-slippers placed neatly beside him, and his black backpack in the gutter just by his head. We walk past him. I remember the answer Jesus gave to the man who asked “Who then is my neighbour”: a story about a man who was waylaid by robbers. I turn back and my friends do the same. Maybe they remember the story too. It is impossible for us to walk past him with knowledge of the characters in Jesus’ story lodged in our consciousness. No matter what we do, we’re either going to be the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan.

We see a man selling recharge cards across the street, sitting under a large Airtel umbrella.

“What is wrong with him?”

“I don’t know. He just got down from an Okada and slumped on the floor like that.”

We turn to the guy on the floor. “What is wrong with you?”

He touches his tummy and mumbles something about his stomach.

“Is there anyone we can call to pick you up?”

He lifts up his phone and mentions the name of a friend. We call the friend and ask where he is. He’s in Sango which is less than five minutes from where we are.

“I’m coming” (He will repeat this statement over the period of an hour).

One of us runs to buy water for him. We carry and place him beside the driveway of the shopping complex where he collapsed. We wait for the friend. A security guard comes out to see what we are doing. She says she thought he is a drunken man who sleeps in front of the fence. Now that she sees he’s not drunk she still wants us to take him away from the front of their shopping complex. She gets agitated. One of us is angry that she is not sensitive to the plight of the young man. We’ve placed him in a place where he wouldn’t obstruct vehicles entering and leaving the shopping complex. What is she afraid of? That he’ll die on her watch? She asks us, his friends, to take him somewhere else. We’re not even his friends; just four young people trying to be his neighbour.

Firetruck.
…policemen, firemen and paramedics… his state-assigned neigbours.  by Andrew Malone via flickr

I know how the emergency systems of other countries work from books, movies and documentaries. When someone is in danger, his neighbour calls a number: 911 or 119. Which one applies in Nigeria? We don’t know. In many countries, the government prevents you from the crisis of conscience that the Priest, Levite and the Samaritan had when they saw the wounded man. Just call the Policemen, firemen or paramedics. They are his state-assigned neighbours. In Nigeria one is not excused from moral choices. A car crashes on the road and it looks like there might be survivors; do you help or not? A woman stands on the road, her car has a flat tire and the bonnet is up; does she have men in the bush waiting to pounce on you? We’ve all heard these fables: someone tries to help a stranger and loses something vital: money, manhood, life.

Fourty five minutes after we saw him and the friend has not returned. Another man joins us and suggests we put him in a cab, pay and ask him to direct the driver to his house. We flag down a cab, but the boy can barely sit. He’ll possibly sleep off in the cab. We apologise to the cab driver and place him on the ground again. His friend is no more picking our calls.

I remember a time when text messages were going round, asking people to save a few numbers on their phones as ICE (In case of emergency). I never did. I usually ignore those text messages. I think I’m one of those Nigerians who will never write a will because they believe they’ll always be okay. Many Nigerians are like me. What will I put in my will? My phone, my laptop, my tablet and a literary executor for the abandoned essays in my journal. My account balance is as fertile as a mule so, that won’t be a problem. Maybe I’m always optimistic like a typical Nigerian. And this is something else about typical Nigerians: when they say they are coming, assume they are not.

The security woman suggests that we take him to a hospital.

“And what do we explain to them”. I try not to be sarcastic.

The friend picks the call and he’s obviously lost. We describe the place to him again and wait. He arrives, thanks us and squashes the friend between him and the Okadaman.

I’ve not called him since that day. I have his friend’s phone number but I’m not that much of a Good Samaritan. In a country where I’m supposed to pick up the slack for the government in everything—water, electricity, schooling, security—how much of a Good Samaritan can I be?

***

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8 thoughts on “Moral Questions Nigerians Answer

  1. How good of a Samaritan could you have been after all you and your friends did….? However, a call wouldn’t have been a bad idea after all
    …just to know how he is doing having been born into a country where the system is designed to end people like him sometimes miserably should microscopic few good men like you never walked pass.

    You are you sure. Keep it up

  2. This is really nice ife, both the deed and the piece. In a country where most people are scared to help others and some just couldn’t be bothered. You and your friends were kind enough. You saved a life the state is meant to protect, well done.

  3. Funny how we see someone on the floor and instantly assume they are either beggars, drunk or some kind of destitute or the other.
    Something similar happened while I was at the bus stop a week ago, and another on my way to church. How neighbourly can we be to a fellow Christian who slumps on his way to church? No member of the church would even take the man from mine and my friends arms; they all looked away in a hurry to go to morning mass, while we trudged behind them, walking the opposite direction from our own church, then handed him over to the priest at the catholic church after narrating our shocking ordeal with his church members.
    Strange country we are in really. Who is our neighbor?

    1. I’m tempted to say something about the behavior of those church members, but sometimes it’s just easy to look the other way in Nigeria. I guess the best we can do is to be a neighbor to those around us.

  4. This is beautifully written. You tried o. The question is if you had, say an interview, would you have stopped? Would being a neighbor be as attractive if you had something personally important at stake?
    I think It’s cringe worthy How we rationalize not doing What is without doubt the right thing to do.

    I also like the part Where the government is responsible. We already do So much that they should be doing. It would be nice if they picked up some slack! But then, is it not this Naija?

    1. Your question about what I would have done if I was going to an interview is the kind of moral quandary a lot of people face everyday. How much can we put others first? I can’t even answer that question yet. I’d like to believe I will still help him no matter what, but we all know there’s a difference between just talking and acting.

      And I’m sure we are at a point now where no one expects the country to pick up any slack. It’s sad but it is what it is.

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