I feel and share the pains of President Muhammadu Buhari in this period of his distress on account of an ear infection. (And my feeling and identification with his trouble are truer than his own famous ‘I feel your pains and hear your cries’ paternalistic utterance to suffering Nigerians.) I say this honestly because I had once been terribly convulsed by the excruciating pains of such infections. When you are gripped by the tormenting demon of that disease, believe me, you can never be in charge of anything. It torments and makes you inactive.
The goblin of that infection began to waltz in the pit of my right ear after I left Borno State, where I was a serving corps member observing the compulsory one-year national service on the platform of the spent National Youth Service Corps, for Lagos for a two-week break. After my third day at home, I began to feel pain inside that part of my ear. I gave some attention to it and felt a bit relieved. But overnight the pain came in a deluge and there was no sleeping throughout the night.
The following morning, my consistently numinous and remarkably motherly mother took me to the health centre close to our abode. The lazy bones there casually examined me and asked that I should come another day. Come another day when I had just luckily survived the night with horrible stings of pain! Not one to abide sloppiness, my mother post-haste asked that we go to Lagos University Teaching Hospital.
We got there and it took us more than three hours before we saw a doctor to diagnose the problem. At that time, I had become more deeply aware of how easier it is for many Nigerians to die right within the walls of the place they are supposed to be shielded from cheap death. The doctor, all calm and unruffled on account of my answers to his posers, said that I had ear infection and instructed that we proceed to the Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) Ward. Let me note here that for the first time since the pain began, I felt a bit soothingly relieved. I was then empowered with the information of what was happening to me. Information, indeed, is power!
You would think it was a market place. A sea of heads filled the barely expansive space of the ward. They had come to see doctors on account of everything related to ENT. There were school children in their uniforms, just as there were many elderly and young persons wincing and looking gravely woebegone as a result of inexplicable pains. Their faces bore the tell-tale markers of the acute pains their mouths could not vocalise. We took position too and blended with the sad throng of humanity flagellated with unspeakable discomforts.
A few hours later – now remember that it was well over six hours that we had been in that hospital without any meaningful succour to the pain I came with –, a nurse shimmied in and indifferently announced that all those suffering members of humankind go home and come another day! ‘Why?’ ‘What is the problem?’ ‘Can’t somebody just see us, even if to ameliorate our pains …’ rented the air in response to the satanic annunciation of the nurse’s well-demonstrated schadenfreude. But home the distraught people went.
My mother and I remained there. After the protesting hordes had departed, a nurse came out and inquired about the purpose of our still being there. Really, the scowl on her cosmetics-enhanced face said something like: ‘What are you still doing here? Didn’t you hear that we have asked you to go home and die of the sickness that brought you here?’ My mother carefully explained to her that I needed to see a doctor even if all s/he would say was a temporary measure to apply. Grudgingly, the nurse introduced us to another senior nurse who then advised that we go get Goya Oil and apply it to the ear (and of course do a lot of prayers) and then come the following day to see a doctor. We did as instructed (No! the answer to my problem was not prayer, for if it was we would not have bothered to visit the hospital! I did not say a word of prayer! But my mother? You get nothing for guessing right) in that unfriendly tone and wicked ‘body language’, President Buhari’s most beloved phrase.
The following morn, I donned my full NYSC habiliments and before 7am I was already at the door of the ward waiting to see the doctor. Even at that time of the day, many troubled souls were already there – they had not died; they had survived another day. When it was some minutes before 12pm, a nurse came out to announce, as usual in their unfeeling wounding tone, that the doctors would no longer be attending to anybody. We should all come back the following day! Again! But they told me to come today! With strong and feeble words, some cussed and cursed. I remain rooted to the door of the administrative office. When all was settled, I walked into the office, my right hand clutched to my right ear. I sought audience with an elderly nurse. Surprisingly, she was all ears. After my tale of pain and woe, she sympathised with me and then served me a plate full of helplessness. There was nothing she could do, she declaimed miserably, but genuinely.
But something saved the day. There in the office was a truly motherly retired nurse who had come to visit. She heard the conversation and immediately asked the nurse for the names of the two consultant doctors who had attended to patients that morning. The other nurse told her, adding, ‘Ma, maybe you should go in with the boy. They may listen to you’. The woman grabbed me carefully by the hand and in we went. She did not have to talk much. They asked her to leave me behind; they would attend to me.
The female doctor who agreed to hear my case looked at me searchingly and asked, ‘Why are you in your NYSC kits? You should just walk in here without it and tell us that you are a serving corps member.’ I felt like gripping my head between my hands and scream ‘abomination!’ I summarised my experience in the last two days and she could only wag her head.
Before I tell you how my ear infection got treated, permit me to make this observation:
Mountain shades of evidence abound that human lives do not matter in Nigeria. Like in the laughable republic of the pigs in George Orwell’s revealing ‘Animal Farm’, some human lives are more important than those of others. I was a SERVING corps member with a health problem and people who should attend to my case gave me short shrift. And here is another SERVING Nigerian with an ear infection and he is not only treated by the best the country can afford, he is even flown abroad for more treatment in another best of places and by the best of experts in that field! Do I even have to be a corps member before my life can matter? How many people have this country ruined and destroyed by such demonic indifference and callousness? How many more have we killed psychologically? People are in pains and on the verge of dying and you ask them to go home and return another time? And you think their hearts will be happy and bless the country that loves them so much as to destroy them?
How about those we waste in the name of fighting evil forces and nonstate actors in our country just because theirs is to fight and die and ask not why? How about those who our hospitals and roads could not kill that we kill with naked fire in Zaria, Plateau, Anambra and Imo? Yet, we surround very few, less than two per cent, with heavy security, men and women armed to the teeth! Is this a country or some abattoir?
To round off the story of my resurrection, for indeed in all of the periods when I was hammered by that ear infection I was, metaphorically speaking, dead. After some rounds of examination and questioning, the doctor asked me to go to another part of the ward to see somebody who would tell me what to get for the washing of the ear. When I got there, the nurse listened impatiently to me and thereafter brought out an exercise book and asked that I should write my name in it. When I looked at the book, it contained longs names of people booked on different days for the same ear treatment. The closest day for me was in about three weeks’ time! I told the nurse that by then I should be back at my duty post at Gworza in Borno State. She looked askance and unconcerned. Her fat face said something like, ‘It’s your problem and you may add it to the disease destroying your ear!’
I filled in my name and left the place that should relief me of my pain without any help. When I got home, my parents decided it was time to go to private hospital. Before the dice of that was cast, I got a piece of information from my station at Gworza that there would be monthly clearance, the almighty escutcheon with which NYSC officials across the country afflict corps member. The simple thing to do at the time was to call my Area Inspector and inform him of my predicament. But I was not willing to do that; in fact I was not ready to beg him, for even if I did, I would still be pleasurably dealt with. Why?
I had after about two months of my report to the local government area where I was posted made it impossible for the AI to continue to fleece corps members and ride roughshod over them as if they were some slaves on a plantation farm. I was the saviour of our senior colleagues who we met there and the deliverer of those with whom I was posted there. If I had as a matter of conviction of the evil of the AI waged a successful war against him, it would be foolhardy of me to ask him to succour me in that hour of need. Later on though, out of great respect, and perhaps fear, the AI and the Zonal Inspector all treated me like an executive corps member – all through the service year. You will read this story in my memoirs.
Not AAO! I refused to call the AI for such favour and instead packed my bag and my pain and headed for Gworza. I bore my pains manfully and arrived at the place in time for my monthly clearance. It was at the only private and efficient hospital in all of Gworza that I got my ear treated with the slave wage that I got from the largely misbehaving entity that pressed me into service. That was how I got my ear pit back. As I write this, I was overwhelmed by pain of what has happened to Gworza and its welcoming inhabitants and its many mountains and valleys. What sickness could not destroy, the nihilistic Islamic sect, Boko Haram, had pulverised. For, as you may already know, Gworza was the seat of that infernally evil sect.
In a way that President Buhari cannot connect with the pains of hapless Nigerians in view of his tardy reign, I connect and understand the affliction he is going through. If he can, let him learn in this period of his discomposure that when government finds it difficult to do what it should actively do to its people, the pains the people go through is not different from what he is going through now. Let this challenge him and his aides to fix the country’s health system – just too many people die of avoidable and curable illnesses and diseases.
But can these dilettantish philosophers of change ever achieve this feat when they treat every little and mighty discomfort out of the country? Can they when they struggle to hide their illnesses and put forth false façade of immortal beings?
May President Buhari return in much better condition. And when he does, if it occurs to him that he can honestly not discharge the duties of his office, he should have the granite humility and coordinated candour to resign, for without him Nigeria will still go the way its disorganised political elites want it to.