Nigerians Are Good People Indeed

Nigerians Are Good People Indeed

The dispatch with which ordinary Nigerians rescued the motorist whose vehicle plunged into the Lagos lagoon from the Third Mainland Bridge on Saturday, January 26, 2013 proved once more that Nigerians are great people. Unlike most stories from Nigeria that usually end on a sad and demoralising note, this story ended on a happy note like a Nollywood film. It was nothing short of a miracle.

The sole occupant of that vehicle was brought out of the lagoon alive. But he was not rescued by the Nigerian Navy or the Nigeria Police Force; neither was he rescued by the National Emergency Management Agency or Lagos State Emergency Management Agency or any agency of Lagos State. Mr Shola Oladimeji was rescued by fishermen. These were not fishermen that used modern boats with special gadgets or equipment. These were men with old-fashioned canoes with paddles. They saw a car plunge into the water and went swiftly and got the occupant of the vehicle out, alive. Before the government agencies arrived, the fishermen had brought the man out. The government agencies pulled out the disfigured car from the murky water with a crane. A story that would have ended a sad story for the entire week ended on a happy note. The rescued man was taken to the hospital and discharged the same day because he did not sustain any serious injuries. But if not for the prompt response of the fishermen, Oladimeji would have been brought out dead several hours later.

This was not the first time ordinary Nigerians would intervene to rescue fellow Nigerians during emergencies or disasters. On January 27, 2002, when bombs in the armoury of the Ikeja Military Cantonment exploded and caused panic in Lagos State, ordinary Nigerians went into the Oke-Afa canal to rescue children who fell into the canal and brought out their bodies long before the government agencies even knew what was happening. The nation was shocked beyond words the next day when pictures of hundreds of children that drowned while trying to escape through the canal were shown by the media.

On June 3, 2012 when the plane of Dana Air crashed in Iju, a few kilometres from the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, ordinary Nigerians gathered at the crash site within minutes, but they lacked the necessary equipment and were therefore helpless. Eyewitnesses said that they heard cries of some of the passengers of the plane but could not help them because they were hamstrung by lack of equipment. Consequently, 147 passengers and crew members died in that crash in addition to the casualties on the ground.

In various parts of Nigeria, whenever a building is on fire or a building has collapsed or there is a road accident or a natural disaster, ordinary Nigerians report promptly at such a site and start the rescue operation to the best of their ability. Regrettably, such people who risk their lives to rescue other people never get recognised, celebrated, or commended, let alone being rewarded. In most cases, they don’t get their names mentioned or pictures shown. Their identities pale into insignificance. They are treated as mere numbers, not as individuals.

But in comparison, such acts of gallantry and heroism are celebrated by the Western media so much that such figures become national heroes or global heroes. Towards the end of last year, a Syrian man braved the booming guns to pull a woman out of a hail of bullets with a rope. Even though the woman was confirmed dead after the man’s effort, the man’s act was shown many times on CNN as an example of bravery. The CNN followed it up by interviewing the man. That gave him a name and a face.

Our media also have a duty to help in the projection and celebration of ordinary people who risk their lives to save the lives of others. Even if the government fails to recognise such individuals, corporate bodies and individuals can do so.

Nigerians are wonderful people. In spite of the harsh environment they operate in, Nigerians brave the odds to survive. No wonder we are called the happiest people on earth. In spite of the cynicism and despair that come out of Nigerians, we are always very optimistic. Although Nigerians help in spreading negative stories about their nation, they want to also spread positive stories about their nation. The weak link is leadership.

There seems to be a corruptive device in government that makes people who assume leadership positions start taking anti-people decisions and actions. Many factors give rise to this leadership shortcoming, but that is not the thrust of this essay. The bottom line is that the people are not motivated to display heroism or gallantry. However, in spite of all that, Nigerians still rise to be counted whenever there is an emergency or whenever duty calls.

Our government – federal, state and local – must change its attitude towards celebration of feats by ordinary Nigerians. Since the National Honours have over the years been focused more on political and business leaders, there should be special awards for the ordinary people. The state governments and the Federal Government must regularly recognise those Nigerians who have shown great courage. Such people need to be invited to the Government House for a minimum of a handshake and a medal.

Such will encourage others to display more courage and save the lives of others in times of need. Other countries do this. It boosts one’s belief in one’s country. It boosts the people’s patriotism.

In 2007, CNN started the ‘CNN Heroes’, an annual television special created to honour individuals who make extraordinary contributions to humanity in their respective countries. Our media houses, NGOs, pressure groups and other bodies should stop giving Governor of the Year award and other similar awards that only celebrate the political and business leaders. It is believed that such awards are rampant because the recipients usually pay or make donations to the awarding organisations.

The Lagos State Government should ensure that the fishermen who rescued Oladimeji from the lagoon over the weekend are publicly commended and rewarded. It is an opportunity for Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola to worm himself deeper into the hearts of Lagosians and Nigerians as a governor who rewards excellence or heroism. After all, Lagos prides itself on its status as the Centre of Excellence.


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