Sunday, November 7, 2021 10:51 pm
By Ifedayo Babalola
‘All the world is a stage
And men and women merely players…’ William Shakespeare.
Nollywood is not the world’s fastest growing movie industry for no reason. Drawing from a pool of two hundred million nationals gifted with acting skills, the Nollywood global ascendancy was, from inception, a fait accompli. And there is no shortage of scripts!
For example, the recent collapse of The 360° Building owned by Fourscore Homes Limited presented the latest opportunity for countrywide theatricals on Africa’s biggest stage.
The tragic event itself had vital elements of gripping drama – money, power, politics, conspiracies, surprise and above all, sudden death. It was therefore not surprising that from erudite commentators in national dailies to unlettered taletellers in dingy bars, in highbrow living rooms and in floating bamboo homes of Maroko, and from high rise office blocks to makeshift workshops under the bridge, Nigerians spewed forth tons of righteous anger.
Consistent with the universal hierarchy of blame to which we are prime subscribers, the poor cursed the rich, and the rich blamed the super-rich.
‘They have killed us all’, moaned the talking-dead, shamelessly mounting the judgement throne in their own case. Then, with an air of educated self-satisfaction, they add a generous scoop of statistical topping: ‘Ninety per cent of the houses built these days are low quality. (Nitori owo!) All because of money, ehn?!’
Yet despite the playacting, the finger-pointing and two hundred millions first stones cast, the truth is that Nigeria is a massive, all-inclusive Health and Safety crime scene. You heard me right. This nation is a Health and Safety nightmare. Our disregard for hazards and outright dangers is monumental. And we are all in on it.
Let us have a brief outline of a people united in passing summary judgement on Fourscore for the unfortunate incident:
Among them are ordinary people who rush to scoop petroleum products from fallen tankers, factory workers who connive with bosses to produce substandard goods, importers of fake drugs, Customs and Excise officials who clear fake goods, the block industry owners whose produce would crumble under the weight of errant playful kids and the bricklayer who certified them as rock solid, those whose business it is to ensure that our roads remain death traps, unregistered drinking water merchants and NAFDAC officials who look the other way for whatever reasons, influential ones who make phone calls on behalf violators of safety regulations, and the lawyers who coach them all on how to evade justice.
The list also includes the construction worker who access heights without a safety harness and his pastor who omitted to teach that even Jesus refused to tempt God, motor drivers who will not turn the ignition without some intoxication, the food seller whose speciality is rotten tomatoes, the drunken policeman holding a gun, the electrician whose forte is making illegal connections, the journalist who fails to investigate safety rules violations for fear of retribution, bandits and terrorists enablers, the roadside fruits merchant who washes his wares in the gutter, those who build ‘modern’ markets and other structures without fire suppression systems and the increasingly impoverished middle-class who instructs the mechanic to manage the failing brake drum.
It is impossible to exhaust the list in this piece, but permit me to add everyone who has reduced our hospitals and ambulance services to what it is today, the oil magnate that prospers by polluting south-southern waters and his avenging accomplices who trade their people’s pain for money, those who kept schoolchildren in muddy waters to sing the national anthem and the church that supervised the criminal excercise, all trailer and danfo drivers, civil servants who issue roadworthiness papers and driving licences, and of course, every politician and all public and private regulators at all levels.
Not excluded are transporters, big and small, whose vehicles ooze black smoke across the nation, travellers who hop on an aircraft which had just been pushed and towed onto the runway (because e nor dey do slow) and events/worship centres that overcrowd their venues beyond safety limits. I can almost hear you sighing, wondering if that last one is also a problem. Besides, isn’t God always in attendance to prevent disasters?
I have gone to this length to highlight the enormity of Nigeria’s Health and Safety conundrum. Unfortunately, this particular problem did not start in 2015. Were it so, one would have been encouraged that as with every problem facing the nation today, all we need do is endure till Buhari’s exit.
The problem has been there for long, and even though dramatic occurrences like the 360° Towers collapse may occasionally mass-kickstart our consciousness, the truth is that too many lives are being cut short daily due to our lackadaisical attitude to H&S issues. And, like I mentioned earlier, we are all involved. A bit of reflection and less hypocrisy will reveal how you by omission or commission are a participant in this long-running show.
It is a dangerous thing when a people have learned to live with danger. Nigerians have become familiar with sudden and gruesome death. Our threshold of shock is raised so towering that despite the outpourings of the past few days, nothing is incredulous anymore.
The super-rich will soak in the blame. The contractors, developers, cement mafia, politicians and civil sevice-preneurs will not mind the curses as long as it does not dwindle financial gains.
The Kings Cross Fire of 1987 changed the face of Health and Safety in The UK. 911 Towers attack of 2001 did it for America. Can we say today that Nigeria has reached its watershed moment?
Probably not; and if not, then another day beckons. Sometimes, fate, not trusting the judgement of Nigerian regulators and commissions of inquiries, takes matters into it’s cold hands.
Eventually, we are all Fourscore, and as sometimes, in cruel, dramatic fashion, karma reminds us that we are all potential victims of this unhealthy regime we have misshapen.
(Ifedayo Babalola writes from Ibadan)