Monday, October 24, 2005


I was up early this morning expecting a call from Humphrey, a friend and classmate, in transit from Port Harcourt to Dallas, Texas. He'd stopped over last night at London Heathrow for a connecting flight. We hoped to meet before he continued his journey later this aftenoon.

As I waited for Humphrey's call my mind wandered to the events of yesterday. It was an ordinary Sunday until Tina, my wife, called me from Lagos to announce that Stella was dead. Before I could say, "Which Stella?", she had added, "It's on CNN". We know a few Stellas but only one could make CNN by her demise. This one was the most important woman in Nigeria. My reaction was nearly the same as when I got the news of Sani Abacha's death years ago. Deja vu? No! Powerful people didn't just die like that. I was like: "Na lie, you must be joking!", and instinctively I reached for my laptop.

While confirming the news on the CNN website my wife was still going on about people's reactions back home. And that's when I saw the real tragedy. There had also been a plane crash somewhere near Lagos and apparently there were fatalities. With over a hundred people on board the plane there was cause for worry. As I mentioned the plane crash to my wife she had stated matter of factly that everybody was in shock.

The CNN reports had been simple and straight forward. Stella Obasanjo, Nigeria's first Lady, was apparently on a private visit to Spain where she went for cosmetic surgeries and had died of complications there of. She would've been 60 in two weeks time, the report said. I thought: could this be the serenade to a heavy birthday party? Aahhh, vanity; thou art treacherous! Though, CNN did not relate the news about the fated airplane to the death of the first Lady, the double tragedy was enough to trouble the Nigerian leader. I turned to the BBC for more information.

Sure enough the BBC report on Stella's death had the expected twist. Among other things, the BBC had pointed out that Stella was a controversial person. They observed that she once had a journalist arrested for doing an article on her in a local newsprint titled, "Greedy Stella". Interesting. But, the BBC plane crash report appeared to conflict with that from CNN. Quoting a Red Cross source CNN wasn't sure there were any survivors. The BBC, at this stage was reporting a 50% survival figure. This is typical of events in Nigeria. Nobody is ever sure of anything! Anyhow the BBC was definite that the airline in trouble, Bellview, was one patronised mainly by foreigners, top Nigerian officials and the wealthy. Big man, Big trouble. Meanwhile, the local www media were dead asleep on all this, except for This Day Online which had it as Breaking News.

Lying in bed this morning, I'm reflecting on recent events in Nigeria. The vice President, Atiku, is being investigated in America by the FBI. Governor Alam goes to a German hospital for tummy tuck (some big man's disease); he is arrested in Britain on charges of money laundering and put to rest in a London jail. He is fighting for his freedom. Meanwhile, his colleagues in office all develop cold feet about travelling abroad. It was always medical checkup, or some such mundane activity. Suddenly they all become very fit and healthy. No more foreign conferences either. The guilty, afraid? Now, Stella, the country's official first Lady goes for surgery in a Spanish hospital; she does not live to see the result. As my neighbour would say, "E be like say Oyibo don do meeting for us o!" If so, who's turn next?

But then, 'even if Oyibo man do meeting for us', borrowing from my neighbour, will the development make Nigerian leaders wake up to the realities of the day? No way. I suspect that Nigerian politicians would prefer to die in foreign hospitals than receive treatment at home. Isn't their their main job to make sure that nothing works in Nigeria so they can continue their looting? Otherwise, why would they not develop and equip our hospitals? While Nigerian doctors and nurses excelled all over world, they are insulted at home. I think it's time to ban everyone who takes public office from going for medical treatment or consultation abroad, including members of their family. How else would our healthcare delivery system get any attention? Ditto for education, if necessary.

The other day a French airliner was lucky to escape a major disaster at Port Harcourt airport, after running into a herd of cattle. A herd of cattle on an airport runway, for crying out loud! Now, the country is again plunged into mourning. May the souls of the faithful departed, through the grace of God, rest in peace.

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