Now I know why the rich and the not-so-rich of Nigeria reach for the airport at the first sign of illness. In recent times, two of my friends have lost their wives to Nigerian doctors in Nigerian hospitals. The first died in November because she was given wrong medication. In January, the second received no attention for 20 hours: A doctor referred her to a “specialist” who, on the phone, first asked that N300, 000 be made ready even before he could see the patient. He got nothing anyway, as the patient was rushed to the National Hospital. Here, there were arguments about who should attend to her and who was on the night shift. At last a young doctor wearing earphones with which he listened to music emerged. He began by asking the patient several irrelevant questions until she got exhausted and gave up the ghost. And my friend from Benue State, then unaware that his beauty queen was gone, was led away by a nurse.
I have, in this space, severally made references to the incompetence of some doctors found in the nation’s capital city. I have also referred to the attitude of other hospital workers including nurses, receptionists and pharmacists who do not treat patients like patients. This is one country where health workers constantly go on strike. Wherever you go, supposed life savers are after money. Now I’m tempted to ask: in Nigeria, is it “see a hospital and die”?
I am not really questioning the credentials of most Nigerian doctors. Until 10-15 years ago, only brilliant students gained admission to study Medicine. There were equally brilliant professors in the faculties of medicine in many Nigerian universities who would not let anyone graduate in Medicine until he/she had been found truly worthy in character and learning.
But not anymore. Many like me now question the quality of training – both moral and academic – our MB, B.S. graduates received. What happened to the Hippocratic Oath? I am aware that, these days, only a few are allowed to read courses like Medicine, Law and Architecture without paying N500, 000 or N1million as bribe to criminals in some Nigerian universities. And since one hardly fails or repeats a course these days – even in secondary school – society has to bear the full brunt of corruption. These are just the early days; the worst is yet to come.
Doctors are not the worst culprits. The situation is much worse in my own field: language and communication. But the incompetence of journalists or writers does not lead to deaths. Journalism or writing is not a profession; anyone can claim to be a writer, even if he writes incomprehensible things. In Nigeria’s public service, these great “writers” occupy the topmost positions. To illustrate, I have just received a letter from a ranking director in a ministry who “aknowlege reciept of your magsine” and prays that we “sow hire and hire in the relm of publishing”.
Every day, we listen to such English language murderers on TV and on the radio. But you dare not point out their errors! [When we founded www.eyeway.ng four months ago, I proposed to manage a column called “Language Police” in a bid to “arrest” mainly public officeholders and other “experts” who violated the rules of grammar in public. We soon found that it was bringing enemies rather than friends; so we renamed it “Language Clinic”!] Nigeria faces disgrace every day overseas because instead of speaking in Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa or any other native language and then requesting interpreters, some diplomats struggle to communicate in a foreign language.
Does anything matter to us anymore? In this country, we have become used to “it doesn’t matter”. After all, “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong…” And so policemen go on strike. Soldiers mutiny. Jobseekers ask for jobs in order to earn salary, not to work.
We seem to be paying for the sins of what was called “expo” in the 1970s and early ‘80s. “Expo”, I guess, means “exposure” of exam question papers before the date candidates sit for them. In those days, Class 5 (final-year) students contributed money used to pay for the fraud. In 1980 and 1981, almost all the papers were exposed in advance. Luckily for my set – the 1982 set – there was no “expo” at least in my area. WAEC plugged the holes that year. I don’t remember what happened thereafter, but “expo” later started reaching secondary schools again. I presume it has been baptised “runs” or “exam malpractice”.
Many that passed their papers through “expo” easily got admitted into tertiary institutions. Some were hired as auxiliary teachers before they proceeded to the university. And the vicious circle has continued to this day. The “expo” graduates made poor teachers, poor engineers, poor doctors and poor accountants.
I have attempted to read some books written by professors (who obviously do not need editors) but couldn’t go beyond the first paragraph on account of nauseating errors. Once, my child’s schoolteacher handed me a “standard textbook” for Primary 5 pupils containing abominable errors even in its preface. There and then, I called the number of the publisher in Ibadan. He told me they had made use of wonderful editors and that the textbook was error-free. I felt sorry that my child was being misled by books and teachers at an early age.
It no longer matters that buildings are collapsing across Nigeria. “Tested and trusted” engineers are performing wonders with sub-standard building materials at sites supervised by bribe-seeking civil servants. Until about 15 years ago, I did not hear of building collapse in this country. Now it happens several times each year, usually during the rainy season. And many are buried in the rubble for no fault of theirs. Nigerian roads and airspace have been wasting lives partly because money meant for rehabilitation of roads and airports is stolen routinely.
Auditors are perhaps the worst culprits. Banks are known to have received clean bills of health in the same year they collapsed. Pick the brochures shared at companies’ annual general meetings and read the words crafted by “international” auditors and “seasoned accountants”: they certify every company as fit as fiddle. Yet what happens? They merely assist thieving executives to cook the books – and then share with them the spoils of thievery.
Perhaps the killing of the two women by Nigerian doctors doesn’t matter also. But say that in the presence of their husbands and other loved ones. One by one, all of us are paying the price of incompetence and corruption. When elections are rigged, we get bad leaders. When mediocrity takes the place of merit, standard is compromised. Whoever encourages his child to cheat at WASCE should condone him when he becomes an armed robber. And let those who value money more than human beings get ready to be buried by money someday.
— By Aniebo Nwamu