|Everything happens for a reason?|
|Wednesday, 06 June 2012 22:14|
This is a land of sorts, and within that week, I was able to feel that which makes Nigeria one of Africa’s powerhouses. It was this visit which also made me recall a conversation I had with a shop assistant at Murtala Muhammad International Airport, a conversation that says that everything happens for a reason.
I was dressed in black. I also had a very short hair cut. She asked me, “Who died?”
When you are thousands of kilometres away from home, the least you want to hear is the mention of death, especially death that relates to you.
Realising that we were not speaking from the same page, she repeated the question. “I can tell that you are not Nigerian. You are dressed in black and you have short hair. For us, when a woman is dressed like that, we know automatically that she is in mourning”.
Goodness, gracious, how I almost fainted. I told her that this was quite normal and fashionable in Zimbabwe, and we said our goodbyes. Now, that short conversation has come back to haunt me.
With Nigeria being a permanent feature in our media since February, I am asking myself whether things do really happen for a reason. It was mostly because of Prophet TB Joshua, and then Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s bid for the World Bank top job and the terror attacks by the Islamist group Boko Haram.
Maybe some of us have been accustomed to saying that these were Nigerian issues that were rubbing on us. However, last weekend’s events were not that common, and I have been asking myself why they have failed to make news headlines.
Readers now know that news is when a man bites a dog and not when a dog bites a man.
For those not in the know, here is a summary. Last week Saturday, a Nigerian cargo plane crash-landed and hit a bus in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, killing more than 10 people.
Then on Sunday morning, a suicide bomber drove into a packed church in Nigeria with a vehicle also packed with explosives and detonated the bombs — killing himself, several worshippers and injuring dozens. A common occurrence now since last Christmas.
Sunday’s tragedy was capped by a commercial passenger plane flying from the capital Abuja crashing into a residential building in a heavily populated area, minutes before it was about to land at Murtala Muhammad International Airport in Lagos.
All 153 passengers and crew on board perished in Sunday’s accident. Apart from it being the worst aviation tragedy in Nigeria, it became one of the worst indictments of Africa’s air safety and disaster preparedness.
We join our brothers and sisters in mourning the people who lost their lives, and those who were injured.
We also seek comfort for their families. As a Nigerian businesswoman resident in Zimbabwe said yesterday, “Every time I see those pictures, I cry. I tell myself that there are now so many children who do not have someone to take care of them. Anyway, I take comfort in the knowledge that God is always faithful, even in this tragedy.”
But Sunday’s tragedy made me think of that Nigerian shop assistant, as I wondered how many women right now are dressed in black and had to have hair cut as per their mourning custom.
How many men and women are now widows and/or widowers? How many children are now orphans? So many questions, but no answers!
This was also an international air disaster. According to a Xinhua news report yesterday, “Twenty-one foreign nationals were among the dead in Sunday’s air crash in Nigeria that killed 193 people, aviation authorities said. Eight Americans, six Chinese, two Lebanese, and one each from Canada, France, Germany, India and Indonesia were among the passengers who lost their lives. Seven of the eight Americans had dual nationality, according to a list of passengers provided by aviation authorities.”
We can safely say that the rest were either Nigerians and/or citizens from other parts of Africa and the developing world. I will raise issues that should make all of us in Africa introspect.
I remember the brouhaha created when information about elections is not released on time. But Africa, for two whole days, you made it look like this plane that crashed in Lagos on Sunday had only killed the people on board. The people had not died. All of them it seemed, could be accounted for.
However, when the news first broke out on a number of news channels, they were very specific about the location: a heavily populated residential area in Lagos.
For purposes of comparison, if that plane had crashed in Harare on its way from Bulawayo, the most likely places would be Mbare and/or Chitungwiza. Not Highlands and, not Borrowdale.
The reaction by these people was far removed from people who reside in the leafy suburbs of Lagos. The pictures released show that huge crowds were at the crime scene moments after the crash.
The plane’s remaining pieces also show how big a Boeing, McDonell Douglas (MD-83), is and the possible damage it is likely to cause. Therefore, since Sunday, until some time on Tuesday none of those ordinary folks in that densely populated residential area had died, let alone injured?
It was as if the pilot had given them a warning that something so ghastly would happen, so, they had better run for dear life.
When the ordinary people in the buildings and on the ground started dying on Tuesday, some put the casualty figure at less than 10, while other news agencies said about 40 people on the ground had died.
In Shona we say, “Murombo munhu” (everyone is equal), which means that they are part of the statistics. I am not saying that the crash should have claimed more lives on the ground, apart from the 153 on board. This was already bad enough.
My argument is why I should accept the figures being peddled when it takes two days to announce that the crash also claimed lives on the ground?
How about injuries? Humanitarian assistance works on the basis of figures, and this helps victims.
The numbers game is not confined to this incident, and neither is it a Nigerian problem. However, when Boko Haram attacked Nigerian media houses towards the end of April, the casualty countdown could not be tallied between the reliable and authoritative news agencies. Even the Sunday attack at worshippers has various figures.
This time, maybe Chinua Achebe should write “The Problem with Africa” and not limit it to Nigeria.
Africa as a whole relies very heavily on other people to tell their stories. They feel confident regurgitating that which comes from the so-called reliable sources.
In such an accident, why should the figures be so different when only the Nigerian authorities should the sources of information?