Dimgba Igwe, a rock star of Nigerian tabloid journalism and one of the nation’s finest columnists, set forth on a routine jogging exercise in his Lagos neighbourhood three Saturday mornings ago. And he died.
A driver ran over the running Dimgba and accelerated away from his fallen bleeding victim.
An innocent fitness work-out, the arms of a ready writer and the heart of a father rested.
Now, accidents happen. Even in the best of circumstances, the most sober and practiced manipulator of an automobile is still liable to certain uncertainties. The sudden dysfunction of a motor part in mid journey can fetch bruises and broken bones. If you sighted one flawed maneuver of the other unlearned or intoxicated driver a millisecond too late, the resultant clash of metal and glass could leave in its wake a limb or two screaming for amputation.
Besides, the thoughtless moves of one absent minded pedestrian can create a dilemma that makes an accident inevitable. Add that to the chance that one suicidal man, either lacking the courage to become his own hangman or the money to buy a proper rope, times his adventure and makes clueless oncoming driver complicit in the execution.
However, documented accounts harvested from eyewitnesses agree that the driver hit Dimgba because he attempted to steer clear of a pothole. From this emerges the silhouette of a car owner possessed of a vigilant vision, an alert presence of mind and an active care for his prized vehicle.
You expect that man who could brook no avoidable dent on his car to do the needful after it had made an impact on a full-fledged human being. You imagine he would hasten to pull over, alight, cast a quick glance on the casualty and lead the swift evacuation of the critically wounded to the hospital.
But he fled the scene. His scruples permitted him to abandon a man he wounded while saving his car from some pothole to looming death.
He has yet to report himself to the police. Neither has he visited the family to introduce himself as the man whose driving consumed Dimgba. None of the bystanders captured his plate number in the panic of the tragedy. And there was no CCTV camera installed on the street that could have captured the incident. Knowing Nigeria’s long roll call of unresolved deaths, the betting is that the perpetrator has evaded accounting for his delinquent driving. The IG’s order that he be fished out of oblivion only mocks the situation.
Thus, the story of Dimgba Igwe’s mortal end will suffer the footnote of a causative unknown. There will be the missing presence of a name and a face to that final punctuation. A striking paradox for a reputable newshound who made a successful career out of raking and piecing together puzzles that help our understanding of news and newsmakers!
The high and the mighty mourn and sing Dimgba. Ardent admirers and followers of his weekly column lavish praises, in tributes of ink and tears, for his walk and work among us. It is a positive testimony of the man’s merits that these accolades ring less like the conventional funeral flattery, an obligatory payment of honorific debt to a translated soul. Instead, every accruing homage seems to yet aspire to a comprehensive grasp of Dimgba’s essence.
However, the nation bewails Dimgba, in part, because he happened to have earned a celebrated name. If he was a less popular mortal, the point scored by the hit-and-run driver would surely have vaporised as one of that day’s trivial evils. It would have failed to qualify for the slimmest space between the louder, consequential headlines of the twenty four hour news cycle. Actually, it would have been a literal domestic accident, known and felt by the immediate circle of family and friends – as my cousin’s.
Unlike Dimgba, the consummate journalist, Ekene was a bud yet to open its promise. A starry-eyed teenager in a hurry to earn a placement in his dream university. He was killed before his earthly assignment bloomed. My uncle’s first son. He was also taken by the road. His memory, one year after he was sown deep into the earth, still haunts with many might-have-beens.
Truth be told, the recurrent carnage on coal tar scarcely gets a rare review – except when the dare devil driving of a certain Governor’s convoy incurs a casualty or when a VIP falls to reckless road behavior. We have come to accept the ordinariness of famished roads feeding off pedestrians and passengers every day. As a result, the souls that waste between every sunrise and sunset do not astound beyond the mourners’ homestead.
Contrast that with our hysterical answer to the once-in-a-blue moon episode of a plane crash…
Cameras converge, like a swarm of bees, on the scene,illuminating all the newsworthy facets of thed occurrence. The government blushes at the embarrassing charge of peopling her sky space with flying coffins.The Presidency scrambles a PR win – orders a full scale investigation, declares three days of national mourning and costumes a subdued cabinet session in sackcloth.
There is funereal flamboyance, a pitiable ostentation of care from all official quarters.
The selfsame state that discounts daily human sacrifice on her roads, a state too grudging to acknowledge a hundred road deaths with one minute’s silence, in the seconds after the news breaks of a plane crash, will be caught trying to theatrically and seamlessly adjust behavior to project worshipful reverence for the value of life. You are tempted to go out on a limb and read the diagnosis: state schizophrenia!
Witness the ambidextrous duplicity of limbo for a car crash and animation for a plane crash, that assigns distinct worth to citizens based on the metric of their means of travel. The apartheid-style grading ranks the highflying more precious than pilgrims of the road. It is a prejudiced categorization of deaths by the affected caste.
More to the point, the way we die invites study. For example, the fugitive driver who crushed Dimgba, like a good number of others certified to drive on Nigerian roads, may have bought his driver’s license over the counter. His mastery of the wheels and understanding of driving rules may not have been vetted. This is very probable in a notoriously corrupt ecosystem where anyone capable of detecting a whiff of avarice in the right official can thwart the standard protocol governing the Nigerian office by playing the bribe card. The typical Nigerian office owes its uniqueness to the fact that some corner of it is consecrated to the occupation of, at least, one underhanded, solicitous fellow, who is poised to violate the rule with the right enticement. Perhaps, that’s the truest import of Federal Character!
Compromised officers who barter the driver’s license for bribe are betrayed by their own sense of exceptionality. They mentally subtract themselves from the lot exposed to the blunders of the licensed unqualified driver now authorised to run riot on the highway. Obviously, the contemplation of a juicy bribe offer shuts the door against the thoughts of the guaranteed corollary of bending the rules. Like the easy-to-grasp fact that the incompetent driver behind the wheels is an equal opportunity threat.
What’s more, it is common to hear supposed friends and wellwishers instigate the new car owner on the block to shun the rigours of driving lessons. They prime you with charged tales of how they taught themselves to drive by embarking on daring solo highway experiments. A gullible chap, challenged by his peers to test his testosterone, would take the dare. A loose cannon, he imperils himself as well as other road users.
And then for a serviceable ready-to-wear explanation to cover all car crashes, we have codified, by a consensus of sorts, the scapegoating of some amorphous evil spirits. The superstition discredits commonsense and focalizes on an invisible cast of characters. Its hallmark is that, whatever the glaring causative factors, bloodsucking demons are to blame for every accident.
Dimgba’s sorry end highlights the underrated terrorism of the Nigerian road. That an otherwise leisurely jogging on the pedestrian side of the street road, in a flash, turned irredeemably lethal is an inkling of the high danger. It illustrates that the littlest encounter with the edge of the road adds one potential candidate to the toll shortlist.
The hemorrhaging roads impoverish Nigeria. They drain the nation of her human wealth. Because each death creates an irreplaceable vacancy. The surge of condolences and consolation may vitiate the grief of the bereaved. But there can never be any conceivable substitution that can fit as father into the hearts of Dimgba’s children. As journalist and pastor of many fruitful years, no clone can duplicate his unique set of talents and experience. In his passing, the family and the nation was robbed of a unique human asset.
Our tag of a multimillion census sum, the disputable statistics on which our claim to greatness is based, should not excuse the loss of a certain fraction. The prevailing Shakespearean tradition of winking at the coffin of commoners and suddenly rediscovering sensitivity at the passage of the prince is bigoted bias.
The jealousy of a responsible state over her citizens should provoke a sincere effort to avert any avoidable death. Whether the individual is famed like Dimgba, or has zero societal distinction like my cousin and the many folks whose anonymity and estimated insignificance are more conveniently bracketed in newspaper headlines as “others”.
Emmanuel Uchenna Ugwu
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