Since I heard about the death of a former Abuja NUJ chairman, Mr. Chuks Ehirim, and the condition in which he died, I have been angry.
Angry at myself and the rest of us.
I didn’t know Ehirim personally. I think I may have met him when he and his team once came to a media organisation I was working in to campaign.
But since his death I have had a deeper glimpse into his life as a journalist and activist. Yes, many have spoken in flowery language of what a diligent, ethical and conscientious journalist he was.
Tributes also poured in from friends, colleagues and politicians, each of them fuelling my anger even more.
Just one question: where was everyone when he couldn’t even take his drugs because he needed to eat before doing so and there was no food in his house – at least one of the tributes said as much. Apparently many also knew of his financial situation but looked away till he died in pain and penury.
But let’s not make this about the dead. Rather we should all be worried about how we got to this junction where our humanity is almost non-existent and it’s even more frightening that we don’t know it.
Crimes do not just happen. People do just wake up and slash one another’s throats. That is not the nature of the human spirit. That’s what happens when the humanity in the human being is eroded and destroyed, piece by piece, fabric by fabric until it is laid threadbare, revealing only despicable ugliness like a hastily assembled custume.
Empathy has been described as “that ability that makes human”. We just need to understand this to fully grasp the depth of our present dark hole and also see the reason all the “big grammar” spoken at even bigger conferences and meetings has always come to naught.
The battle cannot be won with semantics – we are not empathetic enough. Simple!
But it comes with far-reaching consequences, capable of consuming not just individuals but also nations. We have already seen it with the Britons and the whole Brexit and Remain drama in the last weeks. Those who clamoured for Leave were no longer capable of ‘feeling with’ the other members of the European Union and therefore, voted to Leave them to whatever would threaten them, now and in the future.
Whether that historic decision will truly insulate them as anticipated remains to be fully analysed. But my off-the-cuff response is that they would, one day, need the heat generated from the same union they have spurned today to protect them from the English cold.
We are also seeing this total lack of empathy in Donald Trump’s politics. From building walls to shutting out immigrants, the grand plot to cut off the weak and leave them behind is thickening more as each day breaks and the voter support for it as shown by Trump’s amazing victories at the primaries remains befuddling.
Coming back home, where we kill the Chuks Ehirims of our time, the weak has long been abandoned after receiving a ruthless kick on an already famished behind. In some cases, like Ehirim’s, we open long condolence registers and make noise about befitting burial, while the rest are not even remembered.
We slash throats of the unarmed and it takes days for those employed to protect them to acknowledge that lives have been mindlessly destroyed.
Employers barefacedly owe their employees salaries for countless number of months and still take pride in asking for seats in the British Airways first class cabin as well as rooms in penthouses of five-star hotels for long leisure trips.
We brazenly divert money for drugs to boost the real estate market in Dubai, London and New Jersey and watch as pregnant women and children die for lack of basic medical care.
Monies for roads are carted away in foreign currencies while citizens are daily swallowed by giant potholes left hungry by thieving public officers.
Pray, where is our humanity when our soldiers can be left to fight insurgents with bare hands while funds budgeted for the fight are shared among cronies and loyalists?
Corruption and all its attendant ills couldn’t have grown these massive taproots in our homeland soil if our humanity hadn’t been corroded.
Election after election, the system keeps gifting usempathetically challenged leaders who we still hope will make meaningful impact on our lives.
Unfortunately, they cannot. Not until we recognise and embrace again, that which makes us human in the first place.
We must all, as a matter of urgency and survival, seek out and reconnect with the human in us all. That is where we must begin, else the present darkness will only be further deepened until none would be able see clearly enough to save even self.