It was just a bit past noon as I left the government office in Alausa where I had gone to transact some business and I was about to enter the carpark when I saw him. Him being a young man who lay prostrate and groaning on the floor just at the entrance. I stopped, startled at the sight before me, wondering what was happening and whether I was the only one who could see him as everyone went by their different ways, some even passing by him without looking in his direction.
He was grunting and seemed to have spasms at intervals as he held his tummy. I stood watching, perplexed. I didn’t know if he was faking it or not, didn’t know what to do, didn’t know who to call for help and also didn’t want to involve myself in something that I didn’t know anything about but I couldn’t leave him and walk off like that, so I tried to engage him and asked him what the problem was. He didn’t seem to understand my questions but his continued spasms indicated that the problem was with his mid-section.
Finally in desperation, I asked whether he had eaten and wanted food to which he nodded his head. Food was an easy fix I thought to myself, as I dropped some money by his side and waited a while until he slowly got to his feet and ambled straight to a hawker by the corner.
I heaved a sign of relief mixed with some doubt as I didn’t know if I had just been scammed but I consoled myself with the thought that if I had been, it wasn’t much money and if anyone had to resort to that kind of action to get food to eat then they really needed the food.
As I was about entering my car, a young man coming towards the entrance of the car park stopped me to ask about the guy on the street. Apparently, he had seen him also but unlike me he didn’t stop but wanted to know what the problem was and the outcome.
I remembered this incident these past few weeks when I heard the news of the death of Eng. Folabi Mabogunje who was stabbed and left for dead early in September and also when the videos of the vicious killing of Dr. Chike Akunyili surfaced on social media.
In Folabi’s case, he had the presence of mind, even while his strength and life ebbed away to look for help. Apparently, after the attack which dispossessed him of his phone, he had gotten on his bike and rode to the nearest bank, however, the security man had no credit on his phone and had to wave down a passerby on his way to work whose phone was used to call Folabi’s wife. I dare say that the passerby whose phone was used, did so readily because he was with a security man.
Dr. Akunyili was more unfortunate than Eng. Folabi because although he tried to help himself at least to his feet after his attack, too much damage had been done and he succumbed to his wounds, albeit surrounded by people who ignored his cries for help, kept their distance and recorded him as he died.
These three incidents share a common feature in that they involved people who were in some form of distress in a public space and who were either ignored, unseen and did not receive the requisite help or attention.
I very well understand the reasons why we as a society tend to turn a blind eye when people suffer distress in a public place. It is very distressing to be a Good Samaritan in Nigeria and not a few persons have sworn never to help someone in need. It’s either the helper becomes a victim as cases abound where people stop to help supposed victims and get robbed by the person they are helping or becomes a suspect accused by security forces of masterminding or conspiring to commit a crime in cases where innocent people rush a gunshot or accident victim to the hospital.
Our reasons for a lack of empathy are genuine and understandable but it doesn’t make it right. We are losing our humanity as we try to stay aloof from all the ills going on in our society, but no society has prospered when its citizens are not their brother’s keeper. Our staying aloof doesn’t guarantee our safety, in fact, it foretells what is likely to happen to us in the future as each man looks out for himself and no one else.
We all know the parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story Jesus answered the question “who is my neighbor” by telling the story of a man attacked by thieves and left for dead on the side of the road. A religious man, then a lawyer see him as he lay dying but rushed past. The first didn’t want to get his clothes dirty, the other was on his way to an important meeting both of them avoided getting involved. Finally, a man from a hated background stops, applies first aid, transports the victim to a hotel, and pays for his care out of his pocket.
We don’t know the reasons why the man did what he did but I reckon that maybe he or a relation of his had been in a similar position and either of two things happened. He was helped and survived or he wasn’t helped and died. Either way, he must have sworn to himself that if he came across the situation in the future, he would pay back his debt or right his wrong.
In today’s world and especially in our country, we are so consumed by the going-ons in our world or our own pain that it’s so easy to walk past people that need our help. A lot of us don’t even see them, not to talk of helping them. For a lot of us, including myself, we balk when we consider the finances, time and emotions helping strangers may cost us.
However, we cannot afford to go our own way when we see others who need our help. We cannot afford to fold our hands when someone needs that hand to lift them out of trouble. We cannot pretend not to see when people are in obvious distress. We cannot afford not to be our brother’s keeper and do to them what we wish would be done unto us if we were in their situation.
It may be inconvenient to help others but our humanity depends on it.