They say the grasses suffer when two elephants fight, but I wonder what happens to the elephants when the grasses fight over their lowly state. While you may cringe at the impossible metaphor of grasses fighting themselves, I have chosen it to highlight a paradoxical happening in society where one group of oppressed persons would take out their frustrations on another group of oppressed persons, while the oppressors pick out pieces of meat stuck in their fortunate teeth from a continuous meal of oppression.
In the past week, I saw a friend’s WhatsApp status update lamenting about nurses at the Federal Medical Centre Owo who were attacked at the hospital. On enquiring, I learned that a COVID-19 patient had died, ostensibly due to lack of oxygen at the hospital, and the deceased’s family descended on the nurses on duty as being responsible for their loss. One slide of this friend’s status struck me as it humbly pleaded [paraphrased]: “We are also victims of the system. Don’t attack us.” My mind drifted to several instances in Nigeria where the wrong person is held responsible for an unwanted or oppressive action.
Who was responsible for the death of that patient? Was it the nurses who failed to provide oxygen at the hospital? Was it the nurses who failed to provide adequate numbers of Intensive Care Units in the state? Was it the nurses who failed to provide other medical consumables that litter hospitals in the developed world? We are talking about nurses who are poorly paid, overworked in certain cases, dehumanised, scorned by a society that seems to believe only doctors matter in hospitals, limited by a career ceiling that does not exist in the developed world; and who may be better off running businesses rather than risking their lives in hospitals that do not provide adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), yet receive a pittance as hazard allowance that cannot even cover for the cost of Post Exposure Prophylactics (PEP) if required due to a workplace accident. I understand issues around customer care attitudes and professionalism in Nigeria, but in this case, are the nurses a right target?
Moving on from our longsuffering health workers, let’s look at the interaction between law enforcement officers and the average Nigerian. An average police officer on the street is underpaid (just like maybe “99%” of Nigerian workers) and cannot legitimately afford some of the superfluous items becoming prevalent, such as the latest iPhone. This police officer then comes across a youth sporting a second-hand iPhone 7, which was released like a millennium ago, but all the officer can think of is “how can this ‘rat’ afford a phone that is more than my salary”. Remember that due to endemic corruption in the police establishment, this officer has been forced to pay for his own uniforms, and his benevolent superiors at the station are expecting daily returns from his street-side expedition. All his frustrations are then pressed down, shaken together, and transmitted to the unfortunate youth whose only crime is the possession of a good phone, which he may have been gifted or purchased from the proceeds of a legitimate “hustle”.
Similar interactions exist between university lecturers and students, civil servants and the service-seeking public, touts and small business owners, oppressed entrepreneurs and their less fortunate employees, annoyed persons blaming churches for renting former warehouses as meeting centres, etc. In each case, both parties are actually victims of a dysfunctional system, yet because one party has a somewhat better hand in the power dynamics, the transfer of aggression is effected so vehemently that one would think the receiving party is the cause of the former’s frustrations. What we fail to realise is that as long as these intra-oppressed oppressions continue, the real problem lies unresolved, and the main oppressors remain unperturbed.
It is easy to lash out when we feel oppressed, but we should not moan about life’s unfairness if we are also doing that of which we complain. In the case of FMC Owo and the COVID-19 patient, the family, although grieving, could have recognised that the hospital management had immediate responsibility for the lack of oxygen, but ultimately, it was the government that either failed to provide the enabling infrastructure and consumables for the hospital, or if it allocated monies, failed to ensure that the requisite items were duly procured and made available at the hospital. I do not know if Nigerian laws allow a wrongful death suit to be brought against public hospitals and the government, but if possible, such a lawsuit, alongside diligent advocacy and alignment with other families that have suffered similar loss, and groups advocating for healthcare reforms could be a better option than beating up nurses whose current misfortune might be not having saved enough money to write the required exams and “jappa” to Canada or the United Kingdom.
PS. Unable to determine image copyright holder