It was a long flight all the way from California. As the plane taxied to a stop at the Lagos airport, I was happy to be back home. But as usual, there was a twist of sadness, when I thought about the inhospitable reception awaiting us in the arrival hall, the intolerable heat owing to non-functioning air conditioners, the long queue of people waiting to complete immigration formalities, the annoying prolonged wait to collect check-in luggage, the fears associated with travelling on the highways to final destinations and the return to epileptic power supply at work and at home, the unending news about robberies, kidnaps, road traffic accidents and assassinations.
However, the most crippling of all the thoughts on my mind was the despondency that we had everything needed to make Nigeria equal to or even better than many of the places I had visited but lacked just one thing – a selfless and committed leadership that would place our nation first – above all considerations ethnic, religious, personal or group interests.
This often lingers on in my mind several weeks after arrival from every overseas trip. No matter what, there is no place like home and I was always glad that I had a country to return to. I could, therefore, not imagine myself becoming a refugee! “I love my country, I no go lie! Na inside am, I go live and die,” courtesy, Wole Soyinka/Tunji Oyelana.
As I walked gingerly to join the long queue of arrivals, briefcase in my hand, in company of two younger men with whom I had struck friendship and spent most of the journey discussing the challenges of our country, a smart Nigerian policeman, probably in his early 40s walked towards me, gave me a formal salute, collected my briefcase and passport and politely asked me to follow him to the top of the line.
“Wait here sir,” he said, while he got my passport stamped. Then he asked me to follow him to the baggage claim area. I identified my baggage and he collected it and pulled it along for me. All eyes were on me. They must have thought I was a VIP.
I was perplexed, stupefied and suddenly unable to talk! “What is happening? Why have I been singled out of the crowd and given such special treatment usually meant for government officials, the rich and powerful or well-connected men of the Nigerian society. I had been critical of such differential treatment and openly expressed disdain for them because it prevented our supposedly ‘public officers ‘ from experiencing what the ordinary people were going through. Thus, maintenance and improvements were never carried out until things fell apart.
Imagine if the boss uses the same toilet as his workers and clients, how scrupulously clean the toilet would always be! But now I was a beneficiary and could not explain why! I decided I would ask him why and if there was a special price for the service.
The opportunity never came. He gave me no chance to hold a conversation with him by maintaining a good distance between us until we reached the arrival lounge where he deposited my briefcase and luggage, gave me another formal salute and scrammed before I could even say, “Thank you.”
I only got to know the reason for this special treat about a few months later on my way out of the country to Germany. I met the same police officer at final screening point before boarding. He was at the other end of the scanner and smiled at me. He recognised me instantly and before I could say anything, “Good evening sir,” he said and continued, “I am an avid reader of ‘You and Eye,” dangling a copy of the day’s newspaper in his hand and continued with his work.
“What manner of policeman is this?” The Yoruba say, “Erukan ni muni bu igba eru” (that is because of the bad behaviour of one slave, you stereotype all slaves as bad). There are many like him unsung, quietly and faithfully doing their work. You and Eye’ thus gave me not just the opportunity to educate the public about eye problems and eye care but also placed me in the public eye.
‘You and Eye’ column first appeared in August 2007 and had continued to be published almost without fail since then. Now it’s time to say goodbye. This is the closing article in the series. Partings are always sad. Nevertheless partings must come either in accordance with natural laws, by human designs or desire for a change. And change in itself can be natural or induced.
Life is a continuum. Life goes on, and we can never experience any progress without the dynamic process of change! My exit, therefore, is an opportunity to bring newer and younger persons with fresh ideas and who are able to communicate the same message in today’s language to get the desired effect.
May I thank the African Newspapers of Nigeria Plc for providing me the forum to reach our people and contribute to the national and international efforts for the prevention of blindness. My special thanks also go to the Editor of the Science and Health Desk, Sade Oguntola. Her persistence, assertiveness, honesty of purpose, selflessness and more have kept me on so far.
Finally, I must thank all my readers, who by words of encouragement, show of love and appreciation, like the unknown friendly policeman made writing pleasurable. Finally, there is one person I must mention by name -Professor Gboyega Ketiku- who made it a duty to make copies of the publication available to my patients every week. He did more than that! He has also paid for the articles to be complied into a book for publication!
My foray into journalism did not put a dime in my pocket but in addition to making great friends, it has shown me that the we cannot win the war against disease without the pen!