Jos — With a GDP close to 339 billion euros, Nigeria ranks as one of Africa's richest countries. Sadly, most of its citizens, including those in the oil-producing Niger Delta region, live in abject poverty and an absence of basic infrastructure. Bad roads were again the cause of the latest deadly road accident of 12 July in Ahoada, West of Rivers State, that involved an oil tanker and which killed scores of people. Many are pointing fingers at a corrupt government.
The tanker tipped over after colliding with an oncoming vehicle. They were both busy avoiding potholes. Ignoring instructions from the drivers to leave the site, locals rushed to the tanker to score some petrol. Soon after, the leaking vehicle caught fire and took everyone by surprise. Over 90 people were killed and many others were injured.
Many in Nigeria think that such incidents occur too often and have cost too many lives. So who is to blame?
"Corruption is the cause of all our problems," says Joel Yahaya, a 30-year-old legal practitioner with Charles Obishai Chambers in Jos. "Most government officials steal public funds with impunity. That is why the people are deprived, desperate and ready to do anything just to survive. It is very unfortunate that people have to suffer in a country that is very rich."
Barrister Yahaya is adamant that the government is to blame for last week's tragic accident: "... if our roads are in good condition many of these accidents would be avoided," he says.
Julius Morno, a 29-year-old Nigerian film-maker and activist shares this view. "When people are hungry and desperate they throw away any sense of caution," he says. "It is depressing that the people of the oil-rich Niger Delta live in such deplorable conditions. Many of the communities don't have water and electricity. The roads are in a very bad shape. The leaders who were elected to represent the people have abandoned the people."
Nigeria ranks among the world's major producers of crude oil. With an average production rate of 2.2 million barrels daily valued at 65 US dollars (53.13 euros) per barrel, the country's GDP stands at 413.4 billion US dollars (338.9 billion euros). But the paradox is that this immense wealth is controlled and enjoyed by only a small circle of corrupt government officials and their business associates.
Looting of state funds for personal use by top government officials is very common in the Nigerian political arena. Some of these officials can own up to five mansions and a range of luxury cars, while most Nigerians cannot even afford to build homes of their own.
Although official sources say that slightly over 50 percent of the Nigerian population live below the poverty line of 0.8 of a euro, the reality is that about seven out of every ten Nigerians live in excruciating poverty.
However, some people are asking themselves: is poverty a justification for the conduct of the locals of Ahoada?
Thirty-year-old civil servant Joyce Osai thinks the victims are to blame. "I think it is greed that made them rush to the accident scene to scoop petrol," she says. "I'm a Nigerian, but I must confess some of us are very greedy. Why should they go scooping petrol that does not belong to them? It's a lesson for Nigerians," she says.
"I'm not justifying the
ir action because legally it is theft," says Barrister Yahaya. "But the truth is many human beings will do the same or even worse when faced with the same economic challenges these people contend with daily."
Morno thinks it is a basic survival instinct. According to him: "A poor and a hungry person cannot think rationally. It's not their fault, the people to blame are those that impoverished them."