“And who is my neighbour”? This interrogation came from a lawyer, who came to tempt the wisdom of Jesus Christ on the issue of love. The entire encounter is recorded in the Gospel according to Saint Luke 10: 25-37. We shall come to that story later. But now, let me tell you a personal story that gave me a very pragmatic definition of neighbourliness. Some years ago, I was in my hotel room in one of the states in the South-East on an official assignment. My mobile phone rang around 2.00 a.m. I struggled out of sleep to check who the caller was. Alas! It was my elderly neighbour, Reverend Amadin Obakpolor. What? Reverend? 2.00 a.m? Jesus! I was alarmed. I picked the call, my heart palpitating, I waited. The old man, who happens to be the Odionwere of my street, said he heard some noise in my compound, and knowing that I had travelled, he decided to call me to find out what was amiss since he did not have my wife’s number. I was a bit relaxed and thanked him. I immediately put a call across to my wife and I asked her what was happening. Her response was that the baby of the neighbour at the boys’ quarters had convulsion and only the two of them were at home, the young father of the baby too having travelled. She assured me that the baby had stabilised and that he would be taken to the hospital at daybreak. I called the Odionwere back and thanked him for his concern. By 5.30 am, my wife called back to say: “Daddy (the Odionwere) is here”. The old man woke up that early to check on them before dashing out to pursue the day’s assignments. I will never forget that act of friendliness and commitment to good neighbourliness. That incident brought back my Anglican rhymes of “whosoever you have the capacity to help is your neighbour” (Eni kéni tí’wo bá Nipa láto se ìrànlówó fún o, òhun na lenìkejì re, tójú rè). The rhyme is encapsulated in the Bible passage above, which our children’s teachers at the All Saints Anglican Church, Oke-Bola, Ikole Ekiti, tagged: “The Parable of the Good Samaritan”.
African culture is built around the family system. African traditional sociology holds that a man’s family members are not necessarily people he shares blood affinity with. For instance, a Yoruba man and an Ebira man living in Australia will naturally consider themselves as brothers because they are Nigerians. My Yoruba culture teaches that you roll over in your sleep on whoever sleeps close to you. That, in essence, means that when the need arises for urgent help, you call on those living in your neighbourhood. They are not necessarily going to be your blood relations. Brotherliness is a universal concept in Africa and the underlying factor is undiluted love. But things are changing nowadays. “Civilisation” has caught up with us and we have lost the bond of unity that was once the fulcrum of our daily life. Lagosians are the worst hit. Neighbours in the same house don’t see one another for days. In some extreme cases, most parents hardly see their children before bedtime as they are caught up every single day of the week in traffic, and are forced to leave home in the wee hours before the children wake up. Maids, in some homes, have replaced mothers. Little wonder that the spirit of Agape Love is fast receding. We are losing our humanity, we are losing our compassion. Our society is gradually refraining from the homogeneity that Africans were noted for. We have taken the new concept of “mind-your-own-business” to a ridiculous level.
This is why it is possible for a man to die and his skeleton was not discovered until after four years! I read the story over and over again in the Nigerian Tribune of Friday, September 9, 2022, on pages 21 and 22. The headline: “Community In Shock As Landlord’s Skeleton Is Found In His Room 4 Years After Last Seen”, was promo on the front page of the paper. I read the story with disbelief. It happened in Apete area of Ibadan. The story, which is very bogus on the paper’s online as https://tribuneonlineng.com/community-in-shock-as-landlords-skeleton-is-found-in-his-room-4-years-after-last-seen/, tells a gory account of how humanity has lost its form. The skeleton of the deceased, John Aderemi Abiola, could be seen on his bed. Terrible. His neighbour (are they neighbours?) said he was last seen in December 2018. They only cared to check up on him after snakes started crawling from his bushy compound to a neighbour’s house. The narratives from Abiola’s “neighbours” are out of this world. What type of neighbours would keep silent when they discovered that one of them was not seen for years? Excuses! The chairman of the deceased’s Adeosun/Idi Orogbo Landlords’ Association, Mr. Oluwafemi Omilana, explained that while Abiola would always pay his dues, “we noticed that he didn’t associate with others and he came to landlords’ meetings just once. His house has a high fence and was constructed at the back with a big space in front to the gate. We started noticing his absence in the community, although he didn’t mostly stay at home. He used to travel to Port Harcourt in Rivers State”. So for four good years, that is some 48 months, the “neighbours” assumed that Abiola had travelled. Yet he told them he would be back for the 2018 Ileya festival!
Grasses began to grow in Abiola’s compound and it turned out to be another forest of, possibly, a thousand demons, inhabited by reptiles. When the crawling animals would not allow Abiola’s next-door neighbour to enjoy the peace of his home (and he too moved in two years ago), the landlords association decided to do something. They hired some labourers to clear the bush and then they made the discovery! You are wondering why it took the association that long before they decided to do something. You don’t have to be an agriculturist to know what it looks like for bushes to grow in a compound for four years. The deceased’s car was said to have been covered up! Granted: Abiola was a recluse. Granted, again, his fence is also high, such that nobody would know what was going on in the compound. But ask, when the occupant died on his bed, was there no offensive smell coming out of the compound? Or is everybody in the neighbourhood hyposmia or anosmia? The secretary of the association, Pastor Olusola Bobade, affirmed that Abiola was paying his monthly dues regularly and even paid for the rest of 2018 in October and from January 2019 through September 2022, when the skeleton was discovered, the deceased did not pay again. That should raise curiosity. The excuse that the association reported to the police and was advised to hold on till “his return so that it would not lead to litigation on trespassing”, does not speak to our humanity. How long did they have to wait? Goodness! By the time the Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” game of the Apete residents was over, this is what they discovered of their once regular-dues-paying member: “his skull, showing that he was gap-toothed in front”. Abiola’s skeleton was discovered on his bed, every part of his figure detached, with his boxers around his waist. He rotted away in that position the way humanity rotted away on those who avoided, what my late father would call “sobolation”- busybody.
But Abiola’s case is not the only evidence of lost humanity in our dear nation in the last few weeks. Just this last Friday, September 9, 2022, a member of staff of the University of Benin, UNIBEN, Prince Carter Oshodin, committed suicide at his Umelu Community in the Upper Sokponba area of Benin City because he could not pay his bills. Due to the strike action by university workers across the country (academic and non-academic), their employer, the Federal Government, withholds their salaries. In the last seven months, this set of Nigerians have not earned a dime. Some of them are couples, with children, working in the same setting. Schools resumed in Edo State and other states of the federation on Monday. Oshodin had two lovely daughters. He knew that without a salary, the lovely girls would not go to school. He could not bear the sight of his children staying at home while their mates are in school. He decided to end it. That was an extreme decision, no doubt. Killing himself has also not put his daughters back to school. Why would a man not face his challenges and opt for suicide?
Émile Durkheim, a French sociologist, who was regarded as the father of sociology, wrote “Le Suicide: Étude de sociologie” (Suicide: A Study in Sociology) in 1897. He identifies four types of suicide: egoistic suicide, altruistic suicide, anomic suicide and fatalistic suicide. The scholar posits that “the structure of suicide rates is a positive function of the structure of a group or class of people’s social relationships and those social relationships vary according to their level of integration and (moral) regulation” and that the term suicide relates to all cases of death “resulting directly or indirectly from a positive or negative act of the victim himself, which he knows will produce this result”. Of the four types, anomic suicide is most relevant t Oshodn’s case. Anomic suicide, the French scholar opines, occurs as a result of lack of social direction and individual’s moral confusion. These, Durkheim says, happen as a result of failure of economic development. In a simple sense, anomic suicide is a by-product of a society without orderliness; “a state of moral disorder where people do not know the limits on their desires and are constantly in a state of disappointment”, especially when people go through extreme changes in wealth and economic ruins.
Oshodin belonged to the category of anomic suiciders. Oshodin’s union, the Non Academic Staff Union, NASU, called off its strike three weeks ago. But the inhuman and draconian policy of no-work-no-pay of the government caught up with him. Because humanity is lost in the government; because the government seeks to throttle everything and everyone that objects to its poor treatment of the citizenry, a promising life was cut short and two lovely daughters left fatherless and a young lady became a widow. Before Oshodin died, he was said to have approached some friends for help and nothing came. Probably, everyone is also affected by the economic strangulation of the present government.
Jesus Christ, in the passage earlier quoted above told the lawyer the following story of a man from Jerusalem, who was robbed and injured by his attackers, who left him half dead. A priest passed by the way and did nothing to help the victim. Ditto a Levit, the very elect of the Lord into priesthood. Later, a Samaritan came by the way, picked up the robbery victim, dressed up his wounds and lodged him in a safe place with deposit for further upkeep. Jesus then asked the lawyer: “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers”? The interrogating lawyer answered: “The one who had mercy on him”. Jesus replied: “Go and do likewise”. How many John Aderemi Abiolas do we have in our neigbourhoods? How many Prince Carter Oshodins are looking for the next meal for their families in our immediate environment? Can I impose on you, dear readers, the injunction of my Lord Jesus: “Go and do likewise”? Know that every act of kindness withheld is an indication of dead humanity. Let my pastor note: this is my evangelism for the week! Permission to be absent on Saturday, sir!