Often times, a focus on high-stakes politics, while understandable, tends to produce a blindness to the heroism and capacity for self-denial of everyday people in the country. Consumed by the din and clamour of politics, Nigerians often require an extraordinary act to remind them, not only of the basic goodness that inheres in the majority of their compatriots, but of the fact that ethno-religious divisions, while real, are all too often susceptible to being overblown. The recent incidents involving citizens Joseph Blankson and Alhaji Abdullahi Abubakar are a case in point. Joseph Blankson, a diesel supplier, was travelling in a boat from Port Harcourt to Bakana, Rivers State, to pay his last respects to a deceased relative when the vessel capsized. From media reports, Mr. Blankson, a father of three young kids, immediately took it upon himself to see that all his fellow passengers were rescued. Neglecting his own safety, Mr. Blankson delivered 13 of these fellow travellers to the shore, only to fail with the 14th.
The scale of heroism and selflessness displayed by Mr. Blankson here cannot be underestimated. He could have swum away and left his straggling compatriots to the mercy of the tides, a decision many might have understood. After all, survival is the first law of nature. In acting against nature in the way he did, Mr. Blankson more or less sacrificed his life so that his compatriots could live, and he deserves all the plaudits that his tragic heroism have commanded from Nigerians from all walks of life. In particular, we wish to salute the Rivers State governor, Nyesom Wike, for the offer of employment to Mr. Blankson’s wife, Mrs. Mercy Blankson, a Microbiology graduate, and for donating generously towards the deceased’s burial.
At the other end of the age spectrum, 83-year-old Alhaji Abdullahi Abubakar, Chief Imam of Nghar village in Gashish district in Barkin Ladi Local Government Area (LGA), Plateau State, showed that basic humanity and fellow feeling can, and should, trump religious divisions. On 24 June 2018, at considerable risk to himself and his family, he hid in his house and mosque 300 Christian compatriots on the run from herdsmen who had invaded their community and killed more than 200 people. With this singular act of bravery, Alhaji Abubakar put humanity before religious affiliation, and offered a compelling vision of common citizenship that challenges the narrow barbarism of religious fundamentalism. Like the late Mr. Blankson, Alhaji Abdullahi deserved all the accolades he has attracted, and is supremely worthy of his touted nomination for a national award.
Yet, while saluting the uncommon generosity of spirit and bravery displayed by these two compatriots, it is important that the infrastructural and political issues pertaining to the contexts of their intervention be kept firmly in mind. In the case of Mr. Blankson, even as the nation continues to honour his memory, it must not neglect to ask why the capsized vessel had no life jackets for its passengers, and why it needed the spectacular heroism of a single individual to avert a staggering loss of lives. Was the vessel fit to travel, and did the passengers undergo the kind of pre-travel on board safety messaging that is the norm in most civilised societies? Honest answers to these questions will help the country if it is serious about avoiding future recurrence.
The heroism of Alhaji Abubakar invokes a similar set of questions. Where was the law when Christian citizens of Nghar were being selectively targeted by Fulani herdsmen? What did the state governor, Simon Lalong, who is now scampering to fete the hero Imam, do to prevent such an unacceptable loss of lives? What have both the Plateau State government and the Federal Government done to protect the lives and property of ordinary Christians from the repeated assaults by herdsmen? Honest answers to these questions and prompt remedies where needed will ensure that the heroism of Alhaji Abubakar is not in vain.