Last Sunday, the Sunday after a bloody week, we heard these words from the book of Wisdom: "Death was not God's doing, he takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living…. God did make man imperishable, he made him in the image of his own nature; it was the devil's envy that brought death into the world, as those who are his partners will discover" (Wisdom 1: 12; 2: 23-24).
Preceding that Sunday was a week when close to 200 citizens of Nigeria were killed in Plateau State. It was a week of bloodshed at Bodija market in Ibadan when butchers and the police clashed. It was a week some travelers were roasted to death on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, and another dozen in a similar accident on the Kaduna-Kano Expressway. It was a week Boko Haram terrorists, riding on bicycles, were attacking villages in north-eastern Nigeria.
In all this, the Book of Wisdom is teaching us that God is not responsible for death. We human beings are. People are dying in Nigeria because those who hired and paid to protect us-our political leaders and those who assist them in the military, the police, the Road Safety Corps, and other security agencies-are simply not alive to their responsibility. It is a well-known fact that operatives of Nigeria's Federal Road Safety Corps are among the most reckless drivers in Nigeria. On our roads, soldiers and policemen drive dangerously and with impunity. Drivers of bull vans are notoriously lawless while no one dares to protest. Their excuse for driving recklessly is that they are protecting money. It's like money is more precious than human life.
A few days ago, seven policemen were gunned to death by armed men in Abuja. In reaction, the Public Relations Officer of the Nigeria Police took to the airwaves to suggest to Nigerians that the killing of those policemen justified the continued existence of SARS, a police unit that oppresses innocent Nigerians under the guise of protecting us from armed robbers.
Billions of dollars are purportedly spent on security. Yet, we live in the midst of avoidable but real and present danger of being killed or kidnapped in a land where life has become incredibly cheap because of our way of doing things. Again, to quote from the Book of Wisdom, "the godless call for Death with deed and word, counting him friend, they wear themselves out for him; with death they make a pact, worthy as they are to belong to him" (Wisdom 1: 16).
Our lives are in danger, not just because of rampaging herdsmen or Boko Haram insurgents, but also because of tanker drivers with murderous instinct, danfo drivers whose hobby is recklessness, okada riders and Keke Napep drivers who mistake lawlessness for gallantry, and even supposedly enlightened drivers of private vehicles who have no regard for other road-users.
Then we have to contend with traffic wardens and road safety corpers whose stock in trade is extortion. They turn a blind eye while traffic regulations are violated by drivers who have "settled" or are prepared to "settle" them. We have death traps which we call expressways. We have places of worship where public nuisance is mistaken for religious devotion, causing unbearable noise pollution causing hypertension and sending Nigerians to their early grave. Pseudo pastors and fake preachers brainwash the people in the name of "evangelism".
The examples I have just cited verify the words of the Book of Wisdom that death came about because of the Devil's envy and the wickedness of human collaborators with the Devil. And there is a lot of wickedness in Nigeria. In our wickedness we befriend death. Despite our wickedness, we claim to pray. Instead of assuming our responsibility for safety, we claim to pray.
We must heed the words of the Book of Wisdom which say: "Do not court death by the errors of your ways, nor invite destruction through the work of your hands" (Wis 1: 12). Responsibility for safety and public health belongs to each of us. Let each person examine his conscience and ascertain whether or not he is an agent of life or agent of death. We in Nigeria seem to have opted to build our country on the foundation of reckless behavior. On our roads, in our neighbourhoods, and in our homes, we must desist from acting in ways that put lives in danger. Let us always be careful the way we drive. You do not have to squeeze your vehicle into every little space on the highway.
We need good legislations to protect us from our own recklessness and to promote public health. On this, and on other needs for good legislation, we must constructively engage our legislators at federal, state and local levels. We voted for them to represent us by making good laws on our behalf. But that is not what we are getting. What they offer us, for the most part, falls short of what is to be expected in representative democracy. That imposes an obligation on us. It is the obligation to hold, uncompromisingly, our political office holders to a high standard. They are elected to protect us. That is their first responsibility. Before you cast your vote for any politician, find out what type of character he is, what is his or her level of intellectual, moral and administrative competence. Not to do so would amount to hiring someone for a job without verifying his or her suitability for the job. This country has too many in public office who are neither competent nor suitable for the job.
The Psalmist wrote: "I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me." Indeed, the Lord in his mercy rescues us from the dangers into which we plunge ourselves by our negligence and wickedness. He does not count our sins against us. That was why he sent Jesus his Son to raise us up from the dead, as he did to the little girl, the daughter of Jairus, in the Gospel according to Mark.
That little girl, does she not represent our country, Nigeria? In the words of her father, as reported in the Gospel, she was desperately sick. Our country, Nigeria, like Jairus' daughter is desperately sick. Nigeria is sick unto death. The fact that our security is notoriously lax, the fact that we seem to care very little about safety standards in our homes and in our cities, the fact that all this obtains and innocent people die at a frightening frequency, these are indices of a land that is desperately sick. But Nigeria can be brought back to life if we sincerely invite Jesus in, as Jairus, the father of the girl in today's Gospel did. We too need to say what Jairus said. We need to say to Jesus: "come and lay your hands on Nigeria to make her better and save her life."
The sign that we have sincerely invited Jesus into Nigeria is not in the number of Churches we build, not in the large crowds found in those Churches, not in the number of pseudo-pastors posturing as "men of God". The true sign is in our witnessing to the values of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When we truly live by the Gospel, Nigeria will come back to life