Prologue: My Activism Odyssey
In September 2009, my friends and I finally found a cause we could all unite and fight for. After years of online debates, analyses and arguments about national problems, a series of events happening both at national and personal levels conspired to throw into our laps, a situation we unanimously felt was an outrageous injustice and one which we believed ought to be remedied immediately.
Nigerians had woken up on a Sunday morning to the shocking news of the brutal shooting of Bayo Ohu, a reporter for the The Guardian, in his home. Even for a nation that has witnessed so many tragedies, the deliberateness of the act was beyond belief. But what got people's attention was the news that Bayo may have survived if the first few clinics he was rushed to had attended to him promptly. Though the clinics claimed later that it was not true, it was reported that they had refused him treatment because he was not accompanied with a permit from the police authorising them to treat gunshot wounds.
The media was awash with arguments being traded back and forth between the Nigerian Medical Association defending its members and the Nigerian Police Force who claimed there was no such law or that the law had long since been suspended or cancelled. While that was going on, the issue was brought closer to us.
One of our colleagues and friend suddenly declared her readiness to leave Nigeria and relocate to the United States after witnessing a senseless event. She had been to a wedding in Uyo, the capital city of Akwa Ibom state and right in the middle of ceremonies, a trigger-happy policeman who was assigned to secure the event, shot for no apparent reason and released bullets which lodged themselves in the legs of three of the celebrants. Rather than protect the celebrants from the rampant kidnapping that was ravaging the Niger Delta at that time, he had ended up injuring them but that was not what got our friend angry. After managing to ferry the wounded to the nearest clinic, they were, unfortunately, also refused treatment for hours until a police report was obtained and as a result, one of the injured ran the risk of amputation.
Given the level of insecurity in the country, it was obvious to us that gunshot wounds would be fairly commonplace events and that if nothing was done to address the issue, anyone could be the next one to suffer the negative effects of the policy.
On a personal level, these issues met me at a peculiar time in my life. Exactly, a year before Bayo Ohu's death, in August 2008, my brother's wife was kidnapped in Port Harcourt with her driver and a friend, on her way home from a political meeting . Despite several ransom payments and months of negotiations with different groups as well as discussions with the police, the trail had gone completely cold and my extended family was struggling to understand what had befallen us.
Her case was peculiar because most people were released after ransom payments and we had no reason to expect a different outcome. But having obtained the release of her driver and friend, it became obvious to us over time that she was unavailable. Kidnappers were not willing to offer proof of life in any form and no one seemed able to help.
Kidnapping in the Niger Delta, started off with expatriate workers of the Oil or Construction industries as the main targets but later moved to affluent natives as the expatriates either fled from Port Harcourt or raised the bar on security. Having foreseen the trend and discussed it amongst friends, I felt somewhat pained that we had not done anything to protect people. The attendant frustration and despair I felt with the whole situation was ready to be unleashed on this problem.
Having also embarked on a one-year study leave, I had more time to devote to the issue so we went to work first by researching the problem. And we found that there was a conflict between the need to provide security on the part of the Police and the need to provide emergency medical attention by doctors and Good Samaritans. This problem is represented below in a Conflict Cloud. The Conflict Cloud or Evaporating Cloud as it was originally named, is a simple but powerful tool for problem definition and communication which I teach in problem-solving seminars and also use extensively to tackle complex issues. It was first used by Eli Goldratt in his bestseller, "The Goal" and further explained in another book, "It's Not Luck".
We immediately saw that both needs were legitimate but the police request was being implemented as if every gunshot victim was a criminal and this was leading to the deaths or permanent injuries of many Nigerians. Our research turned up many painful stories of prominent Nigerians who had fallen foul of this policy and that signalled to us that many more helpless Nigerians were faring even worse.
Just to cite two examples, Alhaji Saula of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Lagos was shot by armed robbers in his house on the 6th of January, 2008. He was rushed to a nearby hospital but was denied treatment for lack of a police report and later died. Also, sometime in 1996, Rear Admiral Omotehinwa was shot by armed robbers at his home. Even though he was rushed to his friend's hospital they refused to treat him without a police report and he died . Many more people wrote to us to share bitter personal experiences with this policy.