Monday 27 December 2010

Nigeria: Journalism, law deaths and swimming

Poor journalism

One should tire about Nigerian journalistic practices that have a tendency to plumb the depths of the unschooled, badly edited and thoroughly lacking in quality and finesse.

The headline in this case announces [1] the unfortunate assassination of an ex-chairman of a state bar association close to his home, that in itself is a story that can be developed into details of the event, the on-going investigation, the possible suspects and tributes from peers and other notable people.

However, interspersed in this news story is that of the unfortunate death by drowning of another female lawyer who happened to be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) meeting her demise when attempting the rescue of her aide who got into trouble in the waters of the Bar Beach.

The tenuous connection between the assassination and the sad deaths is they were lawyers, besides that, there are sketchy details about the murder and advanced preparations for the internment of the SAN, then tributes to her and the story concludes having completely digressed from the headline bordering on the peddling of false information.

This is a report filed by two reporters or correspondents and what could have been two distinct stories has been conflated into one running thread of barely and tenuous related issues that share the sparse commonality of death and law – appalling.

Beaches, swimming and lifejackets

However, the main reason for this blog touches on another serious issue; tributes were paid to the SAN and prominent amongst those eulogies was one from the human-rights lawyer Femi Falana, it is important that I quote him verbatim, “The deceased was a brilliant lawyer. It is a big shame that on a yearly basis people get drowned on Lagos beaches due to failure of government to provide lifesaving jackets. I hope that the NBA will take advantage of this unfortunate incident to demand that all the beaches in the country are equipped with lifesaving jackets.”

This raises a whole range of issues that I must take this opportunity to address before the situation cools down in readiness for another unfortunate tragedy.

This SAN’s firm chose a beach for their end-of-year party, the presence of water means people might well go skinny-dipping or swimming. Nigerians in general are not natural swimmers, [References below explore that topic of Black African Americans not being able to swim.] we generally exhibit a fear of water except for those who have lived near rivers, lakes or beaches from childhood and have the fishing trade or something related in their family.

The aeration of the water baby

Rationally, irrationally or superstitiously, water either deep or raging is best observed from afar, I could have learnt to swim just before I was a teenager when we broke out of boarding school to play in the river not too far away until one day an animist priestess dressed in white wraps came to the banks of the river and appeared to walk on water, that was the last time we went there.

In fact, at Easter in 1976, I was thrown into the waters of Bar Beach by my uncles and I somehow came back to dry land a little worse for wear.

Years ago, my partner was able to persuade me to take swimming classes but at the first class, I was the big baby with floats and there never was a second lesson, the desire remains, the will is weak and it remains a fantasy but I would not use my fantasy and dreaming of swimming to exact a false reality on myself.

In any case, nothing is said about the swimming ability of the aide who got into difficulty and if the SAN was a swimmer at all, it is doubtful she was a strong swimmer at best and her judgment of her abilities might have been beclouded by the sight of the aide in distress.

Evidently, other members of the party probably knew that they could not swim and hence maybe were not involved in the rescue attempt of either ladies.

Lifeguards are what we need

That brings us back to Femi Falana’s statement, I doubt the issue is about life jackets because you will only be compelled to wear life jackets for safety reasons if you were on a boat and could not swim. Whilst there might be life buoys and tyres to throw out to people from the beach or boats, I doubt that in itself would have saved the day.

What the beaches require are life guards, people who are strong and able swimmers who are either paid or volunteers to oversee beaches and react immediately when people get into trouble.

Obviously, these lifeguards should be able to get the distressed to shore and perform first aid before the victims are transferred to hospital for treatment and/or observation.

Most importantly, people have no business going into the water if they cannot swim, fascinating as the Man from Atlantis might be, we are not fish. If anything should be learnt from this tragedy, it should be that we seek out swimming classes and restrict our water dunking to pools until such a time that we have built up strength to save ourselves in strong currents and hopefully save others who are weaker than we are in the water.


[1] The Punch: Ex-NBA boss assassinated in Ogun

Other references

Images of Bar Beach, Lagos

BBC News - Why don't black Americans swim?

Swimming history: 'Blacks Don't Swim' |

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