There is the story of four lepers that stood transfixed at a crossroad of history, their stomachs empty and growling, their hopes in the air. It was at the gate of Samaria as recorded in the seventh chapter of 2 Kings. The lepers were stuck between a battered economy and a buoyant economy. Behind them was a decimated nation, before them a Syrian camp of soldiers stocked with food supplies and all, ready to pounce on a fear-struck adversarial nation. There had been a famine in the land as a result of the Syrian siege. The resulting hunger was so severe that mothers took turns to boil and eat their sons to stave off total annihilation. Call it a tragedy or a calamity and you would be right. But to the helpless people of Samaria, it was a most undignified necessity, an excusable indignity, and an explainable cruelty. After all, hunger and death are like Siamese twins. Extreme hunger almost invariably leads to death. And death may be a more attractive option in the face of an excruciating hunger.
The four lepers thought with the small ounce of faculty remaining in their hunger incapacitated minds. They could stay back doing nothing and die invariably. Or, they could break into the Syrian camp and face possible death like men. They chose the latter. Facing uncertain death was more appealing to the hungry lepers.
Last Saturday in the oil-rich city of Port Harcourt, there were thousands, not four lepers, that thronged the Polo Club. This throng of people, made leprous by the circumstances of life, had heeded the call of their agonizing stomachs. A church had provided them the last straw to cling unto. They were promised gifts and food supplies. The sound of that was enough for them to risk their lives in a struggle. After all, they thought it was better to struggle and die than to die of hunger without a struggle. For this, they neither feared the crowd nor the possibly of death from the expected stampede. At the last count, thirty nine of them had lost their lives.
It was a sad but recurring tale. We have watched with dismay the young and the old scooping petrol from fully loaded petrol trucks that were involved in accidents. In some of the instances, fire had consumed many of the scoopers. We have seen and are seeing many at the political rallies looking for handouts from the political class, risking their lives for their only opportunity to receive the dividends of democracy.
The saddest part of this normalized anomaly is that the multiple incidences of deaths do not serve as a deterrent to future stampede and further deaths. I have read about some commentators blaming it all on our culture of disorderly conducts. Such commentators should know that hunger does not answer to reason. As long as governments at all levels, corporate and religious houses, individuals, families, associations and communities continue to neglect the poor, we shall continue to breed hungry lepers, who will risk any danger to heed the call of their stomachs. In the hungry man’s thinking, it is better to struggle and die than to die without a struggle.