Patrick Okigbo III
No parent should bury a child. The pain never goes away and is worse with preventable deaths. Such must be Davido’s sorrow at his three-year-old son’s drowning death in late October 2022.
Quite commendably, Nigerians took to social media to commiserate with the family even as they reminisced on a similar tragic occurrence. In 2018, D’Banj, another successful Nigerian musician, lost his 13-month-old son in a similar accident. The condolences were as profuse, but Nigerians soon moved on as the next big news broke. Unfortunately, in the intervening period, neither Nigerians nor their government did much to prevent such avoidable deaths.
Will Nigerians waste yet another tragedy? There is so much that citizens can do to make a difference. For instance, the advocacy of Ralph Nader, a young university student, made cars much safer. Back in the 1950s, cars didn’t have seatbelts, airbags, or antilock brakes. Less than a year after Nader published his 1965 book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” a reluctant U.S. Congress created the agency that became the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with a mission to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce auto crashes.
Swimming pool deaths are of similar concern as the avoidable deaths continue to mount. A June 2020 U.S. report showed a steady rise in fatal drownings – in children under 15 years – from 379 to 395 deaths from 2015 to 2017. About 71 percent of these incidents occurred in residential locations, such as the child’s home, a family or friend’s house or a neighbour’s residence. Drowning is the most common cause of death for children between one and four years, aside from birth defects. It is also the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children between one and 14 years, behind motor vehicle accidents. Nigeria will probably see similar numbers as it transitions from a low to a middle-income country.
So, who should solve this problem? As with other socio-economic challenges, one may correctly hang the responsibility around the government’s neck. However, given the government’s well-documented failures, citizen engagement may be a more critical factor for driving development outcomes in Nigeria. It may be the differentiating variable.
The U.S. provides a good example. The drowning death of a 7-year-old Virginia Graeme Baker led to improved safety protocols around swimming pools and spas. Her mother tirelessly lobbied the U.S. Congress until it passed the “Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act.” As a result, today, it is unlawful to build a swimming pool in a residential area without a fence, self-closing doors, alarms, and other safety features.
Paraphrasing Paul Romer, a national tragedy (he said ‘crisis’) is a bad thing to waste. Therefore, the loss of Davido’s son should provide the impetus for well-meaning Nigerians to collaborate with civil society partners to get lawmakers to pass such a safety law. This step towards progress is realisable in no time. No other family should go through similar avoidable pains. May Davido and his family find the grace to carry on. May the rest of us not waste this tragedy.