By Sunny Awhefeada
A few days ago, the town of Agbarho in Ughelli North Local Government Area of Delta State witnessed an incident that would have ended up as a tragedy of unimaginable destructive proportions, but for the extraordinary bravery of one man. A truck fully loaded with Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) popular known as petrol burst into flames on the East-West Road axis of Agbarho. For those familiar with that location, it is always a busy zone as it links the busy cities of Warri and Port-Harcourt.
Sandwiched between both cities are over twenty busy towns which record heavy vehicular movements from Warri or Port-Harcourt or to and fro other locations. So, Agbarho remains a busy middle passage always plied by vehicles and thronged by people. Both sides of the East-West at Agbarho are always bustling with activities.
Uncountable residential houses, business ventures, mechanic workshops, petrol stations with all their inflammable character abound on that axis. It was here that the truck fully loaded with 30, 000 liters of petrol burst into an uncontrollable and unquenchable flame.
Agbarho panicked. But the truck driver neither panicked nor fled. He held his cool and used his brain. As the fire raged and the flames spread all over the truck, the driver, Mr. Ejiro Otarigho, sat put in the truck and drove it the outskirts near a river that was about a kilometer away, halted and leaped out of the flame covered truck.
When videos of the incident surfaced in the social media, voices were heard fearing that Otarigho must have been burnt to death by the raging fire. That the occupant of the truck would survive almost seemed impossible. The video easily passed for what we call “film trick”, but it was no trick. It was real.
Fortunately, Otarigho was not burnt to death. He sustained no injury. His bravery and nobility paid off. He saved properties and lives. Had he jumped out of the truck before getting to the outskirts, the ensuing destruction of lives and damage to properties would have been unimaginable. Lives and limbs would have been lost. Businesses and money would have been incinerated. The extent of damage and destruction would have been better imagined especially in a society that has never been famous for disaster management. But Ejiro Otarigho didn’t allow any of the above to happen. He chose nobility. He chose courage. His deed transformed into heroism. He dared to do what others would merely have dreamt of doing to save Agbarho, to save humanity. This is so because, although the location was Agbarho, the place was a critical highway where humanity, irrespective of race, gender, tribe or religion, made a road, a path to many places.
Mr. Otarigho has since been toasted by many people including the Delta State Government and the Nigerian Senate which recommended that the Federal Government should give him a national honour in recognition of his courage which saved the nation from a major disaster. Many other non-governmental organizations have also joined in celebrating Mr. Otarigho. The truth is that his action is worthy of emulation.
He put the interest of the society, by extension the nation or better put humanity, over his own safety. When asked why he took such a risk knowing that he could have been burnt to death, he was to say that he risked his life to save others because it would have been more calamitous for so many people to die in the accident. That was nobility and heroism the kind of which is deserving of knighthood. Fortunately, for Otarigho and society nobody died. No property was destroyed. Only the ill-fated truck got consumed by the inferno. Humanity was the better for it.
Otarigho’s action should speak to our national predicament at both the personal and the leadership levels. If only the majority of Nigerians could act with the same spirit of altruism as did Otarigho Nigeria would have made tremendous progress as a country bound for infinite possibilities. Unfortunately, few Nigerians would stake their lives or anything for that matter for Nigeria as did Otarigho.
From the security forces, to the political class and any other class or group, the Nigerian enterprise has always been about self and what can be got for the self. Nigeria ranks low on the priority list of most Nigerians and this situation is getting worse. That is why we seem to be on autopilot. Nobody cares. People just take things the way they come. Nobody wants to offer genuine intervention to save the day.
We all have a lesson to learn from the Otarigho story. It is not enough for the State Government or the Senate to mention him perfunctorily. His story should be made a national parable of what can be and should be if Nigerians were to embrace the country and serve her with “heart and might”.
Otarigho saved the day. Nigerians can embrace his ideals of courage and nobility and save Nigeria. For too long, we have abused the concept of heroism. We have too often garlanded the wrong people and called them heroes. The famed Marxist novelist, Festus Iyayi, interrogated this in his 1988 novel Heroes and threw up a new set of heroes among the rank and file of soldiers who fought the Nigerian Civil War and not the Generals who were drinking whiskey and getting married while that tragic war was raging.
Ejiro Otarigho fits the bill of heroism.
He should be so recognized. Nigeria would be a better place if Nigerians act as did Otarigho. Our roads would not have collapsed, our schools and hospitals would not have gone under, insecurity would not have crippled us, corruption would not have menaced us, if we all. or at least a majority of us, had imbibed the same altruism as did Ejiro Otarigho. The truth is that there are other Otarighos out there, but they are few and their heroism remains obscure to affect Nigeria and effect the needed change. Here is saluting Ejiro Otarigho, the uncommon hero. We ko biruo.