Archive for February 2nd, 2012

I will start this piece by asking if you have ever sighted a first aid box in any bank in Nigeria or if you’ve had (or were a witness) to a situation where you needed urgent medical care inside a banking hall and got any? My answer to that is a no and I guess yours cannot be different and this seemingly unimportant issue, with consequences that are far reaching forms the crux of this piece.

A friend recently narrated an experience inside the banking hall of one of Nigeria’s top banks in Lagos. A woman, standing on the queue to be attended to by the cashiers, suddenly slumped and amidst the confusion no one could offer any assistance to the lady. Perhaps because my friend has only recently returned to Nigeria, she was shocked at how no one, including the other customers, could offer any assistance in terms of first aid to the lady. My friend who found herself a loner in efforts to help, asked the cashiers for their first aid box or staff in charge of Health and Safety and was told there was none and no such provisions by the bank.

Luckily this woman came back, regaining consciousness after a while – by Gods grace as we will like to say in Nigeria and not by any medical assistance. But this throws up a very important issue we have over looked for so long, an issue we pay little or no attention to in this country; the sanctity of human lives.

Banks in Nigeria are always a beehive of activity. With very little cashless banking operation yet in the country, most of the transactions are done over the counter. This ensures that most banking halls, no matter how wonderful they make their advertisements sound on how speedily they dispense with customers, are always crowded with queues that take various shapes. This situation is made even more pathetic by a combination of uncultured staff who always seem to forget that customers have jobs to return to as well, networks that are scrappy, and an impatient people who are always in a hurry and quick to cut corners to hasten their transactions.

This situation leaves customers standing for long periods, and in some banks with poor air-conditioning, this could be a draining experience. Such circumstance leaves the customers prone to situations such as loss of consciousness occasioned by hunger, tiredness or pre-existing diseases. As a safety provision therefore for both staff and customers, there should be ideally as a standard, the compulsory provision of at least a first aid box in the bank and at least one staff who is trained to respond to health emergencies inside the banking hall.

This unfortunately is not the case and I doubt anyone right from the CBN to the Ministry of Health to the Trade Unions of Bank employees down to even human right activists has seen this fit an agenda to pursue.

I must note that the banks are not the only culprits in this regard. Most offices, industries and establishments in this country also do not have any Health and Safety standard and where they exist on paper-perhaps as part of documentation for company accreditation, they are hardly implemented. We thus have situations where needless fatalities occur in these premises or where situations that later become fatal would have been better managed if a proper first aid had been administered early enough.

The society really has the blame for it all. These things simply do not matter to us. Not many Nigerians can administer artificial respiration to a patient. Not many of us can do anything beyond gathering around and dramatically showing our pity or disgust at the sight of a dying person.

It is hardly taught in our schools and even those who were taught, it is nothing more than a paragraph in the Integrated Science note book read for the exams without any practical demonstration whatsoever. There are also hardly any emergency numbers to call, no ambulance service, no fire service when there is an emergency. Even if called, their response time makes it a futile effort. We rather recline to calling the heavens for help in an issue clearly within our human hands to solve.

To say this situation is appalling is to say the least.  This little regard for safety at the workplace cuts through to the none availability of fire extinguishers in most establishments, the seeming distaste for fire exits by Nigerian architects as they don’t exist in most buildings even the new ones, and with the result that often minor incidences end up destroying not just property but lives in very  unfortunate circumstances.

Perhaps someone responsible could read this and rise up to the challenge. Perhaps one of our many mushroom NGOs that do little beyond enriching their owners with cheap donor funds can take this up as a project. Perhaps labour and responsible unions could take another look at their priorities. Our public establishments must have and implement health and safety standards the least of which is the availability of first aid kits in their premises and the training of their staff to respond to emergencies. The banks, a very important establishment with high daily footfall is a good place to start.

Published as Dangerous Banks in Daily Times 2/2/2012

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