The Ejiro Otarigho story: a lesson in heroism

The story of Mr. Ejiro Otarigho’s bravery, the young man who drove a flaming fuel tanker out of Agbarho to save lives of thousands, is a shining beacon of light in the dark tunnel that has become Nigeria.

This brave, selfless and self-sacrificing tanker driver braved the odds and risked his own life so that others may remain unharmed.

In a country plagued with a chain of bad news and a series of disastrous events, it is indeed a breath of fresh air to witness something positive for a change.

On the 10th of July, the petrol tanker that Ejiro was driving caught on fire inside the highly populated town of Agbarho in Delta State. Rather than panicking or abandoning the truck to save his life, which is what the average human being would do, Otarigho instructed his apprentice to jump off the truck while he himself continued driving.

As he said in an interview with BBC Pidgin, his only thought was to get the truck away from people before it exploded. In an incredible act of bravery and self sacrifice, Otarigho drove the burning the truck to the bank of Agbarho River – for fifteen minutes! – through heavy traffic. He even managed to avoid brushing the white Hilux of a woman who had panicked on seeing the advancing burning truck and left her car in the middle of the road.

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He squeezed through a narrow lane in which a bus was parked, hoping against hope that he would not damage the other car; and he did not. This is the stuff of movies, or nightmares! We would not have believed it was possible if we had not seen the video with our own eyes. Through it all, a scared Ejiro managed to keep his composure because the beauty and kindness of his soul overshadowed his fear of death.

He was determined that people would not die even if it meant his own death. Ejiro Otarigho is a true hero. Our leaders should borrow a leaf from this humble man. People in positions of power are looting the country blind, causing the deaths of many innocent Nigerians who die on account of poverty, hunger, and malnutrition.

Instead of focusing on amassing wealth, our leaders should examine the story of Otarigho and ask themselves: What act of sacrifice have I done for my country? In what way am I using my position and my influence to better the lives of Nigerians? How many lives have I saved or made better since I took office?

Every time a corrupt leader plunders the commonwealth, he causes the suffering or death of some citizens. Every time a corrupt official is derelict in his duty, countless innocent people suffer. Every time a corrupt contractor does a shoddy job, he cheats his fellow countrymen and may one day fall victim to his badly executed project. One does not have to drive a burning tanker like Otarigho to be a hero.

We can all be heroes just by doing our jobs to the best of our abilities, by standing for the truth, and by avoiding any thing that could cause harm to others. The Delta State government honoured Ejiro with a certificate and a plaque, and two-million-naira cash. Also, CASER (Citizens Advocacy for Social and Economic Rights) organized a fundraiser and on July 21, handed Otarigho a cheque for one million two hundred naira donated by Nigerians.

The National Assembly has also recommended Otarigho to President Buhari for a national honour. This is commendable. It is an important reminder that for national honours, we should look at the character of potential awardees and not the depth of their pockets or because they occupied an exalted position. Besides the awards, our hero deserves an engagement that is life changing.

Mr. Otarigho should be sent on a safety training course so that he could be equipped to head the safety department of some company. He should become a safety trainer himself, thereby ensuring that he has a lifelong employment and statutorily contribute his quota to safety of drivers.

As the incident has shown us, tanker drivers put their lives at enormous risk daily. Government and employers of these drivers should investigate the cause of the fire and take necessary steps to ensure that it does not happen again. Petrol tankers should also routinely be subjected to rigorous inspection. After all it is not every day that an Ejiro Otarigho will save the day.

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