Not many Nigerians will be familiar with the name and great sacrifice of Jonas Salk, but the killer disease known as polio is familiar to many. Jonas Salk, an American scientist, does not only represent an ideal scholar and researcher, but his attitude to the “fruit of labour” also represents an ideal which inwardly mature persons should cultivate and emulate.
After the 2nd World War, with the devastation and great depressions following it, Salk, deeply touched by the agonies that children suffered because of the “six deadly diseases” common to children, worked diligently in his laboratory, formulating and testing several vaccines in order to provide some relief to suffering humanity. He did not have any research grant.
The scientific world does not accept any new idea or discovery without valid proofs and objective means of verification and authentication. So to provide the proof that his new vaccine for polio was effective and safe to be administered to human beings, Salk used himself, his wife and children for the trial of the vaccine. He went about his research with a sense of mission, zeal and confidence; such commitment and conviction are hard to match in a capitalist world.
For his excellent labour, Salk refused to accept cash rewards, rather, his joy and satisfaction derived from seeing parents free from the fear and agony of seeing their children die painfully and slowly from polio. Noble services and labour are not usually undertaken for cash rewards, but offered as gifts to humanity. Indeed, he is well paid that is well satisfied.
Our obsession with the fruits of labour reflects in such names as Ikemefula, but honestly, no labour goes unrewarded, which can come in various ways. Definitely there must be a number of Salks in Nigeria who work in various obscure places for some noble goals, without asking for recognition or any remuneration. Such a volition is what differentiates noble souls from ordinary ones.
Currently, there are a few people in various parts of the globe working quietly on the problems of cancer, leukaemia and other areas of strongly felt needs. Such noble souls delight in anonymity and obscurity rather than cherish noisy publicity which divert their concentration of attention. Neither do they have the desire or ambition to excel and shine by underrating the ability of other people. Those who have something to offer humanity often choose to work independently without interference from established authorities.
It is not because of selfishness that great minds sometimes with-hold certain gifts at their disposal from mankind; rather, it is usually out of concern about the possibility of degenerate people abusing and trampling upon such noble gifts. When a society is not ready for it, the light with-holds great blessings until such a time that such values can be appreciated.
It is not in the clamour of the masses that we can find the best, neither do those who serve and make sacrifices for humanity seek the glamour or praises of the masses. The spontaneous volition to serve humanity in whatever capacity according to personal ability is a personal culture and refinement which Nigerians must cultivate. On the contrary, what we have had was a Nigerian senator boasting how he and those who came to celebrate his 29th birth-day danced “on top of bank notes” in London, “just to show that money was there”. Listen to him: “At 28, I was a millionaire, I was living in one of the poshest places in London… driving around London in Rolls Royce …”
What mind-set that Nigerians should strive hard to cultivate is the noble attitude of service and sacrifice in an unassuming manner and without expecting praises or publicity. Like Jonas Salk, we should labour with joy for the purpose of generating joy and then receive such wage that does not perish or diminish under inflation or economic recession. Let us give the best we can for the well-being and ennoblement of humanity and without asking for praises or recognition. Rather than dance on top of bank notes to celebrate birth-day, live in mansions and drive around in bullet-proof cars, while over 80% of Nigerians live in squalor, die from hunger and polio. Let us feel the pulse of the masses and show empathy for them. There is more to life than earning a living and becoming a millionaire before the age of 28.
Dr Amirize is a retired lecturer, Rivers State University, Port Harcourt.