Thursday, 25 June 2015

Insurance Claims in Nigeria

I met someone on the RMS St Helena who talked about an experience that he had while living and working in Nigeria.

He and a friend were hang-gliding or ultralight enthusiasts.  I can't remember which.  The two of them were on a Nigerian hillside, all set up and ready to go.  His friend went out, got caught in a gust and fell off.  He died on impact.  All of the normal challenges of losing a friend were present, but there was also something else that immediately set in as a gigantic problem.

At the time in Nigeria, if you die, ownership of your house transferred to the government.  The government was then responsible for selling your house and giving the proceeds to your family, according to your will.  I don't know if it is still that way, but it was at the time.

The complication was that when ownership transferred to the government upon your death so that the sale could be arranged, your family was no longer allowed to live there.  In the midst of confronting the shocking loss of a friend who had fallen out of his aircraft there was the immediately present reality that his wife and child would be evicted from their home and would be destitute, without access to any family property or assets for the foreseeable future.  The government takes its time selling properties, and often sells them far below their proper sale value... and sometimes the proceeds of the sale disappear into the grift of government.

This particular friend had a life insurance policy (which was the only thing that would rescue his family from destitute poverty in Nigeria), but the specifics of the policy didn't cover accidents of this type.

I listened to his story and imagined it.  Standing in front of the dead body of my friend, watching him pale and stiffen, reflecting on how the laws of the country and the specifics of his insurance policy would leave his family in financial ruin ... in Nigeria.  As dented as the social safety network in Canada is, in Nigeria if you fall from prosperity there is a much greater distance to fall.

He collected his friend's body and put it in the trunk of his car.  He took it to a hiking trail, and left it at the base of a cliff.  The family collected an insurance payment and left Nigeria, accepting the house as a loss.

Where I come from, I'm insulated from ever needing to make decisions like that.  I had the feeling from the sage nods and understanding murmurs of the group the story was told to that those people who've experienced life in Africa have much more direct experience with dilemmas like that.  It puts my first world problems in perspective.

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