Time to fight indiscipline again
It was our learned writer, Chinua Achebe, who ran into trouble for writing on the trouble with Nigeria. That, notwithstanding, I make haste to borrow his view on indiscipline. For instance, Achebe wrote: “There is indeed no better place to observe the thrusting indiscipline in Nigerian behaviour than on the roads: frenetic energy, rudeness, noisiness….” Yes I am a proponent, witness and victim to this opinion.
Some days ago and recently too, I had a reason to move from Edinburgh to Garriki (two suburbs in Enugu metropolis) a journey that swallows a number of bus stops and sinks an average of 30 minutes. The distance though short, did not remove the possibility of witnessing the true demonstration of the Nigerian spirit on the road. Right there and then, like in most other sectors and occasions in the country, indiscipline was present.
At first, a passenger in the last row of a single-decker bus pleaded with the conductor to allow her alight at the next bus stop. She was heavy. She had a toddler with her. Standing up with three persons; she, the toddler and the baby in the womb took a little more time. The woman after a while stood up, walked some distance to the entrance. But, the driver had zoomed off. He moved some distance away from the woman’s supposed bus stop. The driver pretended to be ignorant of the woman’s plea. The plea that the driver had gone past her destination, and she could not walk the increasing distance, and that her toddler could not do so as well. At long last, the voice of protesting “fellow Nigerians’’ halted the movement of the vehicle. The woman didn’t complain. She alighted. She bade the driver farewell with the following words: “God dey ooo.” After that event, a scuffle between the driver and a passenger kept the single Decker bus with plate number bubbling. The passenger complained that the action of the driver amounted to violating the woman’s right to dignity of the human person. He quoted the section 28 sub-section 1 and 2 of the 1999 constitution as amended to hold his argument.
The driver at first received his complaint with mockery, but the speaker would not despair. He held his ground. Perhaps, he found solace in the saying, “our lives begin to end the day we keep silent about things that matter.” His argument drew sympathy from among his fellow passengers; such that when the conductor threatened to “deal” with him, other passengers returned the threat with a more fearful threat. At long last, he won. He succeeded in making others talk about the things that matter. As he sheathed his tongue, other passengers admired his courage and urged him to continue fighting for things that matter. “It’s only through the action of youths like this that our nation can move forward. This kind of attitude cannot be divorced from Wole Soyinka’s view that “the man dies in all who keeps silent in the face of tyranny”, one gentleman said as he made for his exit. That action is gone but not buried. It is only one victory for justice especially in jungles like Nigerian roads. There are of course, countless number of defeats meted out against justice and humble Nigerians on Nigerian roads.
Indeed, the actions of most Nigerians on the road do not portray this nation in positive light. Cardinal amongst these numerous irregularities are bribery and corruption, humiliation, violation of traffic rules, negligence, carelessness, and hooliganism, to mention but a handful.
Those who ply the routes from Garriki to places like Ogwu, Agbogugu, Nnewe, and Aninri — all in Enugu State — are either victims, witnesses or both. Various groups, in something of a routine practice, stop the drivers. Greet them with the cliché “how far nah”. The driver traditionally responds with N50. He does that very quickly. He greases the palm of the police officer in a pretended handshake. Then he drives off with the infamous greeting, Officer I dey ooo. This scenario is a recurring decimal on the said road and other roads that are replete with Nigeria’s most chronic nemesis: corruption and indiscipline.
Anyway, I won’t be surprised if a person demands photograph for evidence or ask for video footage. It is also easy for our leaders to claim ignorance of this problem.
For one, most of our leaders barely use these roads. In any case, they can be absolved from blame since they would rather fly over the sufferings of their people below. Indeed some of them look at the episode from the air with mischievous pleasure.
Even in cases where the leaders decide against using flight, the condition of the road isn’t made any safer for the ordinary man. In fact, the Nigerian leaders when on the roads constitute a greater danger to other road users, particularly the illiterate masses. The convoy of a government official is intimidating. A governor who uses a 20-vehicle convoy can pass for a moderate leader.
Then comes the intimidation from employed and self-appointed thugs, who forcibly violate the sensibility of other road users by carving out a way in the ‘red sea’ for the so-called officials. The experience of a Catholic priest with a former governor of Imo State still lingers in our memories. When there is a gridlock, the thugs jump out of their vehicles to drive their fellow citizens off the road for their leaders to pass. Presumably, our leaders are rushing to beat a deadline or are simply in haste feeling terrorised by the presence of the ordinary citizens their supposed followers. Whichever option a leader might choose, the implication is summed up in the fact that the presence of our leaders on the roads constitutes more of a nuisance to the masses and a blessing.
Consider the siren, which is the forerunner of our leaders. The boom fills the air, violating the serenity of the atmosphere to a degree that is slightly unacceptable. The government officials are the lords of the roads .The speed at which the vehicles move is equally alarming and dangerous. One might be tempted to ask if our leaders actually have immunity from obeying traffic rules. Going by the precept of democracy, leaders are tagged the exemplary figure from whom followers can draw inspiration. And like the ancient proverbial saying goes: “Children are not good at listening to their elders, but they never fail to imitate them.” The more our leaders display this flamboyant attitude and indiscipline the less likely the nation will produce a followership that has regards for the law. This view holds water in the light of Eric Hoofers’ submission, thus: “So long as the government set the example of killing their enemies, private individuals will occasionally kill theirs.” Hence, so long as the government is in the habit of breaking the law it is meant to protect, the citizenry will necessarily learn the trade of their masters.
Another variant, a prominent one for that matter, of the Nigerian road problem is the issue of embezzlement of public fund through road contracts. Take the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, for an example. The first contract was awarded as far back as 1976. Of course, it was constructed. Today, the same road is a death trap. The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway forms a case study for many other roads that have continually constituted a source of revenue for succeeding administrations and contractors. At the peak of the rainy season, you find ‘slow down men at work’ on various Nigerian roads, and when the long awaited dry season comes, the ‘slow’ men at work abandon the sites completely, only to reappear during elections. At this point the contractors return like seasonal animals on migration. Any child who was above five years during this year’s elections would likely be familiar with the ‘brand’: ‘work in progress, slow down!!!’ Do not be deceived, those are only signs that elections are around the corner.
This “Nigerian road contract business” holds the record for the most lucrative and productive sector in our dwindling economy. Embowelled in the fraudulent contract business is painful statistics of death on our roads from the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC). The figures may hold our drivers responsible for 80 per cent of road accidents. Underneath this accusing statistics lay the painful nostalgia of wasted dreams, hopes, geniuses, leaders and patriots.
Chinua Achebe was particularly critical of the persistent indiscipline and impatience among Nigerian drivers. He succeeded in painting an illusory picture of a situation where: “Mr. B sees Mr. A of him in a traffic or queue. He does not think that Mr. A was there, because he took the trouble to arrive early. He says instead, ‘he is where I want to be, he must give way to me.’ expectedly, the actions that might follow such intent may lead to either accident, gridlock, violation of traffic rules, fighting, a combination of either of the above or all of the above or an entirely new form of disorder.”
Whereas, freedom as Martin Luther King would say, is not voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed. In like manner, the victors and victims should necessarily design long term strategies to address the problem. And I dare say that these networks of expectations lie evenly between the leadership and followership. Whereas, it is not wrong to attribute good followership to exemplary leadership, good followership is enough leadership.
Hence, it is believed that the government and fellow Nigerians can work in a lasting partnership to establish sanity on Nigerian roads. Indeed the journey of a thousand miles begins with a step. How be it, the step has to be on the right road; safe enough for safe journey.
Sylvester, Garriki, Enugu State, 300-level of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. 08143952921.
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