Omotoso: Uncontracted Road-menders
YOU have seen them on our roads. They are usually to be found at the points on the road, where a series of pot holes can be seen in a chain that makes vehicular movement impossible at the usual speed. They are spread across the road holding spades, diggers and rakes. These are immediately recognisable as instruments for small scale work on a building site. These are not the usual instruments for road mending. You would expect such instruments at a digging of wells or building of small structures but definitely not for the repair of multi-million naira roads. But you have to understand that these are not contract holders for the making of the roads or for the repair of the road. So, they have not been paid mobilisation for them to be able to buy earth movers and levellers and such heavy equipment, or even rent them to do the work that needs to be done on some of our roads. But it is obvious that the equipment they have and are wielding are definitely inadequate for what needs to be done – that is the repair of the road. Or else that is not what they are there to do. But we’ll come back to that in a minute.
Along with the instruments of digger, spade and rake, they also carry a twig or tree branch that might also double as a cane, should the need arise for a road user to be disciplined. Why would such a need arise? We’ll come to that also soon enough. Along with all these other items, the leader of the group carries a few naira notes which he displays prominently to the road users or their passengers, or anyone in the vehicle considered to be the purse bearer. The leader of the group usually waves the naira notes violently. What is he trying to communicate to the road users?
If the road user would look around, he or she would notice that not too far from the point that the uncontracted road menders have chosen to ply their ‘engineering’ road-mending trade, there are display ‘tables’ made of wood over which can be found huge plantains and yams and fruits of all descriptions such as oranges, bananas, pine apples, sometimes even apples and melons. Wonder not fellow traveller how the products of the tropics and those of the temperate regions of the world find comfort in each other companies. These are the fruits of globalisation, no puns intended at all. The women who sit languidly behind these trellised display spaces are no doubt relatives of the road menders and might have even contributed the naira noted being flung in the face of the travellers who must of necessity pause at the pot holes.
All the young men, four or five of them mending the incorrigible road come from this nearby village. The leader is a graduate of one of the universities with a degree in history. He is in the village because he cannot get a job in the nearest city. But, like the others, his taste, his consumption style and content are high above those of the people of the village. He can barely tolerate existence in the village. The night before he had collected his friends, also marooned in the village from government employment, and challenged them to do something about their situation. What can we do, one of them wanted to know? What do we have? They said they had nothing. This is where his leadership came from. He said no, they had a lot, they had the road. And the others wanted to know what can we do with the miserable road, full of pot holes and a nuisance to road users? We have the road. Let’s use it, is what I say. How do we use it?
That’s a good question. And here I want our visitor Mr. Dafida Trouble and his assistant Alaba to listen to me carefully. Nigerians are a very generous people. Nigerians give not only what they have to God and to everybody around them. They also give what they do not have but pray that they will have in the future. How else does the economy support so many beggars? I don’t mean occasional beggars or opportunistic askers after charity! I mean professional beggars who have built houses and trained children in school and university from the proceeds of begging. Imagine the five of us on the road with spades and diggers and rakes filling the pot holes and levelling the pebbles and sweeping away the leaves that dirty up the road. There we are, young men, stripped to our waists, sweating in the sun, working hard so that our people can drive on a smooth road. What do you think the road users would think? That we are crazy and who asked us to do it?
That is such a cynical answer which does not do our people any credit. No, I don’t think that is what they will say. They will say what fantastic young men, men who think of the good of others and are prepared to work for it. Okay, so, when they have said that nko? What next? They will dig into their pockets and give us whatever they can find in their pockets. And how much do you think we can make in one day from this kind of work? I think we can make some hundreds of naira, enough to allow us to have some mineral drinks at the end of our effort. And something to buy some food? Perhaps something to buy some food. What if the police come? And the road safety people come? And the drug prevention people come? And they all accuse us of fleecing ordinary people of their hard earned money and collect all of us and take us into custody? No such thing would ever happen. You don’t know our people and you do not know our police and security people.
We must trust our people. Those who refuse to give we shall persuade them with the use of the cane. Just wait and see what we shall harvest at the end of the day.