Everything in Nigeria is going to kill you. For a long time, I have not thought about this book by Ayo Sogunro. But, recently, I had more than enough reason to. It may seem an exaggeration; but is it? Aren’t we all living constantly in either fear or a delusion of safety? Isn’t danger ever lurking in our air, food, hospitals, schools, on our roads and even in our places of worship? Isn’t it why we are all expected to die at the age of 53 when the global life expectancy is 71 and some countries have as high as 83? Let us not mention how even the President’s office now has its security compromised.
Nigerians – especially those who live in Ibadan where transportation by minibus is in vogue – always have one prayer when approaching the park: May I not find myself in an unfortunate vehicle. This is because, here, public transportation is like Russian roulette – you never know which shot is safe, which is deadly and which is your last. So you pray fervently that the bus fate marries you to does not have tyres shedding their skins like snakes, a door quarrelling with its hinges or a feverish engine choking on its black breath.
I was unlucky. As soon as I got to the park, a bus was just departing, so I had to assume the bitter role of a first passenger for the “next turn.” And as it turned out, life with this next turn was full of twists and turns. At the very start of the journey, the driver called for two grown men to help in pushing the bus to motion. The little key is not enough to power ignition, about 150 extra kilograms was needed. Till I alighted from the bus several hours later – and I assume till he reached the final destination – he dared not switch off the engine.
But that is a common sight where I come from. Assisting drivers to push their cars is a civic duty and service to fatherland. If one peruses the Constitution well enough, one might just find where it is stated that every citizen shall, upon request, support another in physically propelling his vehicle in promoting national peace and security.
Interestingly, two minutes into the journey, I noticed smoke was oozing out of the engine into the row behind me. What is going on? Did someone forget to point the exhaust pipe into the right direction? I complained. But what did the driver say? Oh! It will soon stop, please be calm. I have just changed the engine oil, and it is trying to adapt. Being peace-loving Nigerians, we calmed down. And there was no problem – except, of course, it didn’t stop and he said the same thing twenty minutes later, and another twenty, and another until we grew tired of asking.
As if that wasn’t enough, rather than apologise for his negligence, the driver preferred to lecture us on what true “NIgerianness” is. “You guys are just cowards, why are you so afraid?” he asked derisively in Yoruba. “One small thing, you are already shouting. Don’t you know this is Nigeria?”
The lady who sat at my back was extremely complacent – well, at first. She would excuse every shortcoming and plead with other passengers to understand; to forbear. When, before we left the park, a man threatened to leave (and eventually did leave) because of discomfort from a spare tyre left where his legs were meant to be, she took her time to placate. One would think she was relieved of payment or, at least, her transport fare was subsidised. But no. she paid in full just as everyone else.
Halfway into the journey, however, when one of the tyres suddenly lost weight, she became the most clamorous of all. The driver had threatened to abandon the bus when passengers offered, against his instruction, to get down so he could jack it up easily. By the way, he had to borrow the jack from another passing driver. So it had become obvious that the problem wasn’t just with the bus, but the bus driver too.
And the problem is not just with reckless Nigerian drivers, it is with the law enforcement agencies. I have come to conclude that, in truth, there are no police checkpoints in Nigeria. There are only tollgates manned by policemen. Three times, we passed by so-called checkpoints – one of them operated by the Federal Road Safety Commission – and with the bus looking like a Rastafarian straight from the smoking room. And at no time was the driver challenged as to the roadworthiness of his crate.
I recall on one of the occasions, the driver passed an instructive comment to another driver who was miles away from earshot – as is customary in Nigeria. “Why are you running?” he asked smugly, again in the local dialect. “Don’t you know these ones are not interested in chasing you? You have no problem with them as long as you hand them their ₦200.”
I got home that day cussing in my mind and with a headache that accompanied me to sleep. On October 1 2014, during a similar trip from Ibadan to Lagos, I had experienced what may be considered a worse set of circumstances. All three minibuses that I boarded – at Iwo Road, at Oshodi, and at Obalende – developed one fault or the other before they got to their destination; and we either had to find a new vehicle or our way.
The Nigerian would say that, in both instances, I was simply unlucky. But isn’t our good luck the daily breakfast of our rulers, who leave unfavourable odds as crumbs for us to feast upon? We even appointed a certain Goodluck only to be disappointed by an administrative, dramatic irony. Aren’t others luckier because they have the right set of leaders and a right attitude to politics?
No, my friends, we are not going to be safe and alive the next day “…in Jesus’ name” or “…by the grace of God.” The bridge is not going to not collapse “…by the grace of God.” The bus is not going to not have accident “…in the name of God.” We will be safe because we have helped ourselves. God did not create logic and the laws of physics only for us to cover our eyes like the proverbial ostrich and pray they make us an exception.
It is said and it is true that the first post-independence generation was the luckiest. The following generation was luckier. And I dare say that ours is not even lucky, we are Lucky – the household dog. Because that is how we are treated, like dogs in an animal kingdom. Sadly it is also how we react, docile and blindly loyal. And until we do something about it, to guarantee human dignity and security to every soul, rich or poor, I’m afraid everything in Nigeria is going to kill you.