I am one of the people who have understandingly given up on the Nigerian project. This mindset was developed many years ago out of the deliberate wickedness, recklessness and negligence of the so-called political leaders in Nigeria. I have always chosen to shut my eyes and ears towards what I see and hear about Nigeria. I feel better that way. You can call me a pessimist if you like.
I recently came into Nigeria after some years of academic and economic sojourn in the United Kingdom. Since my arrival, I have been to Abuja, Port Harcourt, and now back to my operational base-Lagos. I have observed so many inappropriate things about the attitude of our people and the political leadership in Nigeria. While I was away, I also read and heard a lot about the achievements of Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State. Visiting home was an opportunity for me to match what I have been reading and hearing with what is actually on ground. In fairness, there has been a remarkable infrastructural improvement on the status quo in Lagos. However, there are still so many basic things that are not in order in Lagos. Many of these things border on simple enforcement of law and discipline, which may not necessarily require significant financial commitment on the part of the government. My initial plan was to sit down and develop a report on my observations in Lagos with some salient recommendations to the government on how to achieve those. That report was intended to be handed over to Governor Fashola or his Chief of Staff.
While I was still struggling to spare some time out of my busy schedule for this report, the worst happened in Lagos, Nigeria. I was on my way to church yesterday morning (29th May, 2011-“democracy” day) between Onipanu and Fadeyi along Ikorodu road when I started perceiving a salty and foul smell. When I looked through the window of the vehicle, I saw a raging bonfire with some unburnt tyres kept beside there, and some men were standing a few meters from the bonfire watching. When I looked down properly, I saw the two legs of a human being in the fire being consumed up. The head and the body had obviously been burnt up. That was a criminal caught in the act of probably pocket-picking. My first natural reaction was a surprise-packed scream: “Why is Gov. Fashola allowing this? This is crazy!” The taxi driver conveying me was surprised at my outburst. To him, that was normal. He snapped: “na so naa, you see Fashola there?”. That bonfire sight immediately eroded all respect and regard I have for Gov. Fashola. It will take me almost an eternity to restore that.
Before now, a few people had informed me of this jungle justice currently going on in Lagos. I dismissed that with a wave of hand, thinking in my heart that Gov. Fashola is too enlightened for that type of barbaric act.
How wrong I was! It all boils down to the attitude of our people-which results from mass ignorance in the land- and failure of leadership at all levels of government in Nigeria. A Nigerian who pulls a petrol canister on his/her fellow citizen in the name of justice administration is obviously ignorant, uneducated and ill informed. The Nigerian government that has the overall responsibility to fight crime is in deep slumber; and so the people resorted to self-help. Some people call it double tragedy. If government had made any effort to guide the youth and provide employment, crime would have reduced drastically. Nobody talks to the youth, they are left to wander. I do not want to infuriate myself further by talking about the Nigerian Police. I consider it an absolute waste of time talking about them. The Nigerian judiciary that has the sole mandate of appropriating punishment for such crime is currently ridden with corruption. A few days ago, there was a media report on the dismissal of a Judge for accepting a bribe of N200, 000.00. That was just a tip of the iceberg in the nation’s judiciary. By the way, what has happened to community sentencing? Do Nigerian Judges know about community sentencing at all? A community sentence is a situation where a Judge orders a person to do some kind of environmental sanitation for a certain number of hours as punishment for a minor crime such as pocket-picking, minor traffic offence, use of abusive language and aggressive behavior, etc. This could be picking up papers/litters along the street, which must be supervised. Community sentencing is very much in force in the UK and it’s quite admirable by residents over there. At times, a judge could give an option of fine or community sentence. Is there any meeting point between community sentencing and the jungle justice in Lagos state?
I doubt if the Nigerian media ever reports such jungle justice currently going in Lagos, yet they call themselves the watchdog and conscience of the society.
Time and space will not allow me to write extensively on this, but I have made my point. Moreover, I know that this report will not get the Lagos state government to put a stop on this barbarism. I am only writing this to place myself on the good sides of posterity. I want to be counted as one of those who spoke against evil while it persisted in the land. And I have done just exactly that. The only thing needed for evil to thrive is for good men to keep quiet and do nothing.
The Nigerian government has always been quick to dismiss reports of Transparency International and other watchdog organizations on corruption and extra judicial killings. I am not surprised at such hasty dismissals. It is true to type. Nobody recorded that killing yesterday. I feel pained that I was not able to get a photograph of that scene, but one thing I can assure Lagos and the Nigerian governments is that an excerpt of this report will be forwarded to Transparency International and the UN commission on Human Rights. As far as I am convinced, that bonfire incident was inexcusable, undemocratic, wicked, barbaric, unbelievable, atrocious, and unthinkable, ill-informed and above, depicts the height of ignorance and backwardness in contemporary Nigeria. I feel very sad and ashamed to be a Nigerian passport holder.
Since yesterday’s incident has forced me to write, let me use this opportunity to highlight one or two things about my observation in Lagos; no matter how peripheral it could be at this stage. Moving round Lagos, I have since noticed that commercial motor cycle operators commonly known as ‘Okada’ riders are mere highways to death; and the Lagos government is watching this unchecked. It is not enough to introduce the use of helmet on commercial motorcycles. The enforcement has not been total. One can still see many passengers not putting on the helmet. It appears it’s optional for passengers and compulsory for the riders. It should not be so. It should be compulsory for everybody on the motorcycle. Many passengers refuse the helmet on the excuse that it is for public use and may give them infection on the head. My take on this is that they should place hand towel on their head before placing the helmet; or better still, buy a small size helmet, keep it in their bags, offices or cars, and use it each time they want to board a bike. Some may consider this inconveniencing, but no price is too big to pay for health and safety. Again, I notice that many passengers and riders who put on the helmet do not properly buckle it round their chin. They merely hang it on their head. Incase of any accident, the helmet will simply fall off and the head will be left exposed. Many of the helmets given to the passengers have no buckle. That initiative has since turned to business as usual, just for camouflage to ride pass the law enforcement agents. The government has to look into this.
More disturbing is the alcoholism of commercial bus drivers and ‘Okada’ riders. This contributes largely to the reckless loss of lives in Lagos roads. It is very common to perceive strong alcohol smell oozing out from the body of bus drivers and ‘Okada’ riders. It surprises me that Nigerian passengers sit down comfortably in these buses and motorbikes without any query for the driver. They are always in hurry to get to their destination, so it does not matter if the driver is drunk or not. Can the Lagos state government please tell us what the legal alcohol limit is for ‘Okada’ riders, commercial bus drivers and even private car drivers and motorcycle riders? In the UK, there are alcohol legal limits for everybody on the road- car/bus drivers, motorbike and bicycle riders, horse riders, etc. The British Police is always on the road with breath analyzers. They randomly pull drivers or riders and breath-test them for the amount of alcohol in their blood. There are strict penalties for offenders. Would it cost heaven and earth for the Lagos state government to purchase breath analyzers for the Police in Lagos and other wardens on the road? The mere mention of the programme in Lagos will put fear into the drivers and riders and they will control themselves. I will not have the time to delve into the recklessness with which Okada drivers operate. Speed limits do not exist in their dictionary. They do not know use of side mirrors. I find it unbelievable that under the watch of Governor Fashola, ‘Okada’ riders do not obey traffic light in Lagos. Infact, it is an opportunity for them to move on whenever the red light stops the vehicles. In the UK, bicycle riders obey traffic light not to talk of motorbikes.
Why is it that Motorcycle riders in Lagos do not wear the yellow high visibility vest? Those vests make them highly visible to the vehicle drivers and so reduce the accidents significantly. Enforcement of the high visibility wears will not cost the government any resources. It is simply to announce it and get the road wardens and police to enforce it. It may not cost more than N500.00 to purchase a yellow visibility vest. Lagos state government with their house addresses and other personal details should register the ‘Okada’ riders. They should be made to attend seminars regularly where the state government will talk to them about road safety and related topics. They should be made responsible for any passenger that got injured on their bike. And they should start paying taxes to government. It is not enough for them to buy some daily tickets from touts. Once these are done, you will see a good level of responsibility from the Okada riders.
The road-sweeping programme of Lagos state is quite commendable. But, I must observe the lapses in the health and safety aspect of it. Sometime ago, I read reports of how many road sweepers that were killed on the road. I feel sad each time I see those road sweepers on the third mainland bridge. In developed countries, you don’t put human beings in such busy and dangerous roads. They use road-sweeping trucks. Those trucks start work around 2am and leave the road around 4am for people to use the road. You only put humans on less busy roads like the streets. Would it cost billions of dollars to purchase a few road-sweeping trucks for Lagos, at least for busy areas like the third mainland bridge and other such places? Many of those Lagos road sweepers use just bathroom slippers to work. Can’t they be given work boots? They are being overworked. Lagos residents are still being allowed to litter the streets at will while the street sweepers labour in vain. In the UK, litter-bins are scattered all over the country, so that people can put their litters while on the road. The environmental wardens give people who refuse to use the litter-bins and drop litters on the roads spot fines of about 60 pounds. I have not seen such litter bins in Lagos roads. It will not cost heaven and earth to purchase thousands of plastic litter-bins for Lagos roads. After that, a task force should be inaugurated to enforce spot fines for environmental offenders.
There are still issues of security cameras, speed cameras, speed limits, transportation in Lagos, but those will be for another day. During the electioneering period in Lagos, I noticed the indiscriminate pasting of campaign posters in the city, which never helped the aesthetics of the state. This discourse is for another day anyway.
Before I log off, let me drop a word for Jonathan who was inaugurated yesterday as the President of Nigeria. I believe the election that brought him was reasonably free and fair. That means power is now in the hands of the electorate. Jonathan will be making a grievous mistake if he thinks this is another opportunity to assemble vultures and criminals in the name of PDP members and continue with the destruction of the country, which PDP had been doing in the last 12 years. Let me warn Jonathan that if he ignores the tears and cries of helpless Nigerians this time around, he will surely die on the throne. A word is enough for the wise. God bless Nigeria.
CHUKWUEMEKA NUDUM is an Engineering Consultant and has written in from Lagos, Nigeria.