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October 16, 2006

Lives on our Roads: In the Hands of our Vulture Class

by Farouk Martins, Omo Aresa --- Our roads are so bad, they claim so many unreported lives as a result of foreseeable accidents. Even more dreadful are deaths at the hands of robbers and armed forces. There are very few people in Nigeria that has not been accosted by gun flinging policemen or witness a case.

My experience during the war at face to face with the barrel of the gun during a soldier’s spot check still leaves a disgusting memory. A few years ago, my wife also saw a pointed gun up close. We heard about school children being shot aimlessly because drivers did not submit to 20 Naira bribe. Appalled, a visiting friend was slapped so hard two years ago by a soldier, passersby had to calm him down for his own sake.

The total lack of respect for the sanctity of live bothers every human being, even those who perpetrated these massacres of their fellow citizens. But a few rationalize it as pay back, or the problem of the other guys. Well, police are now killing one another, soldiers are killing police and we are now renting ammunition from them to kill one another. It is fair to ask about the type of Country we live in. Has killing become so habitual on our roads that it is no more a big deal in our Country?

Roads were not that great in those days either, but with fewer vehicles we can safely travel from Lagos to Kano or Onitsha without the fear we express these days. Not only the fear of accidents or robbers but also at the hands of those who are supposed to keep us safe. When I read about the eye witness death of Mr. Victor Okonkwo, the Atiku security aide, all my fears came back again. As if we do not have enough problems, jealousy amongst police can be easily manipulated into political killing between Ali Baba and the forty thieves, ethnic killing or turf fight. It is a good example that if we wait until air crashes to cry out in the form of National disaster, Nigerians will never appreciate peaceful driving. We take lives of others too casual because it is not ours but then, ours are next. We maneuver to avoid pot holes, accidents, armed robbers, police and soldier.

Road contracts are the easiest and one of the most common forms of corruption in our Country. It goes to friends, relatives and dear selves. Newly constructed roads are not passable and maintenance is almost non-existence. Though we have discovered solar street lights in a few model villages, one would think that it would be nationally applied to our roads for safety and security. But when friends, relatives and dear selves refuse to deliver quality roads, are we surprised that it is those friends, relatives and selves that die on our roads? Yoruba say “ipa npa arare, oloun npa aja.” Indirect self-annihilation.

People ask all the time why black people are so wicked to one another. If we can not love, give and take, and respect our precious lives, how can anyone that we claim we are related to outside our continent respect us? I have for many years struggled with the same question and it boils down to comparative poverty. Not only will I never be poor again, my children and grandchildren and their greats will never be poor again. See how we selfishly fool ourselves? Some of us live in these fabulous houses but once we step out onto the street, it is right into the rubbish filled gutters and death-trapped roads again.

Comparative poverty can create different meaning for different people. I have seen cash driven poverty in the southern part of USA that I have never seen in Africa. Yet, they do not realize how poor they were until they come up north. Life can be rich, peaceful and loving with family and friends around us. A simple life does not mean a poor life. Until we compare our lives with others, we do not realize how poor or rich we are.

Growing up in Nigeria in those days, I thought we were very rich. Rich? We had to share a room with relatives’ and friends’ kids. Children of our parent’s friends who went to schools near our house live with us in the same room for boys or for girls–(No way Jose!) Sometimes, we switched houses, especially during holidays. I still remember that I stopped eating in the same plate with my cousin because he used to “short my ration”. All we eat is rice, rice and gari, in combination with beans and stews. Meat and fish, oh yes, but I preferred isan (ligament) or ora (fat). We disliked amola and iyan that has become my favorite food now. We loved sausages, bacon, butter and ora that I now consider poisons. We loved sara – “eyin omo kekeke ewa je sara!” Children, children, it is time for food party. Nobody at home knew I ate sara. Omo okele. So what made me think we were rich?

We were comparing ourselves to other children, what they wore and what they brought or did not bring to school. Some of these children turned out far better than us, while some of us fell by the way side depending on rents if the inherited houses have not been sold. Generally, Africans pray that the next generation do better. The parents or children of depression teach the next generation how to manage the little they have. The vulture class is different; they want to make sure nobody but them do better. Unfortunately, the poorly trained, unlettered and uninformed ones are some of the ones swearing that their children and greats will never be poor again.

Our fore-bearers were very concerned about animals and their environment. They have certain ceremonies they perform when our animals and environment are desecrated. This is what we see in the western countries these days. The rational behind it is not necessarily out of sympathy for the animals or our environment but for us. If our surrounding is threatened and marked for extinction, we are next. Do unto others as you want others to do unto us have both religious and historical meaning.

So when I see soldiers ruling the Country and policemen killing and assaulting us on the street, I wonder if they are paying us back from the years of neglect and humiliations we used to subject them to. Our vulture class relishes the position they find themselves today and are willing to do anything to retain it. We may be going through some sort of silent revolution without realizing it. Hooligans control our transport, our roads. However, if they did not like what we did to them or how we used to look down on them, what makes them think we like what they are doing to us now? It is a vicious circle that has to stop.

When was the last time the vulture class respect Sultan, Oba or Obi? If they become too independent, they are dethroned. Rankadede has no permanent loyalty. Abinibi is different from ability. That is, those who were born with silver spoon in their mouth are different from those who pull themselves up through the barrel of the gun and those are different from those who pull themselves up by their boot straps. Our roads can be dangerous to your seemingly exalted position. It is not the place for settling of old scores.

Farouk Martins, Omo Aresa

Posted by Administrator at October 16, 2006 11:21 AM


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