REPAIR WORK OF KWADDAGARA
I am not disrespecting Democracy Day, but I want you to imagine Nigeria to be a 25-year old molue bus that is still plying the roads of a congested city even though its Certificate of Roadworthiness expired more than a decade ago. I cannot blame our Chief Driver for not seeking a renewal; no VIO in his right senses will issue this molue with one.
Already, in this molue, the steering wheel is loose; the brake system's master cylinder is leaking; the release bearing is creaking; the passenger seats have been reduced to mere iron rods; the tyres are worn out; the lower arm and ball joints are bent; the chassis is broken; the shaft is creaking; the back axle has not been greased for a decade; the gear box has spilled all its oil; the kick starters' bushings and brushes are worn out; its solenoid switch is too hot; the spark plugs are sputtering; the battery is not charging; the water pump is leaking; the radiator is overheating; the hammer has to be cleaned with sand paper; there are no headlights, brake lights or trafficators; the rings are long gone and it is puffing smoke; the crankshaft has been cut to 0-20, and recently the time chain cut and bent the valves.
Anyway, since this is the only bus we and our future generations have got, we have to stick around and salvage it, so a year ago we appointed a Chief Driver/Mechanic with 36 assistant driver/mechanics for a term of 4 years. While the Chief Driver took control of the steering wheel, each assistant driver/mechanic controls one part of the molue. Tomorrow marks one year since this motley crew took over the reins of our molue, so it is time to assess how they have been performing. Although a few of them are working diligently, many molue passengers are expressing misgivings about the work of most of the driver/repairmen after one quarter of the journey has been covered.
After we negotiated the first roundabout in the trip, rumours swept the passenger cabin that the Chief Driver's driving license was obtained from touts and that he went to a roadside driving school. Before his election as Chief Driver, he said he had a 'transformation agenda' for the old molue. But when he opened his repairman's kit, he didn't have any hammer, 13-ring spanner or Swiss Army knife. All he had was a booklet about removing subsidy and increasing bus fares. Back in 1977, when I did student vacation job at the Public Service Commission in Sokoto, my oga the chief clerk used to say whenever I failed to 'BU', i.e. bring up a file that 'you are not wiser than the man who sold his farm and bought fertilizer.' I am not saying our Chief Driver is like that.
Imagine, the House of Passengers conducted a probe into the bus fares/subsidy scam and found that some of the men who sit with the Chief Driver in the bus' cockpit were implicated, but he simply opened the glove compartment and dumped the report. Is he wiser than the fisherman who sold his fishing net and bought a few fish lings? In fact, our Chief Driver had promptly suspended a bus conductor when the Passengers' Judicial Council recommended it. However, when the same council recommended his reinstatement, Chief Driver said he won't do so because there is an on-going court case on the issue. The fact that the court case was there when he suspended him in the first place is lost on Chief Driver. He relied on the advice of the molue's Minister of Justice, who is not wiser than the man who sold a house and bought bricks and paint.
Anyway, look at this Assistant Driver/Mechanic who during this short trip, committed a huge amount of money to clear a hill that he said was blocking the view of a motor park before the Chief Driver can successfully drive the molue into it. The contract for clearing the hill was also awarded to his godfather who is doing time in a British prison for laundering the money meant for buying molue spare parts. I think he is not wiser than the man who sold his car and bought petrol.
Or look at this Assistant Driver in charge of the goods compartment. He allowed the Passengers' Council there to commit a large amount of money from bus fares to pay pension to former mechanics who once headed the goods compartment. The goods compartment of this molue did not even exist when some of them were the heads. He is not wiser than the man who sold his donkey and bought a tying rope. Or look at his counterpart in charge of the rear view and side mirrors. Since we put him in charge there, he spent the last one year building a Kim Il-Sung-like cult of personality. He forced all the mechanics under him to wear white robes and red caps like so many ozo titled chiefs. In fact, he went so far as to write his name on the windscreen, side screens and even the roof of the molue, saying he deserved credit for the repair work he did.
Then there is this absentee Assistant Driver/Mechanic that we put in charge of the tyres. No one ever saw him gauging the tyres or rolling up the jack. During this short journey, he sneaked out of the molue and went for umrah in Saudi Arabia every time we reached a major junction. Is he wiser than the man who sold his cow and bought a bowl of milk? Even his counterpart in charge of balancing and alignment, look at what he did. Instead of keeping his eyes fixed on the tyres, he saw some tribesmen quarrelling and he went and intervened. Meanwhile the tyre got full of air and the tube exploded. Imagine! He is not wiser than the man who sold his horse and bought a saddle.
Or look at this Assistant Driver/Mechanic in charge of the molue's first aid boxes. Because of a dispute with the molue health officers he sacked all of them, forgetting that when two elephants fight, it is the grass, I mean passengers in the molue that get trodden. Is he wiser than the man who sold his stove and bought kerosene? Even the Assistant Driver in charge of the molue's bonnet, who asked him to rename it American-style from Bonnet State as provided for in the molue constitution to State of Bonnet as in 'State of California'? This man forgot what Kenya's Attorney General Charles Njonjo once said in Parliament when the great writer James Ngugi changed his name to Ngugi wa Thiong'o. 'Some people who are teaching in this faculty think if you call yourself Kamau wa Njoroge, you are a very important person. You no longer call yourself James Kamau…' Is he wiser than the man who sold his tape recorder and bought a cassette?
Look, even this Assistant Driver who questioned the Almighty God's timing in making him the assistant driver at a time when his own tribesmen were thrown off the bus, is he wiser than the man who sold his telephone handset and bought a recharge card? What kind of driving and repair work have these men been doing? Maybe they have a different kind of repair from the one we asked them to do. When I think about some of them, they remind me of Kwaddagara, the skilled but mentally unstable man who used to walk through the avenues of our hometown, carrying a box of nails and seeking work. As children, whenever we saw Kwaddagara approaching, we broke into a song:
Kwaddagara gyara min kafa
[Kwaddagara, repair my foot]
'Ni gyaran gambu ni iya'
[Me I can only repair doors]
'Kaima uwarka ta gyara maka'
[Take it to your mother to repair for you]
'Kaima ubanka ya gyara maka'
[Or take it to your father to repair it for you].