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Metaphors of Dysfunction- by Emmanuel Franklyne Ogbunwezeh


For long have I loved Nigerian roads like a bat loves daylight. We are mutually exclusive hermits on parallel universes. She does not abhor me as much as I dread her. I harbour a platonic dread of her. My fears of her are not some unfounded paranoia of a surrogate neurotic. Neither are they the tired projections of a mind schooled in fear. The Nigerian road is a fearful place. It is a paradise of death and dysfunction. It is a place to fear, and a rotten metaphor of all that is wrong with Nigeria. It is the rawest state of nature, which would have confounded the sharp faculties of Thomas Hobbes. Here the fear of violent death is not only a possibility, but a very real fact. Cadavers of defunct automobiles slumbering in derelict unconcern by the waysides, readily testifies to the tragic dimensions of this possibility. They litter the landscape, not only paying silent homage to the thousands of lives that met their existential waterloo on these roads; but also testifying to the dysfunctionality of our government and the incomprehensible apathy of our people.

The Nigerian road is not only a sure 'road' to death; it is the most insecure part of the Nigerian experience. The major furniture of its being is its unpredictability. Anything can happen on the Nigerian road. If you are not killed by the government-approved and tax-payer's equipped robbers on the highway, the freelancers frustrated by a life of poverty and hopelessness, would degrade your humanity and even deprive you of your life. You could either be killed by a trigger happy policeman for your slowness in paying a 20 naira bribe at a road block, or be cut down by robbers operating majestically and unmolested a few meters away from the police road block. When these did not get you, a drunken, half-blind, steering another car in the opposite or in the same direction may get you. Where these fail, a damaged Trailer packed in the middle of road without any warning signs may suddenly appear in front of you, as you accelerate, without any possibility of braking or steering clear of it. If you escape these ones, you may run into a herd of 'federal troops', being haphazardly driven across the road by their Fulani herders, without any warning. If you showed deftness in escaping these ones, the officials cows of our state, acting like drunk paragons of infernal impunity; armed with their sirens would stampede you off the road to make way for a rich thief, or a public official that got into office by stealing our mandate. If you survive these bad spirits the ultimate king of the road-the pothole may hurl your vehicle into the opposite lane, if you dare speed on these roads. During the rainy season, the sizes of some of these potholes would get Nigeria the nod to host the swimming event of any Olympic games.

Little wonder then that Nigerians suffuse heaven with prayers at the onset of any journey, as our motor-parks and buses turn into makeshift churches, where prayers are fired to heaven with an understandably laughable fatalism. Why wouldn't they pray to allay their fears? Nobody trusts anything on the Nigerian road. The driver whom you paid to ferry you to your destination may be in concert with a robbery gang waiting at a turn in the journey to dispossess you of all that you have on you. The passenger sharing the same seat with you, and praying like there is no tomorrow before the journey may be an armed robber in the most proximate potency, waiting for the bus to leave the station to commence his dastard occupation. The list is endless. This explains why Nigerians readily commit themselves and their fears to the hands of heaven, before they embark on any journey, instead of holding their leaders to their responsibilities.

I dread the Nigerian road. She is the summary of all that is wrong with our commonweal. She is a semi-asphalted jungle of potholes with a canopy of bestiality that confounds the dials of every rational compass. No navigational aid ever succeeds in assaulting the walls of its reinforced impenetrability. The participants here are animals of the jungle; there either to prey or be preyed upon. No inkling of civilization is anywhere in sight on this huge stretch of unscrupulous potholes. It was to this macadamized academy of terror-where drunks sit behinds wheels, and frustrated half-blinds pummel the gas pedal, as if there is a prize to be won by killing oneself and taking as many human sacrifices as possible on one's way to oblivion- that I lost my brother, Christopher Ogbunwezeh, on the 3rd of October, 2009.

If you doubt what you are reading here, simply ask the Molue-drivers. If you are in doubt of their submissions, just sit by and watch the Okada riders ply their dare-devilry. One comes away with the impression that most of these guys are simply suicidal folks, who instead of going home to hang themselves, have sworn in their anger, and are making an extraordinary effort in that regard, to hand over the unpalatable task of killing them, to whomever it may concern on the Nigerian road. The way many of them handle their bikes in the Nigerian traffic renders no other construction plausible, save that they are simply tired of life; but wouldn't just die without a bang; and to that effect are begging and clamouring for someone to kill them. They are among the greatest temptation on the Nigerian road. They are Lords of the marshes; towering above every rule and law.

Our roads are the evidence of a society at an eminent stage of putrefaction. Lagos traffic for instance is a signature tune of a society slumbering away its potentials in an eternal nightmare. The amount of man-hours we waste sitting in traffic hold-ups that are easily avoidable would make one weep for our country. Watching Nigerians drive is a surreal movie that no genius can ever replicate. It seems that Nigerians don't learn how to drive. Anyone who can get a car to move back and forward qualifies himself for the onerous responsibility of bringing himself safely to his destination, without killing and maiming others in the process. There are no driving schools in Nigeria. The ones that used to be there were officially neglected out of existence, or patronized with absolute disdain and dereliction. In Nigeria, they are dinosaurs. No one needs them. There are no curricula for driving. You can even buy a car without having a driver's license in Nigeria. You can buy a license without ever sitting behind the wheels of a car to do some testing. Traffic regulations may be in our statute books, but even most Policemen and traffic wardens do not know the rules that should apply on the roads. Tell me how the motorists and road users are expected to obey rules that are foreign to the officers charged with seeing to their implementation. I observed severally that the Nigerian Police at checkpoints check the driving license of motorists only when one proves recalcitrant in paying them some bribe.

Over and above that, the Nigerian road is the largest curse and swear-park that exists anywhere in the world. Every Nigerian driver seems to be angry and impatient. They curse, swear, and are ready at a moment's notice to abandon the steering wheels of their vehicles to exchange fisticuffs, while holding-up other road users for hours without qualms, until their anger is appeased. Why wouldn't they, when our elected parliamentarians readily turn the house of laws into the Madison Square Garden, where Mike Tyson is ever ready to bite off Holyfield's ear. Nigerians being so very religious, even invite the various gods of their diseased religions to visit harm and thunder-strike on the other road user for daring to take his right of way. Listening to Nigerian drivers curse and swear at others, leaves one with the impression that there is a special school for learning how to curse. If cursing and swearing is to be a discipline, every Nigerian driver would hold a PhD, Summa cum Laude.

Cursing and swearing on the Nigerian road is a transgender experience. Women as well as men curse for their lives. One then wonders what kids are expected to learn from such an ambient, where the buccal cavities are primed by their owners, to generate faecal matter that not only injure others, but diminish them. Some of them even curse, swear and use words in front of kids, which would attract the grading “parental advisory”, were it to be on an electronic medium. They give no hoot about the terrible example they are handing over to the next generation. All they care about is to give it to the other guy.

No one talks security on the Nigerian roads. Damaged vehicles are left in the middle of the roads without warning signs to other road users. The worst culprits here are Haulage Lorries and other big vehicles. This is worse at nights, on stretches were visibility, due to the lack of traffic lights, is poor; and on sharp curves and bending(s) that are extremely dangerous. Need we talk about the use of seatbelts? In Lagos State, I observed that the motorists are paying lip service to it in spite of the efforts of the authorities to implement that. Nigerian motorists are yet to realise that seatbelts are included by the manufacturers for the safety of the occupants of the car, and not necessarily for the sake of the authorities, who wish that you safeguard yourself.

The same goes for Okada operators and their passengers. The use of crash helmets has being promulgated across many states in Nigeria, but that is a joke for the Okada operators and their patrons. Most of these Nigerians, in their ignorance-laden feelings of religious sheepishness, feel that “it is not their portions to die by Okada accident”, while at the same time doing everything within their powers to diminish their chances of survival in the event of such an accident. Such foolishness confounds all rational approximations. Yet Igbobi and Orthopaedic hospital Enugu and various morgues across Nigeria continue to refute these pseudo-religious stupidities. One wonders how God will waste his precious time saving those who make extraordinary efforts to kill themselves. Would that not be an infringement on the fundamental freedom of choice he gave us at creation? But some Nigerians, being smart by half, have through some strange alchemy of ignorance and credulity come to believe that once they have prayed before jumping on a bike, they can as well forget the crash helmet; and that in the event of an accident, that „no machinations of the evil one will then touch him”; and the weapons fashioned against him will not prosper”. I nearly died of shock and disbelief as I listened to some Nigerians tender this cocktail of theological nonsense as their excuse for not wearing the crash helmet while riding on Okada.

What can I say?

Every society is entitled to its superstitions and fatalistic stupidities. It is their fundamental right. No one should bomb them into submissions for clutching to their dysfunctionalities. They should not be exterminated, or their memories cremated out of existence because of their beliefs, which may radically challenge rationality in most instances. But the difference between societies on the path to greatness and their opposites are there to be seen. The ones on the path to development consign the role of these corrugated infantilisms to their proper place; namely to story books designed to challenge juvenile imaginations, scare the young into virtue, and make kids go to bed early. The ones condemned to the miry pits of retrogression, nourish these inane indiscretions; celebrate these futilities, mythologize them, canonize these illiberal creations of human imagination as facts; and elevate them to the ontological level, where they supplant reality. The fact is not only that these societies swallow these fictions. They are imprisoned in them. Anyone who challenges this conceptual slavery is condemned to a reputational hemlock existentially deadlier than that consumed by Socrates to appease Athenian ignorance.

This is not an apologia contra religion. I have nothing against religion. To be an African is to be religious. There is nothing fundamental wrong about religion since the human mind remains a finite reality. Religion fills a gap in the long chain of puzzles that we characterise as existence. Religion is a part of our social existence, and never the whole of it. But to abandon all other dimensions of existence, and abandon one's reason to the capricious wiles of religious thieves, who are worse than the religion-less ones is really the albatross of modern Africa. That is what irks my sensibilities to the fact that Nigerians would abide thieves in their leadership and pray for miracles that would transform their roads into good ones, without anybody lifting a finger to do a thing about it. This sheepish and idiotic dereliction of our social duties in obedience to some pseudo-theologies peddled by dangerous charlatans has conspired with other social pathologies to configure Nigeria roads into a crematorium of endless lives and dreams.

Some pronounced portals of dysfunction on the Nigerian road could be seen in the following:

1. Infrastructure and Facilities The roads we have in Nigeria today were colonial museum pieces. They were the ones built by the colonial masters to facilitate their exploitation and pacification of the hinterland. They were never built to facilitate the economic and social development of the country they raped and plundered. It was a short-term need sired by short term greed. Over and above the victimological narrative, colonialism could be forgiven but never excused for its myopia. But the greatest condemnation is reserved not for the idiocy of those that raped one's mother, it is for those sons of the house, who under the pretext of rescuing the mother and restoring their violated honour, pushed the rapists off their mother's bosom, only for them to climb it and continued the rape. The foreigners raped the mother. Their crime is only that of rape. But the sons' case is more tragic. It is not only rape. It is rape compounded by incest. I wonder how Freud would have covered this in his psychoanalytical approximations. That is the case of Nigerian politicians since independence. They followed the trajectory of those who came to exploit us. And nothing proves that our governments simply stepped into the shoes of our colonial oppressors and continued from where they stopped, more than the fact that the roads they inherited were left like they were. Nothing was done to improve on it or diversify this means of transport. Some State administrators charged with such responsibilities simply went on a deceptive jamboree rehabilitating those old colonial paths, and using the rest of the not –yet-embezzled-funds to sing the praises of their administration in the media; all in a cult of personality and hero worship gone awry.

Many Nigerian governments have not built new roads since independence. That explains why there is only one expressway leading from Enugu to Port Harcourt in the 21st century. And once anything happens to that stretch, transport is laid prostrate. In other countries, each major city has 3 to 4 multiple carriage way autobahns linking them. There is never a time when all of them would need repairs at the same time. This same economic stupidity is what explains why we have only a single bridge across the River Niger at Onitsha. The Main River in Frankfurt has as many bridges crossing it than we have all over Africa. In spite of the economic advantages of governments embarking on big projects to stimulate their economy and send the population to work as well articulated in Keynesian economics, no Nigerian government has ever set out and implemented a plan that would not only have built our roads and other public utilities, but would have also created jobs and employment for the teeming unemployed Nigerian youths, whose talents are lying fallow, waiting for the next criminal enterprise to berth on their horizon, and conscript or co-opt their time, talents, and frustrations for the devils workshop.

Germany is a country criss-crossed by Autobahns. In fact driving on German Autobahns is an experience that is to be lived to be appreciated. Nigerian leaders have visited Germany so many times, and have seen what good planning; honest application of resources and accountability could do to uplift a country. Yet they come back home and continue to perpetuate the rot that Nigerian infrastructure has become. President Yar Adua has been a guest and a patient of the HSK hospital in Wiesbaden for a long time. He lands at the Frankfurt airport, whenever he comes for checkups, and is driven on the Autobahn from Frankfurt to Wiesbaden. I believe he sees and appreciates the convenience he enjoys on these roads. The question then becomes, which road project has this man initiated and seen to its conclusion since he became Nigeria's president? How far has he gone in trying to translate the experiences he gained in his travels abroad to his charge in Nigeria?

Before I am accused of being mentally colonised by my copious citation of the German experience, I must submit that goodness wherever it is found is a pan-human attribute that is not parochially native to a particular section of the human community. It is a universal good to which any human person could aspire or subscribe to. If German roads are wonderful, they are wonderful because human beings made them so. We could emulate them and build upon it to make ours better in consonance with our environmental needs. A veritable example here is the Chinese. The Chinese sent their citizens all over the world to see and copy the progress that others have recorded in their long histories and social processes. These guys left the Chinese mainland armed with cameras. They went, they saw, they copied. And today, China is now the factory of the world. They could replicate any product from anywhere. They needed no permission from anyone to develop. They believed that human achievements are the collective heritage of the human family. They were ready to copy and improve on the prototype they copied. This explains why all the I-phones in the world are produced in China. Every product that anyone anywhere uses today has some Chinese imprint. The Chinese economy benefits, the living standard improves and everybody is well off for it.

What about Nigerian leadership? They visit countries where there is uninterrupted power supply. What do they do on coming home? They subscribe to the sabotage of power production in Nigeria, by embezzling the funds mapped thereto; getting themselves on the payrolls of the “Generator” Mafia, that makes killings out of importing substandard electric generating sets into Nigeria; and then export the proceeds of their inglorious vocations to these climes where power never fails. Yar Adua on coming to power promised to declare a state of emergency in the power sector, just like Obasanjo before him declared that there would be no sacred cows in his fight against corruption. 2 years after that inglorious verbal diarrhoea, we don't have power in Nigeria, and we don't have a state of emergency declared in the power sector. Instead, we have a Power Holding Company of Nigeria, which is a beehive of intractable corruption and mismanagement. I would not go into the evil perpetrated by the Obasanjo administration in spending over16billion dollars of the Nigerian people's money in that sector only to succeed in generating pitch darkness. Back to the roads: I have not about heard any commission of inquiry probing what Tony Anenih did with over 300 Billion naira he allegedly spent on federal roads in Nigeria during OBJ's tenure. Obasanjo and the present leadership should come out and tell Nigerians that Anenih was “settled” with that money for his troubles in smuggling Obasanjo into power in 2003.

Before I am equally accused of being out of touch with the Nigerian reality for residing abroad, I need to state the fact that I left Nigeria a few days ago; and I took ample time during my stay to see for myself what the situation on the ground is. I went to Nigeria not only to bury a brother, but also to bury some exilic naiveté, that compels one to pontificate on expired issues of his native acquaintance, from the perspectives of his present exile. What met me during my sojourn in Nigeria bespeaks of the resilience of the Nigerian people and the arrant irresponsibility of Nigerian leadership. I challenge anyone to come out with evidence to the contrary.

In Enugu and Lagos States for instance, one could see some positive movements in infrastructural development. I applaud the Governors of these states, and urge that more needs to be done in marking the newly rehabilitated roads and putting ample traffic signs on them to guide motorists and other road users. I equally urge that there needs to be a little improvement in our road planning. The roads in Nigeria have no place for pedestrians, bicycles users or for the disabled. I think that this is a hangover of our colonial past, which should be addressed immediately. The world of today is talking about environmental friendly means of transportation. Bicycles and pedestrian paths should be a veritable part of every road construction or rehabilitation effort. We should equally consult our humanity by thinking about how to improve the lives of the disabled in our midst. They have never been parts of our infrastructural planning. I was at Nnamdi Azikiwe Stadium in Enugu during the FIFA U-17 World cup, and I could not see any section of the Stadium dedicated to our disabled fellow citizens on wheel chairs. I am yet to see a toilet or a public building that has special carriage ways for wheelchairs throughout my stay in Enugu. I think that should be included in government's policy. It is unthinkable that such simple niceties taken for granted all over the world are luxuries in an Africa that prides herself in her humanity and sense of community principles.

Furthermore, I observed that most of our newly rehabilitated roads are dedicated testaments to concrete and coal tar. That should be a part of roads no doubt. But that should not be the whole of it. Roads should not only testify to human mastery of non-material objects, they must equally pay homage to nature, function and human felicity. This will save them from becoming drab monotonies devoid of environmentally sound additions that would give it life, character and ecological integrity. Those roads seemed to be planned without recourse to the role of trees and flowers in a healthy human environment. Nature gave us trees as the greatest purifier of the air we breathe. It takes in the Carbon dioxides that human activity produces in our endeavour to civilize and progress, uses it to produce food and fruits that may well feed us, and does us the great favour of giving us back pure oxygen, that ventilates our lungs and keeps our environment fresh. I wonder why our city planners seem to be ignorant of this simple fact. It is a pity that spaces that should be used for trees and flowers beside the roads, are sold off to traders to build shops that are nothing but dangerous eyesores that insult environmental integrity; constituting not only nuisance on the roads, but equally dangers to the road users. The Governments of Fashola and Chime in Enugu and Lagos States respectively are doing a great job. But they should look into these dimensions mentioned here.

2. Behaviour and individual responsibility on the roads

Quite in contradistinction to Rousseau's convictions that man is born free, but everywhere in chains, it seems to me that the Hobbesian “homo homini lupus” is the operative nature of man in a lawless society. Nigeria is a veritable example. Laws are not operative to furthest thresholds of scandalous impunity. In this purview, the petty thief dies for his pettiness, i.e. for being petty in thieving; for setting his eyes so low, or for being compelled by gastronomic emergency to go for the down low to ensure his survival. When he is caught, he pays with his life either at the hands of an angry mob, whose frustrations desire an outlet, that is easily found in hanging a tyre around his neck and dispatching him as a holocaust to our collective heritage of failures; or at the hands of rogue policemen, that extra judicially execute them without recourse to any laws.

But once a rich man, or a politician sweeps the state treasury clean in a radical redefinition of embezzlement, like James Ibori did in Delta State, Peter Odili in Rivers State, Lucky Igbinedion in Edo, Joshua Dariye in Plateau, Chimaroke Nnamani in Enugu, and the rest of them; or when Andy Ubah becomes a trillionaire doing nothing save waking Obasanjo from his chronic slumber, while Nigeria burnt, or when Obasanjo throw 16 billion dollars to the winds to generate darkness for Nigerians; or when Tony Anenih mismanaged 300 billion naira; or when Andy Ubah laundered money using Nigeria's presidential jet; he is awarded a Doctoral degree honoris causa by a Nigerian university like Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka did to Andy Ubah, who has already crowned himself a Dr. in a process that was terminally allergic to the character and academic rigour associated with such a title; and invited to deliver a lecture at the University's convocation ceremony like UNIBEN did to James Ibori, even while he had criminal proceedings bordering on his integrity and corruption going on simultaneously in two continents. If he kidnaps a sitting governor, holds him hostage and slaps the living daylight out of him, he is promoted to a trustee of the ruling party in Nigeria. He dines with the president and defecates on our laws.

That is a bird's eye view of the application of the law in Nigeria.

This social decadence finds its way into our behaviour on Nigerian roads. The rich man feels that it is his right to run every other guy off the road with his retinue of thugs. He feels privileged in breaking the traffic codes with a reckless impunity, and allowing his thugs to pounce on anyone who doesn't make enough haste to clear the way for him. On the 3rd of November, 2008, Uzoma Okere, a young female Nigerian was beaten black and blue at the orders of one Navy Admiral Arogunande, for her failure to 'virtually carry her car on her head and move it off the road' to let the “Almighty” Admiral Arogunande go visit his girlfriend in a guesthouse”. The YouTube video showed armed naval ratings; men who are supposed to be someone peoples' fathers and husbands, visiting physical violence on a hapless young woman, in broad daylight, with the kind of arrogance, which only a life-time of getting away with impunity can breed. I thought that such behaviours are tales by moonlight until my recent visit to Nigeria. I was nearly run off the road by the Police details of the Ogun State Government House on their way to Lagos domestic airport in Lagos. The arrogance consulted by these rogues is really so convulsive that one really need to question why some Nigerians are allowed into our power corridors. I have never seen a steward running his master off the road. But our stewards in Nigeria (our politicians) take delight in running the people (the sovereign) of the road for no justifiable or pressing issue of state.

Since governors, ministers, and their first ladies and first mistresses' entourage set such a dangerous example on our roads, what do we expect from other Nigerians? The harvest of accidents on our roads tells the story. I leave you to your judgement in this regard.

3. Qualifications of Drivers and Other road users

In spite of the efforts of the administration of Governors Fashola and Chime in Lagos and Enugu States respectively, to wake the infrastructures from their hitherto dysfunctional slumber, the beast in the Nigerian, assaults and decimates all these efforts with the senselessness that could only obtain in a society on its way to hell. Our police and highly placed officials are the worst culprits in this mad race that takes place everyday on our roads, which the experience on Lagos traffic is but a monumental testimony. With Sirens blaring, and with some driving skill straight off the cookbooks of medieval bestiality, these guys see it as their privilege to stampede other road users off their lanes. Here, there exist no traffic codes. Everyone is left to his whims and caprices. Molue drivers could jump road embankments and speed down the opposite lane without any qualms on the impact that such a sudden consultation of speed in the wrong direction could have on oncoming traffic. The Okada riders are laws unto themselves. They create the traffic rules they abide by. The problem here is that their rules, like that of many other road users in Nigeria, have no semblance of stability. It is simply based on individual caprices. If a driver or an Okada rider has constipation or bad sex in the night, or was angered by anyone prior to his assuming control of his machine, he exacts vengeance with a reckless impunity, on anyone who has the misfortune of using the roads at the same time that his anger or emotional insecurities gets the better part of him. Many lives have been senselessly lost to minute issues such as these.

All the drivers on the Nigerian road need to be re-schooled on the art of driving. All of them should be compelled to undergo a mandatory eye and psychological test to ascertain their suitability for handling a motor vehicle. No society that wishes itself well could afford to allow blind people handling machines that can move from zero to hundred kilometre per hour is less than five seconds. No society could leave such responsibility at the hands of mentally unstable members of its community. Driver schools should be re-introduced and strictly implemented for anyone who intends to drive on Nigeria roads. Modalities for obtaining drivers' license in Nigeria should be made more strict, and should only be given after a completion of a driving course in a government approved driving school coupled with the relevant eye and suitability tests. Any driver caught driving while drunk should be banned for life from driving on our roads. That is the greatest act of irresponsibility that a driver should allow himself. When these regimens are introduced and implemented in Nigeria, I believe that would go a long way in reclaiming our roads and saving it from continuously doubling as one of the metaphors of our dysfunction.

4. The role of the Police and the officials of bodies like the FRSC

We should hold our officials to a high standard of behaviour and accountability. The days of mediocrity should be over if we are not to rot in this Aegean stable of multiple dysfunctionalities that Nigeria has become on so many levels. We should build and consolidate our institutions. We have a lot of ministries doing nothing. The police are doing nothing because the sovereign that empowers them is doing nothing. The Police and FRSC should be empowered and challenged to be up to their duties in ensuring that our roads are not slaughter slabs where Nigerians go to be killed.

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