THE SIREN MAN AS A TYRANT
The siren-blaring ambulance driver is not a tyrant. He should not be. He is doing his job. Forget it that in Nigeria, the ambulance has conveniently been converted into other glamorous eerie uses – e.g., the conveyance of dead bodies from point A to another point. When the Nigerian ambulance man has a dead body as his cargo, he plays god.
He blares his siren to high heavens. He drives with reckless abandon except when he approached the church gate and or near the burial ground. In Nigeria, the Ambulance guy attached to the plethora of quack hospitals and clinics has found a new role for himself. He uses the heavily tinted van to drive commuters off the road, sometimes into a ditch, which sometimes results into death(s). If people die because he is carrying on with his daily assignment of conveying dead people, would that be a plus, you wonder. Talk of little tyranny.
The Fire Service man in any circumstance should not be a tyrant. He, unlike the ambulance driver and occupants, has the inalienable right conferred on him by the Geneva Conventions to display a little tyranny on the road. He had to in order to save lives and properties. In Nigeria, I have never, ever seen a fire service man display tyranny. He dares not since he has no guise whatsoever, under which to hide, to display tyrannical traits.
What I think has happened to the fire service man in Nigeria is better left for another day. Summarize by saying he does not have any ehicle in good condition, moveable enough to do his job when opportunity calls, not to talk of being tyrannical. Yet at any slight opportunity, with his siren, he displays tyrannical traits usually on his way back from a usually failed assignment occasioned by the scarcity of water.
Members of the Federal Road Safety Corps originally were not expected to display any form of tyranny on the road. It now looks as if they are gradually finding their feet in the ignoble practice of tyranny. They now extort money for broken windscreen and a driver's inability to show his caution sign; or when the driver had forgotten to put on his seat belt. Look closely, as I have been doing these past months, members of the FRSC have found another new role for themselves.
They now join tyrannical siren dispatch or escort riders as back-ups. Haven't they seen or heard unending tales of multiple casualties that resulted from the tyrannical and wanton display of raw power by those who have misunderstood the use of sirens and now have appropriated it for personal self fulfillment? Follow siren blaring escort of important people in case accident occurs.
Honorable Kelechi Nwagwu was the Speaker of the Imo House of Assembly. He loved the use of siren. When he hit the then ill maintained roads of Owerri, everybody within sight took cover. His men were well trained on the use of the siren. They would blare it to high heavens. The then Speaker's escort rider with his multi-colored revolving traffic light, in motion, was something else. If you were so deaf not to hear the wailing siren, at least you would be greeted with the well illuminated traffic lights of various colors that revolve atop some newly minted Hilux vans.
His henchmen, in addition to wielding strong AK47 had horsetail whips to augment. One day in 2006, his men whiplashed me silly for failing to remove my broken down vehicle at the site of the approach of the Honorable Speaker of the most powerful House of Assembly then, east of the Niger.
It reminded me of an editorial I suggested and wrote in 1989, when I worked for the Champion Newspapers. At the editorial board meeting, with A.B Ahmed moderating and I.C Madubike presiding, a fierce and heated debate arose about the siren and its uses in Nigeria of the era. After a prolonged debate and an agreement, it was Larry Araghgba, who suggested a fitting title which later put our view in a better perspective by appropriately and fittingly captioning it 'The Tyranny of the Siren.' It was during the era of General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida – IBB. He, it was, who, I think, glamorized the use of the siren.
Thereafter, State Governors, Police Commissioners, Local Government administrators, top military personnel and their coterie of hangers on including madam and girlfriends, used the siren. So it was, one rainy Monday morning, when some siren blaring copycats drove past some stranded bus commuters at Oshodi Bus stop – in Lagos. They splashed mud on them. They splashed rain water on them. The splashed mud, rain and tears on humanity that morning made my young impressionist, agitative heart to wail in silence.
Days after the editorial was published, the then federal government put out a law, ostensibly designed to check the impact of the siren on helpless masses. Now, it appears that that ignoble era of the tyranny of the siren is once more with us. I have read about the little girl beaten to pulp by siren blaring Navy admiral who thought the road was his for keeps and could not understand why an ordinary lady could do as she liked on a general's road. I read of the uproar that greeted his Gestapo methods and subsequently, his conviction in the court of public opinion and in the court of law.
Last week,I encountered the siren and its tyranny once more. It occurred on the old Enugu-Umuahia road – a kilometer from Obiohuru, my home town. Obiohuru is a little sleepy village in Isiala-Mbano which has now been made famous by circumstance none of its making. At the Umuna junction of the road, is a traffic diversion to Umuahia instead of to Owerri.
The Owerri part of the road had been shut for over a month in order to affect repairs on a damaged segment which had been an annual embarrassment to the powers that be and the Federal Ministry of Works. Now, the old forsaken road that leads to Umuahia on which route my village's situated suddenly is receiving much attention – traffic wise.
I had gone out on early morning errand that Sunday morning; to buy akara from my regular supplier when the siren began to wail. I looked at the rear mirror and saw commotion as the police escort vehicle in a dramatic show of raw power forced a commuter bus with more than 30 people off the road and then onto the road, before the bus and its cargo leveled on the ground in the middle of the road, crashed amidst wailings, screaming, hot sweat with blood and tears.
Ever ready with my Nikon pocket camera, I began to snap away. I got the crashed bus. I got a picture of the errant police escort van, which too lay damaged. I recorded the rescue efforts made by villagers and passers-by to rescue the wounded and see if anyone died. I snapped away at the multitude of vehicles on the convoy, most of which bore NASS plate numbers. I snapped away so recklessly that an important dignitary, I guess, alighted from one of the cars to confront me.
He looked at me maybe for size up and got what he was looking for. I wore bathroom slippers. He looked at me again from head to toe, and liked what he saw – a badly torn jean pants. He smiled before ordering me in a baritone voice to surrender my camera. Being the true son of my father, I refused.
I wish I were this gentleman of power. I would have looked closer before embarking on that camera retrieving mission which turned out to be unsuccessful. I would have looked at the face of me to see a well tended luxuriant beard. I would have looked at my wrist to see my Movado. I would have looked at me, to assess the quality of language and the composure of the man. I would have seen resistance in the making. I would have seen stubbornness in the offing. But that Nigerian big man did none of the above.
He charged at me, after pulling off his clothe in a bid to retrieve the camera and its implicating contents. I resisted. And my town's people resisted. He ordered the orderlies, in numerous sign languages, which the orderlies deliberately failed to decode, to do their job. Tired, he left me with my camera and its pictures which will at the appropriate time prove to be more than a thousand words. He and members of his siren wielding entourage continued on their journey south-southwards, not minding nor caring about the fate of the accident victims most of whom were rushed to the nearest private hospital.
That evening I fired an e-mail to Kay Odunaro JP – Chief Press Secretary to Hon. Dimeji Bankole, Speaker of the Nigeria House of Representatives, whose member, definitely was at the head of this sordid reign of tyranny by the siren. With lurid details of the atrocities of the siren-wielding tyrants of Sunday, November 7 2010 I had asked him to investigate. He has not replied, even as we write.
Godson Offoaro writes from Havensgate, Owerri.