On Friday January 11, 2013, I boarded a taxi from Mowe, Ogun State to Owode-Egba. I was going to honour a pre-scheduled official meeting with the local Immunization Officer at the General Hospital in Obafemi-Owode Local Government Headquarters.
I‘d been warned that the road from Mowe to Ofada town is bad, so I opted to join the public mode of transportation. As soon as I got to the park, I was sandwiched with someone else in the front (passenger’s) seat. Soon I began to have some form of paraesthesia and it didn’t help that my co-passenger had a child on her lap. Four other passengers soon came and sat at the back and we were on our way. I was still aching in the discomfort and agony when we were treated to the rigour of the road. It also lived up to its reputation.
I was sure that a headache was imminent when around a junction in the Ashimolowo area of Mowe town, we were ordered to stop by fully dressed members of Nigeria Police. The ensuing event was like a miracle to me.
“Oga, I no get change oo.” The driver said in a coarse tone that seemed to indicate that the conversation had begun a long time ago.
“Ok. Ok.” The police officer replied, nodding his head.
“Shebi you know shey na hundred hundred naira.” He said and he spat on the ground.
“I no get change wey pass two hundred naira oo.” The phlegm contained a mixture of sputum and some dirty brown colour that has come to characterize the indiscipline and contempt of the Nigeria Police in my mind.
The driver extended a two hundred naira note to the police officer whose shirt was so badly damaged that I could see neither his name nor his number. He pocketed the money with his left hand in broad daylight and then produced a change of a hundred naira from the right side of his trouser which he handed over to the driver.
I was battling with this scene until the driver informed us that the scene had been going on for more than a month. “E no go better for them!!” He cursed and he too spat outside. I watched as the sputum flew away into the harmattan.
One of the passengers in the taxi with me was so angry that he queried why the police officer did not inquire about the license of the driver. He was angry that the police officer was not interested in the license of the vehicle or any of the driver’s papers for that matter. He was angry that he
did not check the general state of the vehicle in the least and that he was not even concerned about the number of the passengers in the taxi. He kept complaining that the Police Officer was more interested in the one hundred naira graft than in anything else. He even questioned if road block was part of the job description for police officers in Nigeria?
Somehow our attention turned on the driver. The people in the taxi agreed almost unanimously that they were not too sure if the driver had valid driving papers, since it was still early in
January. Of course, the driver pretended as if he didn’t hear us.
“Oga, abeg no trouble me oo.” he said in pidgin English. “I no dey there oo.”
As long as the prevailing circumstance in laws and policies governing transportation remain the same in Nigeria, we shall remain where we are. The issue of incomplete and invalid driving papers will disappear if the government will collaborate with the drivers’ associations.
The government can find a way to collate the entire licenses, permits, levies and all other papers affecting drivers and other road users and appoint some official, who will liaise with the NURTW local associations, meet with their opinion leaders and register these drivers easily at
‘affordable rates’ in their local places. The idea is to find a way to bring the government to the people. I guarantee that all public drivers will be fully registered within a week in the process. Regular education of our drivers on the right use of the road is also needed and helpful.
Although people have stressed it continually, the total road network needs to be completely overhauled. The salary structure of the Nigerian Police also needs to be reviewed. And disciplinary measures need to be upheld.
Someone joked at the back of the taxi at the expense of the driver. “Na him be Jonathan wey make fuel price cost pass?” We all laughed. He continued, “Or you no know shey the driver’s wife carry belle?” We knew instinctively that he was trying to hint that the driver would be more concerned with footing the bills for the Naming Ceremony of his child and buying PMS at #110 per litre at the filling station rather than renewing his driver’s license and other road papers.
I am not sure if the National Assembly has re-visited the Nigerian Police Act and added a routine road check as part of their duty. I’m also not sure if the Inspector General of Police in Nigeria has re-ordered his ‘boys’ to go back to our roads and re-establish the illegal act of collect ‘twenty –twenty naira’ from our ‘Danfo’ drivers. I guess these questions need answers.
Abayomi Ojo is a writer and a medical doctor. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.