Driving on Nigerian roads in the best of times is a great challenge. Drivers are not properly trained on road usage, driving regulations and laws and what side of the road to take while driving. It sometimes seems to me that drivers are totally oblivious of the rights or presence of other road users while driving on the roads. It is almost normal to see trailers and long articulated lorries driving in the inner curbs of the roads rather than on the outside leaving other drivers to overtake them wrongly on their right rather than on their left side of the roads. When a long lorry or slow drivers stay in the fast lane, others overtake them wrongly causing unnecessary accidents and deaths. Furthermore drivers avoid potholes and other portions of the roads that are bad and drive and weave here and there possibly colliding with other road users. The saddest part of this whole tragedy on our roads is that drivers are not aware that they are doing anything wrong. Obviously there is a need to overhaul the licensing regulations and the role of vehicle inspection organizations to remove crazy drivers from our roads. To make matters worse, many of these drivers are intoxicated on alcohol, drugs and all kinds of mind-changing substances.
Sometimes in the 1970s, a famous economics professor in the University of Lagos was run over by a trailer on Lagos-Ibadan expressway. When the killer truck driver was arrested, he was found to be high on drugs and marijuana. When he was interrogated, he confessed that the big and long Chevrolet car of the professor looked like a small loaf of bread that he simply ran over! He said this with little human emotion. He had killed a Harvard university trained professor whose contribution to the country’s development was cut short by an illiterate driver. In 1982 I arrived from Washington D.C and was on my way to the University of Maiduguri where I had been appointed a professor of History. I hired a trailer to drive my containerized luggage to Maiduguri while I drove my car from Lagos all the way to Maiduguri a distance of over a thousand kilometres. The trailer driver and I took off around the same time and I drove straight to Maiduguri stopping only to ease myself or refuel my car. This looks like an impossible dream in today’s Nigeria where people dare not drive over a few kilometres without the fear of being kidnapped! I finally arrived at my destination about 4am the following day with a stiff neck. I was telling my wife about my adventure when the trailer driver showed up. I could not believe my eyes. The question I asked was how it was possible for him to nearly catch up with me driving a heavy Volvo 264 compared with his long truck. When I asked him he laughed and went to his truck, brought out a large stone and an empty bottle of local gin. He said in the night, trailer drivers usually put a large stone on the accelerator after having taken the alcohol and God save anybody who tried to stop them on the road! I will never forget this story and whenever I see a trailer, the terrible thought of the story always came to my mind. There was another day when there was a long traffic snarl on Western Avenue now renamed Funso Williams Avenue in Surulere Lagos. A motor assistant to a petrol tanker came down and started smoking under a fully loaded petrol tanker in front of me. I came down and shouted on him to stop smoking and forcefully took the cigarette from him. Thankfully he didn’t beat me up! There are many more stories of this craziness on our roads. Even if one reported to the police, nothing will be done. The police, who rather than anticipate crime and prevent its commission, are more interested in arresting after the crime has been committed.
In the 1950s as a manifestation of poverty there were bicycle taxis in what is now South-south and South-eastern part of Nigeria. But these were nonviolent people eking out miserable existence in pre petroleum rich Nigeria. Now a new road rage has arrived in Nigeria in the form of motorcyclist gangs. Thousands of young men who after school cannot find jobs and are not ready to learn a trade or take to farming have become commercial motorcyclists. The problem is that these ones are totally out of control. There is no test conducted before they are issued permit to operate. In most instances they don’t even wait to be issued permits before they jump on their motorcycles and head for the roads including the highways. They are totally out of control. Politicians buy and distribute these machines to their supporters as part of “democracy dividends” and the young people then take liberty for license when they hit the roads. At a time they were told in their own interest to wear protective headgears and provide for their passengers. They were told they could only carry one passenger at a time. Now we have a situation where neither they nor their passengers wear head gears. The number of passengers they carry depends on their ingenuity. It is not uncommon or strange to find a family of five dangerously clinging to one motorcycle. The number of motorcyclists in Ibadan where I live has been dangerously increased by young people from the northern part of the country fleeing from Boko haram and insecurity of one type or the other. These ones who are not familiar with the maps of the cities where they operate can stop right in the middle of the road or make wrong turns or speed at breakneck speed fatalistically believing “God is in control”. With this lawless situation, accidents are bound to occur and they do occur rather frequently. Sometimes the motorcyclists collide with one another. When this happens, there does not seem to be much of a problem, but when they collide with other road users particularly cars, all hell will break out. All other motorcyclists will gang up against the car owners. They will smash their wind screens, beat up the drivers and owners and sometimes burn and kill the drivers while their motorcyclists’ colleagues cheer them on or ask for bloody revenge.
I have witnessed this scenario in Lagos and Ibadan and it seems to be happening all over the country as a manifestation of some crude class war of motorcyclists against car owners and even innocent pedestrians. A friend and former roommate of mine in Ibadan Grammar School and an Oxford University educated lawyer, High Court Justice Supo Okunrinboye was simply run over by one of these wild motorcyclists and killed while trying to buy newspapers in Lagos. The culprit ran away and was never caught till today. One fellow church man of mine, John was killed in Ibadan when he was knocked down while strolling in Oluyole area. The hostility and hatred of motorcyclists for car drivers and others including pedestrians is palpable. You would think that whatever problems they have were caused by pedestrians, car and motor drivers. I sometimes cynically feel how nice it would have been if responsible people had the right to carry concealed weapons. At least the poor drivers would have had a fighting chance to defend themselves. This is not the solution. It would probably add to the problem and quickly bring up a class war much faster than anticipated.
What is to be done? If the police were up to it, one would have suggested that street patrol like they have in civilized countries should be intensified and increased by the police. We can borrow a leaf from The Beninois book where punishment is meted to erring motorcyclists and drivers on the spot when they commit traffic offenses. This usually came in form of heavy fines on the spot which must be paid before the cycles and cars are released.