Sometimes it is simply cathartic to write straight from the gut and pay those matters that look pedestrian but are particularly important to our daily lives some attention. Writing from your gut feelings may be less erudite and may even sound emotional. But where we are in Nigeria today, we need to critically assess how we see ourselves. Why do I say this? Well, that season is here again.
Nigeria would be 60 years old in just a few days. I am sure most people are sharpening their pens to savage the country again and tell us that at 60, we have not achieved anything. That we are not where we ought to be. That unlike many countries (and they will name them), Nigeria cannot do jack. Ethiopia has a running railway, but we are still struggling. That we are so weak that no country listens to us in Africa. That we are just big for nothing and that is why Ghana and DR Congo can thumb their noses at us diplomatically.
It is a litany. I can guarantee you that we are going to hear these things from our “experts” on television programmes; read them in our newspapers and the ever-irreverent online platforms. What you would not hear from them is how you can keep yourself sane in our interesting country.
No one would say that we have reached our Eldorado. Certainly not. There are plenty of things we need to do to make this potentially great country of ours work. The deficiencies are out there for all to see. Yet, for all the complaints we have about Nigeria, is not possible for us to still make the place livable and tolerable for ourselves, warts and all, especially on situations we have control over?
In 2009, I wrote a piece for my old magazine Newswatch which I titled I’m a Grumpy Old man. I re-read the piece and can see how relevant it is today and how we continue to move around in circles; how things have really remained the same. As I said in the piece: “I have often wondered why we Nigerians continue to do so much damage to ourselves. Rather than making the best of the horrendous circumstances our governments have presented us, we compound our problems by forgetting the basic rules of decent living – the courtesy, the discipline, the caring, etc.
“Why do Nigerians lose their senses when they drive? Why does a single-lane road become a multiple-lane road? (And) Why is it impossible for our drivers to simply queue up and take their turn? Why do we have to blare our horns in traffic snarls, when we know we are all going nowhere? Why must a police car or any other vehicle, for that matter, with only the driver inside it use siren to push other drivers off the road when there is apparently no emergency? (Also) Why is it impossible for our drivers to pay attention to pedestrians at zebra crossings and let them pass? I once stopped at the zebra crossing by Cadbury, along Lateef Jakande Road…The driver behind me cursed me and told me that next time, I do such a thing; someone would rear-end me. Why must Nigerians use their mobile phones while driving as if they are just discovering the gadget? Don’t they know it is the surest way to having an accident? A 2002 Harvard Centre for Risk Analysis report said that 2,600 people die each year in America as a result of using their mobile phones while driving and another 330,000 are injured. Similar figures have been confirmed by other studies.
“The one that takes the cake is the behaviour of our motorcyclists. First, they think they have nine lives and are not bound by the rules of the road. They even flout those rules in the presence of law officers who are either ignorant of the rules themselves or just could not be bothered about them. So, you have motorcyclists driving one-way straight at you or running the red light just when you have the green light. You dare not hit them as hundreds of other riders would quickly assault you and damage your vehicle. Then you have the helmet issue. Don’t people know that it is for their own (safety and) protection? And that motorcycle accidents nearly always cause head injuries and are often fatal?
“You can see why I have become a worry-wart and why our president’s admonition that we should not lose hope in the capacity of Nigeria to get better just washed over me. My point is: the deck is already stacked against us. So, we should put a little civility and discipline into our day-to-day life just to make other hardships slightly more tolerable.”
This is 11 years later and not much has changed in Nigeria. In fact, things are getting worse. Nigerians lose their lives daily to unsecured articulated lorries that ply our roads. No one seems to be doing anything to compel the owners and the drivers to secure these usually overloaded trucks. There are occasional headline grabbing arrests but that is just it, nothing happens. Motorcyclists and those who drive Keke Marwa continue to be a menace on our roads. They do as they wish and just do not obey the rules of the road. But they have become a source of money by extortion for our officials.
We complain about floods when it rains heavily in Nigeria. But we are still a nation whose people refuse to own government properties funded with tax-payers’ money. Gutters are built but litter clogs them. The groundnut sellers and those who make roasted corn and plantain set shop just by the gutters and all their disposables are put right in them. When it rains and water cannot flow through the gutters, it easily overrun those areas. Of course, in Nigeria, we rain abuses on government for not doing anything about the situation.
What if we all keep those gutters clean? What if when we are doing our daily journeys in taxies and buses; we do not throw plastic bottles and sachets on the road and in the gutters? And what if we all drive with a mastery of the rules of the road in Nigeria? What if we do not try to be wise guys every time we are on the road? What if we all just obey traffic laws? Is this hankering after personal utopia?
Maybe. But is it absolutely beyond us to make our lives more bearable and pleasant for ourselves here in Nigeria? Can we not change our attitude and see what we can do individually to keep ourselves and our surrounding sane? You can see why I have become an irredeemable grumpy old man. I need sanity.