By Talemoh Wycliffe Dah
Our constructed broadways enable our vehicles take us from one place to the other, but besides that, they tell about us, probably more than any other aspect of our culture and interaction. Roads are witnesses to everything that passes on them, be it food, people, materials for construction, books, etc. This is obvious and not far-fetched.
What is revealing, although equally obvious, is our behavior concerning and on our roads.
Let’s imagine if our roads could speak. If our road could speak, they will tell us their pre-existence history. They will tell us how their construction was conceived for the wrong reasons. How that it was so someone will make money out of the contract, just like the E-coding of the VIO. But they remain functional, unlike the said VIO’s E-coding.
Yes, like the Women’s Cancer Centre along airport road in Abuja, the only difference being that the centre could easily be forgotten, unlike the Jalingo-Numan road which motorists abandon only for few minutes at a time to take the natural bush path but surface back on the road ahead.
Or so that someone will win elections, like petrol price. But unlike petrol price which obeys the law that whatever goes up does not come down in our country, the promise remains in the pipeline after the elections are won. And if the deceit was one that even a clergyman can stand for them, as when grading work was commenced and gravel in trucks were put along the road, like it was in the FCT rural roads, it will wait until the next election. The people would have forgotten or another plausible reason would have been thought out; four years is enough time to do this.
Other wrong motives for conceiving a road construction are nepotism, reward for votes, bureaucratic theft (the doctoring of a document containing discussed and approved projects to include the tempering civil servant’s interests) and ‘black belly’, like a malicious attempt to cut off a particular town by constructing a by-pass. The roads will tell that nepotism is the commonest driving force.
Then the process: greed plays a major part so the construction companies have learnt to accommodate this by giving astronomically high quotations. The awardees are still asked to triple this. Then the road work is started, abandoned for a couple of years so the contract can be reviewed upwards, for the obvious reasons of inflation and the real reason of taking care of new stakeholders. Sometimes the agreed quality, the road’s breadth and asphalt thickness, are reduced so enough money will be available to go round. So before the opposite lane gets started, the present one already has craters calling for new contracts.
The old roads in Abuja will tell us that they lose their drain covers to the newly constructed roads. The covers are stolen and sold to companies constructing the new roads. So please do not drive too close to the edge because your tires will fall into the drain holes. Yes, in Abuja the roads are tired of bearing the dead Chinese cameras on white poles. It was a rape of our collective security that close to half a billion US Dollars meant to sight suicide bombers in Abuja was shared by our leaders who went to China to bring non-functioning cameras, fooling us with a false sense of security. The roads may be mute about pot-holes and bill boards, but not the street camera scam.
The user interaction part of our road sociology is more interesting, or, to put it correctly, nauseating. Here, impatience and greed act together. People can’t just be patient and wait for their turns to pass so they beat traffic lights or get into the way of others even when that means just making the gridlock tighter. Their reasons?
Sometimes as holy as rushing to Church on Sundays or Mosque on Fridays. Other times just an unconscious exhibition of the greed in us; we must have it first or alone. Still at other times for a pretentious sense of urgency, this often perpetrated by the police and government officials. Where are they hurrying to when we have all the crimes around and the inefficiency? One would have thought that if we are confronted with the need to practice patience every day, we will become very patient people; but we’ve chosen to practice impatience every day and we are masters of this vice.
Impatience leads to cars brushing one another, with ‘waka’, the pidginized Hausa word for mother (uwarka, meaning your mother) voiced out or spelt through the spread out fingers of one or both hands. Sometimes it is ‘were’ (mad person in Yoruba). It is interesting to note that the offenders often shout first, a bold-facedness that some people think is necessary to survive here.
Sometimes it is our right to pass, and waiting so someone locked out of traffic can come in or pass will not take much time. But stinginess, another road vice, takes over. We will just not give that person a few seconds of ‘letting’ kindness. The roads will tell more about stinginess. Helping at an accident scene will waste our time, so we drive off after ascertaining that the victims aren’t our friends or relations. Helping will waste our time, soil our leather car seats, make the hospitals ask us to deposit money for treatment and, oh, make the police disturb us with requests for statements.
The roads are witnesses to nepotism (this thing is not only confined to political appointments or contracts for roads). You escape punishment if the law enforcement agents on the road at that time are your friends or tribesmen. Your punishment is much less when you plead using the same language as the officer. Start with Nne, Biko; Danuwa, don Allah; Omaye, Abole,Ngorgi’am, useni.
In terms of frequency and near involvement of all of us, bribe giving and taking on the road is the worst. It is wrong to have expired papers; giving the policemen or road safety officer or the VIO some money tries and acquits you in seconds. Those notes with the pictures of our patriarchs can let you go free even if you drive in the wrong direction or are carrying IEDs. The roads typify the conversion of our working places to toll gates, where you must pay to pass; only that there are no receipts.
The roads see impunity every day. The governor’s convoy doesn’t mind if you drive off into the ditch to let them pass. Or, worse, they will arrest you and deal with you like they did to the Catholic Priest in Imo state some years ago. When the police ‘catch’ you in the forest, they do to you as they like. The road was witness to when the defunct SARS, finding my papers were intact, shouted at me for not arranging them in order. Trust me: I turned the back of the papers and brought out a pen so he can tell me the sequence in the proper arrangement.
Worship place road impunity completes the cycle. On Sunday mornings and Friday afternoons, whole roads are blocked on streets where there are Churches or Mosques. You honk for someone in front of you to move his car only to discover that he is parking to go for worship. Rant and rake as you like, you will wait for him because worship is sacred.
For spiritual people like us, you cannot miss out on rituals on the road. Flour, blood, food, sweets, etc are often seen on the roads. If you are a night crawler, you will see people doing ritual things from midnight till 3am when it is actually common.
The road is sometimes the only place that shows evidence of the fight against crime, like insurgency. It is blocked, and people have to queue for hours, only to get to where the security person is and discover that the man does nothing close to searching for weapons. He is only a uniformed beggar!
And talking about beggars, roads can teach you geography as the style, chants and tonality of beggars give our different regions away. Since beggars and begging are part of our culture, roads can accurately tell you that you have arrived your destination.
One can cross-check the employment or unemployment figures of the National Bureau of Statistics by asking the road. Our youths drive taxi, Keke or Okada and sometimes you wonder whether those are the only employment available. Or those, in addition to hawking anything and everything.
We must not forget carnival processions and protests. Their platforms are roads. If you live in the state capital or in Abuja, be alert to know when to take the alternative route.
For all the above, our roads would not have been wailing. They wail for neglect, wail for the crimes of kidnapping, hired assassinations, ‘one chance’, civil unrests and worst of all, the slaughtering of innocent people by irate mobs and insurgents.
So if you need one thing that can summarise the evil side of us, beg the roads to lend you their story, if they can talk.
▪ Dah, an Abuja-based medical practitioner, sent this via firstname.lastname@example.org