Monday, March 21, 2011

A Dance With Death I

I met the most interesting guy today.
His name is Jimoh, and he was released from a local Mental Home only three weeks ago. He is fidgety - habitually shifting his weight from one leg to another while standing, and he seems incapable of looking straight into anyone's eyes. He has not had a bath in two days, as he only has the chance to use a bathroom when he visits his mother every Saturday evening – and he cannot remember the last time he had a change of clothes.
He cannot remember how long he spent in the Mental Home, but he was told his mental problem started sometimes in 1998 – he walked out of his parents' home in December that year. He was found at some time after that and taken to the Mental Home – where a variety of herbal concoctions and physical punishment inflicted by a 'Babalawo' made him 'whole' again.
He has not been to any hospital to confirm that he is truly sane. In my own opinion, he still needs medical attention. He is surprised by many of the advancements in society which others have come to take for granted. Last week he still stopped by the long abandoned NITEL office on Old Ife Road to make a phone call to a long lost journalist friend jailed by the Abacha junta.
Today, three weeks after gaining his 'freedom' – Jimoh is a commercial bus driver. Yes, you read right! Jimoh is a commercial 'danfo' driver in Ibadan, plying a 13km stretch of road between Olodo and Gate Bus stop. His bus is the typical rickety affair that is a constant feature on Ibadan roads, complete with a conductor that does his best to spend more time hanging onto and chasing the bus than he does sitting inside it. A percentage of what he makes daily is his to keep, while he returns the rest to a 'Baba' whose name he does not know and has never bothered to ask. He also swears allegiance to same 'Baba', and has committed to show up for 'other political engagements'.

Of course, he drives without giving mind to the most basic rules of the road. Phrases such as 'right of way' have no meaning whatsoever to him. He sees no reason why he should not face oncoming traffic in the event that a traffic jam locks down his own side of the road and sees no reason why he should make way for 'learner' drivers. He describes the government's investment in automated traffic control systems (traffic lights) as a waste of the 'international cake (sic)', and suggested in the course of our conversation that the roads were safer without traffic policemen.
On asking, he presents his driving license with a twinkle in his eyes. Evidently, he is very proud of it. To paraphrase him, his driver's license to him is like a gun to a police man. Without being asked, he volunteers that he got it for N6, 000 – and it was ready under 24 hours. When I ask him where he got it, he responds that he cannot tell me where – as he does not know, but he can introduce me to the person who helped him if I require such services. As I am not interested in getting a second driver's license, I say no – just in time for the conductor to run up with the news that the bus is full except for the seat which Jimoh requested be reserved in front.
He shuffles towards the bus, taking it for granted that I will follow him. I do, because I still have a few more questions to ask him. As he climbs into the driver's seat, he asks me to get in beside him – as he reserved the seat for me. Jizoz – I mutter to myself as I stammer an excuse that I parked a 'non-existent' car at some point further down the road and I would go get it if he would kindly excuse me. He smiles, and asks why I did not tell him I am a 'Baba' too. I mumble some unintelligent reply, hurry off – for a paranoid fear that he might suddenly order his conductor to bundle me into the bus! All of a sudden I develop a fear of public transportation, and so I choose to spend just under two hours walking home.
Phew!!! What a day?
Well, seeing as even I did not have to pass a driving test to secure my license – I should not be surprised that he has one. If all the licensing officers were interested in when I applied for a license was the amount of Naira I was 'packing' at the moment, then I should not be surprised that someone with a questionable state of mental health also has one. After all, money does not have mental problems.
At different times in the past, when confronted with another driver who behaves in a less-than-sane manner while driving, I have declared authoritatively that such driver was a 'nonsense' person. Maybe I was not so wrong; maybe there are a lot more drivers like Jimoh on Nigerian roads – endangering the lives of Nigerian citizens, and putting sane people at danger. Allowing people like them to continue driving on our roads with original driver's licenses is equivalent to waltzing with death.
Maybe I will not be too surprised if I hear tomorrow that Jimoh ran over a kid on his way back from school, or that he crashed his bus into a bridge. BUT, the truth remains that there are many more drivers like Jimoh out there.
The ownership of a driver's license is supposed to imply the possession of finely honed driving skills, and a certain level of physical and mental alertness and well being. HOWEVER, that is not the case in Nigeria.
The process of awarding our National Driver's License needs a total overhaul.



1 comment:

  1. Very true, I know a lot of drivers in nigeria with no license, and if they do, it is either bought or something.

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