The trip to Ilorin taught me one major lesson. It is wrong to suggest that the situation in Nigeria is senseless. It makes sense that Nigeria is the way it is: We have too many spectator-citizens.
My family and I recently went to Ilorin for an event. I had not been to Ilorin in nearly 20 years and was excited at the prospect of visiting a city in which I lived for a brief period. I wanted to once again take in the air of Taiwo Road, Tanke, Fate, Eye-nkorin, and University of Ilorin Road, among others.
Reality soon set in. With the exception of Taliban territory and Sambisa forest, the drive from Ibadan to Ilorin has to be quite easily the most dangerous journey on earth. The risks were palpable: Heavy duty trucks laden with goods competing for space with smaller vehicles on roads that are not befitting of a society in the 21st century. There was no demarcation on the road; each side of the road could barely contain one vehicle at a time. The road was incredibly narrow and had been reshaped by the sheer volume of heavy-duty vehicles passing by with goods to and from the North. The road had developed an artificial “Mike Tyson” haircut.
I lost count of accidents that almost happened — several near misses right in front of us — which made me hold my head with both hands. Human life seemed surprisingly cheap and undervalued. I saw smaller vehicles almost crushed by trucks; okada riders nearly hit by cars; street hawkers trying to make a living but failing to exercise caution on the road, and pedestrians crossing the road at the risk of life and limb. No wonder people pray so much in Nigeria. Ayo Sogunro was right: “Everything in Nigeria will kill you”.
A convoy of at least 12 to 15 government SUVs passed by as we approached Odo Oba. It was a shameless display of power and opulence given the impoverished nature of the area and the abject condition of the road. How do these folks sleep well at night? I tried shutting my mind to the evidence of neglect around me. It was impossible. We saw schools with missing roofs, dilapidated classrooms and entire school premises ravaged by erosion. Others were overgrown with weed. Yet, we were technically in a region reputed as one of the most “developed” in Nigeria!
Several police check points were fully operational on the busy road. I thought check points had been banned. Policemen at two of the check points asked us for money. My family was impressed by how courteous they were. One officer said he was sure our papers were “complete” but he wanted us to find them “something for the weekend”. This is another indication of the civilisation we have built.
The event in Ilorin was a huge success and we headed back to Ibadan. A Mercedes Benz car burned quietly on Ibadan road at Ogbomoṣo. Several things were wrong with the scene of the inferno. There was no fire service in sight and fellow Nigerians gathered on both sides of the road and watched as the car burned. If there was an attempt to save the car, we did not see it. There were scores of people who were intent on getting front row view of the inferno. Some held their chests; some put their fingers in their mouths, others watched mouth agape and several people recorded the incident on their smart phones.
It was too late when we got near the vehicle. An explosion was imminent yet multiple trucks (trailers) lined the road in a never-ending traffic jam. I found an answer in the unfortunate situation. A lot of energy has been dissipated on our infamous tendency to overproduce clueless leaders at various levels of government. We must now admit that there is an equally numbing phenomenon: A helpless public and spectator-citizenry. As I re-learn the nous of our fatherland, I recognise that those who ran away and those who stayed are all implicated in what our society has become. By contrast, people in Venezuela, a country with virtually all the characteristics associated with Nigeria, have been taking to the streets to demand the resignation of Nicolas Maduro. They have been giving their lives to demand real change in their material conditions.
The burning car reminded me of Michale Matthew’s article on Sahara Reporters on May 5, 2017. Ms Matthew saw an incident in which high school boys attempted to sexually assault young girls in broad daylight in Lagos. The failure of those around (including security guards) to intervene, until Ms. Matthew stepped in, accentuates the lethargy in our society. The trip to Ilorin taught me one major lesson. It is wrong to suggest that the situation in Nigeria is senseless. It makes sense that Nigeria is the way it is: We have too many spectator-citizens.
‘Tope Oriola is professor of criminology at the University of Alberta, Canada. Twitter: @topeoriola