When I made the choice of career and settled for law, I never knew at the time what heavy burden lawyers- good lawyers- carry along every day of their often eventful lives. When Senator (I understand Senators in Nigeria keep and insist on that title for life) Bala Mohammed was re-appointed FCT minister by President Goodluck Jonathan, not a few persons raised eyebrows on the rationale for that re-appointment. That was understandable as the plum job of FCT minister is one of the most sought after portfolios in the since over-bloated and unwieldy Federal Executive Council, beside Finance, Foreign Affairs and Petroleum in no particular order. Alright it’s an acceptable fact that MalamNasir El-Rufai simply cannot be replaced and we longed for the days when the high and mighty complained teary eyed that their illegal structures have been removed and the original master plan restored – the few excesses and overzealousness of agents of the Havard-trained Malam Nasir notwithstanding.
Friday March 30th 2012, I would have been relaxing at home as it was one of those rare occassions that I had but somehow I received a text message from Chief Chris Uche (SAN); inviting me the innaugural meeting of the Local Organising Committee of NBA 2012 Congress. On my way to the Chambers of Chief Uche-a magnificient place indeed- my 7 year old truck develooped a fault along Aminu Kano Crescent, by Banex Plaza. Unable to push the big car off the road alone, I solicited the help of 3 men who assisted-for a fee- to take it off the road. Glad there was an ATM machine close by, I dashed towards the machine, picked some cash and paid the ‘good samaritans.
Just then, about 7 persons dressed in white T-shirts and matching peak caps swooped on me. Two burly guys armed with clamps went for the 2 front tyres of my car, a female plated a massive sticker on the side windshield- blocking my vision, another lady placed an envelop on the windshield and issued a reciept. Then an evil looking macho guy with a broken nose and droppy eyes- armed with a jack knife and a screw driver went for the plate numbers.
I alighted and politely explained to the guy with a jack knife that those plate numbers he was removing were mine. He appeared to be in shock- apparently nobody has ever had the courage to challenge him in his entire touting career. I also tried to explain to him that, vandalisation of another persons car was still an offence under the penal code but being an ex-prize fighter, he decided that giving me a decent shove will drum the message home better. I landed on my back, dislocated my wrist and bled from the forehead, nose and knuckles. Later, I discovered that I lost my wristwatch, car stereo, alloy tyre rims cover etc, in the melee . 3 hours later, after every polite appeal failed, I decided to unclamp my car by smashing the clamps with a heavy metal I always carry about just in case. The broken-nose gentleman didn’t like the idea of my smashing the clamps and came lounging at me with a round house sucker punch but met himself staring into the bloodshot eyes of five ex-inmates of Kuje Prison- the expression in the eyes of those five ex inmates told everyone around that they won’t mind going back to Kuje. The burly guy fled the scene and returned with a truck-load of policemen who on being told that I was the ‘suspect’, they wisely retreated as they knew they might have to get further confirmation from Force Headquarters. Surprised at the reluctance of the policemen, the leader of the group devised a tactic that always worked- dialogue
Compatriots, apparently the Director or Secretary (whatever his designation) of the Transport Department of the FCT Administration recently visited the United Kingdom and was genuinely impressed by the congestion charges currently in place in the city of London and a few other major cities in the United Kingdom and perhaps thought it wise to introduce same in the increasingly chaotic traffic of the Abuja metropolis. Excellent innovation you would say? Well not so fast.
The problem of leadership in Nigeria and the real danger to the continued existence of the Nigerian entity and the failure of leadership in the country has been mindset of those who are thrown up as leaders by the people. The leader today was a follower yesterday, but pray how come once these same followers become leaders (I inclusive) there is a tendency to forget in an embarrassing jiffy our past and peculiar socio economic circumstances. Suddenly you have a scenario where uncouth, clearly hungry looking, unkempt and obviously –desperate-to-impress-their-employers youngsters are unleashed on unsuspecting members of the public in an orgy of abuses, fisticuffs, windshield smashing, car tyres deflating/locking and vehicle towing frenzy, reminiscence of the long gone and hopefully forgotten Buhari/Idiagbon and IBB/Abacha military era.
Let me say from the onset that as our former colonial masters the British have affected our lives in a legion of ways; all our penal laws were lifted hook line and sinker from theirs, and have remained the law in this country even when the English have since abolished a disproportionate majority of those laws. Our lawyers and judges still dress in those funny apparels and wigs that the Americans loathe; what is more: our official language is English. Why must we always copy everything that is English without sparing a thought about local circumstances particularly the socio-economic effects of same on our people?
Now, before agents of “civilization” crucify me as “conservative” and I am referring to those Nigerians who are even more British than the Brits. Let me explain before hand my stance. I should not be misunderstood to say that government officers, who are lucky to travel abroad on taxpayer’s money, should not copy the good innovations that the white man has implemented to make government more people- friendly and rewarding. I should not be misunderstood to say that innovations such as this are a taboo or are not to be considered in the future. All I am saying is that the rational for the designated congestion zones and summary charges in place in the city of London and elsewhere in the UK has been the need to discourage common folks from taking their cars out of the garage each morning for the simplest of excuses, like what happens in our major cities and in particular Abuja.
If you have in place an efficient, cheap and regular transport system in place, then you will need very little reason to take out your car every morning and stay in the chaotic traffic each morning for hours, just to get to the office. There is nothing in place to dissuade a man who stays in the outskirts of the city to leave the luxury of his car for an often non-existing, hugely unreliable and clearly expensive public transport system. Until such a time that we have the transport routes clearly designated and enough vehicles plying those routes, you cannot in your right senses (how many of these guys are sane anyway) expect people to abandon their “tokunbo” vehicles for those accident prone and fire infested eyesores –especially those 100 year-old contraptions from India known as “KekeNapep”. I will never (at the risk of sounding immodest) board or encourage anyone close to me to get onboard any of them anyway.
Now, if you see the carnage and mayhem from the wreckage of what used to be a “KekeNapep” after a collision with another car its size, you will imagine what could have happened if it had collided with the rugged chassis of a Mercedes Benz or God forbid- a tipper truck!
The one unforgettable ugly incident at Apo junction in December, where metals, bones and flesh were mangled into an oversized omelets of sort is yet to go away from my mind each time I approach that spot. And am told the scene is replicated everyday along Kubwa, Nyanya/Karu, Lugbe roads with disturbing statistics on casualties.
The Abuja city of our dreams should have the railway system and designated transit points within the city. The congestion zones and parking charges can only come into effect after you had provided a viable alternative to the people. The much touted transit way and boulevard seems to be a long shot in the era of our grandchildren. If we cannot provide basic amenities such as these, why start what we cannot hopefully accomplish? Why engage our young, unemployed youths in what is obviously a misguided and premature advaeture? Solets wait until then.
Another worrisome issue arising out of this debacle has been the promotion of fraud and corruption in the exercise. I have watched in dismay that those guys collecting cash (and the handful of pretty ladies am told are encouraged to “keep the change”) for obvious reasons. Not surprisingly, a new wave of bukaterias and fast food joints “mama put” have sprung up all over the city in those places where the congestion charges are located – banks, ministries, parastatals such as the Nigerian Communication Commission, mobile phone operators, agencies such as the Corporate Affairs Commission and the Courts. A slew of lawsuits have been filed already, beside the daily altercations, fisticuffs and broken noses. The hungry youngsters simply use the cash at hand to help themselves to a bowl of hot rice, akpu, garri, amala, moimoi, soft drinks or pure water and ultimately they “make ends meet” in those food joints. In my view, nobody in their right senses would have money in their possession and still go hungry.
Why is it that those attendants are made to carry cash in the new “cashless” society that the CBN is trying to build? Why have we not bothered to “see beyond our noses” in implementing programs that touches the lives of the people- the very people we swore to an oath to defend at our inauguration? Why is it difficult for the FCT minister to allocate some of the so called green areas and convert them to designate parking lots in the FCT and then would be justified to take a pittance to cater for the attendants?
A good cause that could take away the hundreds of youngsters roaming the streets hawking “pure water” and who are routinely arrested, by Senator Bala Mohammed, charged before the mobile courts, convicted and sent to Suleja Prisons, simply for trying to make a living.
The other day I represented 53 men, women, boys and girls, who were being tried at Area 3, mobile court and I told the Magistrate: “If we arrest a youngman for selling “pure water and send him to prison for failing to pay a fine of N3,000, he comes out a hardened armed robber or suicide bomber and if you arrest a 13 year old girl merely for selling “pure water” and bananas on the street corner and send her to prison for that she comes out a prostitute”.
What is the duty of the social services department of the FCDA? Why cant they do something about catering for the needs of these street children? In the UK, they should have free meals and shelter as part of the government efforts at providing social services. Why are we copying the Brits and then selecting what to implement and what not to implement. If we are copying the British, then lets also copy their social welfare schene, including the Her Majesty’s Health care delivery scheme for the poor.
Why is the allocation of lands and the awarding of road contracts the sole concern of every minister of the FCT since 1999? Why has Senator Bala Mohammed refused to be different from his predecessors, even after that close shave of his almost being schemed out by Aso Rock? Why must we wait until we have a violent revolution on the streets to wake up to the reality that a policy is simply not ripe for it to be implemented? Why have we refused to learn from the lessons from Tunisia that set out the flame that swept away Ben.li, Mubarak and Gaddaffi in the Arab world? A popular revolution that starts in Abuja may be difficult to contain. Now, at the risk of sounding like a prophet of doom, if this issues are not addressed, and promptly too, soon a simple scuffle on the street corner would replay the Mohammed Bouazizi legend in Tunisian the streets of Abuja. A word is enough for the wise.
By Nkereuwem Udofia Akpan. Akpan, a lawyer, wrote in from Abuja
Filed Under: Judiciary