When you are done pontificating about revolutions, remember that the poor on the street, have no way of differentiating between the thieves and the ones that have legitimized the stealing by our complicit silence.
I have a couple of stories to tell, they happened about 4-5 years apart, they might seem unconnected, but once you found the patience to look, you would see the connecting threads, and the catastrophe waiting to happen, becomes much clearer.
One evening, heading home from work, just before Ambode decreed the Igbo-Efon roundabout on Lekki-Epe Expressway out of existence, and having just survived what I had imagined to be the last of the major traffic jam before I might escape the madness, my mind had wandered, and I ran into what appeared to be a gridlock immediately after Igbo-Efon roundabout. The painful part is that if I had been paying attention, I could have employed my knowledge of the neighborhood to enter the side roads at Idado, and thereby bypass the Chevron roundabout, to which I was headed.
Having driven past the roundabout and into the gridlocked traffic, I noticed a new road, running parallel to the expressway, and I turned into it, knowing that I could reenter the Igbo-Efon roundabout, if the road connects to the road into Igbo-Efon, to where reason should demand that it led. Happy that I could unleash the power of local knowledge to evade the maddening traffic, I motored happily along the road, but found that just before the road could connect to the Igbo-Efon road, the road ended in a cul de sac.
The moronic design of the road, lent itself to the utilitarian wisdom of a vulcanizer, the man had set up his workshop at the end of the road, facing the road, and backing the one it should have been connected to. He was at what should have been a junction. Tired, pained, angry, and perplexed, just before seeking a way to reverse back into the gridlock I thought I had escaped, I rolled down my window, and enquired of the Vulcanizer, “se ona yi o ja’de ni?” Aren’t the roads connected?
I could see that the roads were clearly not connected. The concrete embankment was clearly visible, and I was not asking to gain knowledge. I asked in pain at the visibly unreasonable, myopic, and wicked choice not to connect the roads, and I asked focused on how that flippant evil had exacerbated my daily battle for survival in the hellish reality of life in Lagos and in Nigeria. I asked with no expectation of an answer, or explanation, I asked seeking empathy and perhaps, solidarity. “E se ja’ra won”. YOU, did not connect them, was his accusatory retort. He found me complicit in the very evil against which I presumed to wail.
Human life consists in seasons, and as with seasonal cycles, our seasons are also heralded by events that are discernible to those interested in identifying the seasons. In traditional African societies, however far apart, and disparate, as they might appear, there were points in the life of every adult, male, or female, when the person was “graduated”. This was the point where he would be given his own land to farm, and the process of initiations into the tribal ways, norms, and secrets, began. He was deemed ready for the responsibility of adulthood.
Now, the welder apprentices proudly wears his graduation gown, and you should witness the Fashion Designers in the many interpretations of the academic gown. They have managed to demystify the academic gowns that we once looked upon with reverence and awe. But you get the point about graduation, it signposts the age of responsibility, accountability, and the onset of adulthood.
Immediately after graduation comes the string of weddings, first in a spurt, and then in trickles, until they tail off, to be replaced by naming ceremonies of the children, children’s birthday parties, and then the landmark birthday parties for selves and parents, and then the inevitable deaths. Friends who died in what should have been their primes, and then the odd parents, and the cycles of life presses on inexorably.
Invitations to the marriages of friends children are the latest signs in the cyclical dance that is the life of a man. The kids we went to name in our youth, are themselves beginning their journeys into adulthood, and however much we might seek to protect them, we cannot save them from growing up, even as we ourselves are growing old. We are becoming our parents, and they are becoming us. My second story began with the invitation to a friend’s daughter’s wedding.
I have always found the Yoruba parachute called “Agbada” a tad clumsy for me, and I had successfully avoided having to wear one since my own wedding 17 years ago. But I persuaded myself that it would be unseemly to wear my usual white shirt and jeans, to a wedding where I would be viewed as one of the fathers of the day. Bedecked in my Agbada, the wife in her own Iro and Buba, I pressed the wife’s driver into service, and did my best imitation of the Nigerian big man, in the “owner’s corner” of my battle tank.
Now there’s a traffic light at Jakande to be sure, and just after the lights, you have the Bus Stop. Just before this bus stop, the Oba Akinloye Way, empties into the Lekki-Epe expressway. There is nothing express about the seeming highway into hell. The bus drivers, with the endorsement of the LASTMA officers, have decided that they prefer picking the passengers in the middle of the road, and the traffic from Oba Akinloye way suffers the brunt of the traffic occasioned by the madness. This arrangement suits the very subjects of my second story.
As the traffic on the stretch has become a norm, an army of beggars have converged to take advantage of the insanity, and madness have multiplied unchecked. The beggars are mostly children. Some would appear to be young girls below the age of sexual consent, but they would themselves be bearing babies suckling at their breasts. There are also the urchins, young boys and girls, aged between 6-14 years old. Tomorrow’s problems are learning today.
It was into this traffic that we ran on our way to the wedding party, and we had to run the gauntlet of beggars before we might get onto the main road. Having seen that I was in the owner’s corner with madame by my side, we became the immediate center of the beggars attention. Lagos “Area Boys” have nothing on these kids, brash, aggressive, rude, and menacing, these children violently robbed of their innocence are nobody’s kids, and the more we ignored them, the more aggressive they became. And then one of them spoke up above the din: “awa ma ni” and led the other away from the car. I told the driver and my wife, he had scratched my car.
“Awa ma ni” loosely translates as “you will recognize”. It’s a demand by the urchin for the recognition of his own humanity, and he has concluded that I am one of those responsible for the denial of his humanity, even as I am myself as much a victim of the same system that has blighted his future. “Awa ma ni“, is also a threat as I was correct in my deduction that he had scratched my car, he lashed out in violence at what he believed to be my insensitivity to his plight, and he fought back the only way he could.
The vulcanizer has no knowledge of me, and to the street urchin, I was just another callous big man. When you are done pontificating about revolutions, remember that the poor on the street, have no way of differentiating between the thieves and the ones that have legitimized the stealing by our complicit silence. “When the poor have nothing to eat, they’ll eat the rich” right? I assure you they will not be asking the source of anyone’s wealth, your inability to provide proof of your poverty, will endanger your life.
First published 1 April, 2020.