Sometime in 2011, I got a call from a young man who wanted me to counsel him about his marriage. He had watched me talk about marriage during one of the sessions of a programme Matters of the Heart I anchored on MITV. I agreed to meet with him because I was impressed that he wanted to resolve his marital challenges.
When he came to my office he told me how it was providential that he stumbled on the television station at the time my programme was being aired. My counselee was based in Switzerland while his wife was resident in Nigeria. They started having problems shortly after they got married. The root cause of their problem was that the wife lived with his family in the accommodation he got for them. The problem came to a head one day he had a heated argument with his wife on telephone. In a desperate bid to get home and continue the discussion, he beat the traffic light. Unfortunately for him, he was given a chase and caught by some policemen who were on patrol. He was later charged to court, found guilty and given a 12-month jail term! The break in communication with his wife during his incarceration did a lot more damage to their marriage.
I was initially taken aback by his story and I asked him if beating the traffic light was all that got him a 12-month jail term. He answered in the affirmative and confirmed that beating the traffic light is a serious offence in Switzerland. Listening to him, it was obvious that he was remorseful about his action. I jokingly asked if he would do such a thing again. He looked at me quizzically and said: “Never in my life!” We talked extensively about what he can do to restore his marriage and he left with hope that all was not lost.
The traffic regulations in Europe and North America, indeed all developed nations, are virtually the same. That human lives are valued in those environments inform the stiff penalties that are applied when traffic regulations are flouted. People go to jail and are often barred from driving for a period of time when certain traffic offences are committed. In those climes, red light means STOP; amber light means GET READY; and green light says GO!
However, in Nigeria, the interpretation of the colours of the traffic lights is not clear cut. It depends on the class, temperament and circumstances of motorists / road users. To our elected leaders, law enforcement agents, bus drivers and ‘okada’ riders, traffic lights mean nothing; in fact, they are a nuisance. A friend told me the experience a man had in Abuja not long ago. This person went to the police station with another motorist who had badly hit his car after refusing to stop at a traffic light. When asked to narrate what happened, he confidently told the inquiring police officer how the incident happened. After listening to him, the police officer asked him what colour the traffic light was on when he crossed the intersection. The man said that the traffic light was on green. To his amazement, the police officer said: “That’s the problem – you wrongly interpreted the traffic light. Green light only means you can go, if there is no oncoming vehicle!” The offended man left the police station bewildered.
On June 13, 2015, I took my daughter to school in Ogun State. But for the grace of God, we would not have made it to the school. When we got Ijebu-Ode, about 2 kilometres from the overhead bridge across the Benin-Sagamu Expressway, I looked up and suddenly saw an SUV coming in the opposite direction. The SUV driver, with his full lights on, was facing the car in front of me. Meanwhile, the car was, at the time, overtaking a 48-foot trailer. Realizing the imminent danger, I quickly swerved the car to the side of the road, a few metres behind the trailer. The car I was initially behind was now sandwiched between the trailer and the rogue driver who appeared braced for a headlong collision! It was sheer providence that prevented the sandwiched driver from going under the trailer. As expected, the rogue driver didn’t stop.
That was not my first experience with motorists turning an expressway into a dual-carriage way, especially on Benin-Sagamu Expressway. Once there is a traffic bottleneck, motorists switch to the other road within minutes and put the lives of other road users at risk. Presently, the situation is hopeless because in some cases the law enforcement agents are the culprits. As such times, the law enforcement agents lead the way and other road users follow them.
I was therefore not surprised, though saddened, when I heard that twelve (12) people including students of Olabisi Onabanjo University lost their lives at Ilishan Remo area in Ogun State on Friday, June 26, 2015 when a trailer traveling ‘one-way’ on the notorious Benin-Sagamu Expressway offloaded its container on the commuter bus the students were in. With my experience about two (2) weeks earlier, I visualized how it must have happened. I thought: “It was always a calamity waiting to happen.” Unfortunately, it will not be the last. That sad incident will very likely happen again because nothing will be done differently, in terms of the enforcement of traffic regulations, to prevent a recurrence.
In the normal fashion, the news about the death of the university students has been widely reported in the newspapers and R.I.Ps have been said. The governor, or is it the deputy governor, visited the only survivor of the accident in the hospital and commiserated with the families of those that lost lives. Promises would have been made that the State will underwrite the medical bill of the survivor and that’s where it ends.
I narrated my Ijebu-Ode experience and the reported Ilishan-Remo accident to a young man whose job, in the car sales shop he works, is to deliver cars to the buyers across the country. Sadly, he didn’t see anything wrong with driving ‘one-way’ on the expressway. He said that the rule for them is never to be caught up in a traffic gridlock. According to him, once there a traffic holdup, they use the next exit to the other road (facing other vehicles) and continue their journey! I did convince him that what he termed their ‘rule’ is an offence that endangers the lives of other road users. I am however not sure he won’t do the wrong thing on his next journey.
That Nigeria is a place where human lives mean little or nothing is an obvious fact. I recall watching a BBC documentary titled ‘Welcome to Lagos’ in 2010. The documentary revealed the pains and agonies of countless ‘Lagosians’ that live in abject poverty. At the Ebute-Meta sawmill, it was reported that human deaths occur weekly from avoidable accidents. Whoever watches the documentary will come to a conclusion that the flagrant display of wealth by the very rich few in Lagos (Nigeria) belies the impoverished state of the majority.
What is the solution? It is for the people charged with the responsibility for maintaining law and order to do their job. In the meantime, however, individuals must take personal responsibility for their lives and do everything possible to stay alive. This is obviously sub-optimal in circumstances where people, like the university students mentioned above, have no control over what happens to them. People’s options are indeed limited and that is very sad.