Nigeria News

Nigeria’s official death convoys

Mike IkharialeThe idea of this piece was conceived a long time ago as an academic conversation addressing the phenomenon of incessant cases of avoidable crashes of official convoys in Nigeria. Several years on, we have seen more of such wasteful accidents in the country. The recent case of the auto crash involving the motorcade of Governor Idris Wada of Kogi State created immediate impetus for me to briefly represent it today. Do we ever learn?

Since the present civilian administration picked up the mantle of leadership from the totally exhausted military junta, Nigerians have lost count of the number of reported accidents involving official government vehicular convoys. From the local government councils to the state governments, right through to the Federal Government, the story is the same: multiple ghastly car accidents involving top government officials. Many of these crashes had recorded mind-boggling fatalities, not to enumerate the various broken limbs and wasted human organs as well as the millions of taxpayers’ money lost in the endless carnage.

Why would official government motorcades constitute such a tremendous traffic hazard to themselves and other road users? Are there no more traffic regulations in Nigeria? If there are, are government officials exempted from compliance? What is in government business that transforms its members into highway stunts overnight? Is it the proverbial intoxication of power at work or what? Why are Nigerian political office holders so highly accident-prone?

Is it really safe to entrust the management of a nation to individuals who cannot conform to basic traffic ethics or who are making a virtue out of traffic recklessness? What manner of a boss that would sit coolly inside a car while his chauffeur is cruising across the country like James Bond in a movie stunt, spreading death and horror in the process? Can an official driver possibly operate the vehicle outside of the instructions given to him by the boss? These are questions whose answers may give us some insight into the mindset of those who presently rule us.

The late Tai Solarin is on record to have said that any of his drivers who exceeded the nation’s speed limit of 100 kilometres per hour, to his knowledge, had earned himself an instant dismissal; and to avoid the temptation to ever break that personal traffic code, the respected social critic always set out on his missions as early as possible.

It is only in Nigeria that political leaders of all grades and hue literally crash into public assignments, at the very last minute, in ways that are clearly calculated to intimidate the people. Why and how Nigerian leaders developed the risky habit of driving recklessly through the poorly maintained roads of Nigeria as if they are on open race tracks still continue to baffle me, especially if one takes into account the fact that these miscreants are no kids who stealthily took their parents’ cars out without due permission just to impress their not-so-fortunate peers. These are adults, Nigerian rulers!

Here, we are talking about governors, ministers, legislators, councillors, the vice-president and even the president himself. Without exception, they have all been cited for traffic accidents in the last several years. Starting from when former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s convoy, during a visit to Bayelsa in 2001, was involved in the usual bumper-to-bumper slamming due to excessive speed. The unending statistics of ‘executive crashes’ were followed by that of the then vice- president Abubakar Atiku, who apparently would not want to be out-done by his boss in the vehicular kamikaze circus while he toured Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, soon after.

What is really going on among our leaders? Is there a spell? Sometimes, one is tempted to evoke the old road safety frustration-induced billboards on Nigeria’s highway on them thus: For years, we have warned you, kill yourself if you dare!

In the days of military rule, it was very easy to understand why armed convoys of leaders were always moving at break-neck speeds. The risky driving they indulged in was accepted to have suited both their occupation and their circumstances. There was also the psychological fact that they were perpetually afraid of being ambushed and killed by those of their colleagues who were also keen on violently seizing power. So, largely out of fear, they had to always move at break-neck speed.

I always find it a nauseating circus watching these officials as they childishly misuse expensive public vehicles in lengthy convoys to chase and intimidate members of the public out of the way. These routine dramas are generally indicative of the presence of what a colleague used to refer to as Vagabonds in Passage or VIPs. There is no other rational explanation for those stampedes of shame. It is madness.

Let us not forget, however, that apart from the suicidal nature of this driving style, they are also setting bad examples for our youths. Take it or leave it, these people constitute a part of our elite for now and children are naturally looking up to them for inspiration, especially those amusing aspects of such dangerous traffic conduct. But how can a government whose officials are being regularly citable for reckless and indecent driving muster the moral strength to want to legislate on a civilised driving code for the society?

The simple truth about all these alarming official car crashes is that there is a surfeit of misfits in high places. Of course, they may easily cheat on the people, even intimidate and harass them, but certainly, they cannot cheat machines whose basic science they hardly understand. When you abusively push any mechanical contraption beyond its designed safety limits, you are surely accelerating your funeral date. Driving speedily on the bad Nigerian roads is nothing but sheer suicidal plunges. Those who must govern others must first learn to govern their own instincts and idiosyncrasies on the highways. Riding official vehicle should not be interpreted to mean a licence to kill, as it appears to be presently.

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