Photo credit: Google.com
“Change begins with me.” Everyone is encouraged to say these words, but more importantly, imbibe them. Honestly though, I think some people should not bother saying it, because they totally do not even believe Nigeria can get better. I think I prefer people who would rather not say anything because they know the change cannot begin with them; it will catch up with them sometime later. And for those who think the government must do everything…all the best to you.
An occurrence that involved me and some seven other people prompted this post. Upon the closure of my school, I travelled to Ijebu Igbo. When returning, I travelled back in a Peugeot 504 station wagon that was driven by an elderly Ijebu man. The car, though an old model, still looked good, and even had a nice interior with the upholstery still intact. The driver was very boisterous, shouting out greetings to people as we drove out of the Ijebu Igbo motorpark. One thing became apparent about him as we travelled- he didn’t give policemen money. I wondered how long he would do that before finally giving in. We went through about five checkpoints in all and, at every stop, he would smile at the policeman and say in Yoruba, “I will ‘see’ you when I’m coming back.”
When we got to Ìdí Ayùnré, the policemen there refused to be ‘seen’ later, and asked the driver to ‘settle’ them there and then. The driver apologised to us as he parked beside the road and got out of the car to go talk to them. He spent some minutes discussing with them, and the more time he spent, the hotter the car got, and the more unbearable it became to sit in it. At a point, the other passengers began to complain about the driver, and how he was being selfish. Why wouldn’t he give the policemen some money? Why was he bent on ‘standing on his rights?’ How many more policemen was he going to refuse to ‘settle’? How much longer was he going to delay us? What was wrong with these Ijebu people sef?
When he got back into the car, apologising profusely, they repeated all they had said while he was gone. He retorted as he started the car, “If you care so much for policemen, why don’t you give them some of your money? No portion of the money with me is for policemen. Whoever has money for them should please go and give them, and stop yelling.” I smiled to myself as I mentally applauded him. As we left, the other passengers continued arguing with him about his refusal to give policemen money. I did not say anything throughout; I have this funny habit of keeping quiet in public transport vehicles, and only talking when talked to. I prefer to listen to other people, observe them, or just read a book. On this particular journey with six other passengers and the driver, only two of us were quiet- the lady in front who didn’t appear to understand Yoruba, and myself.
We soon got to New Garage and just as we were about to enter, we were stopped by another set of policemen. A junior officer with particularly big eyes with even bigger bags beneath them, and an overall sullen look about him, came to the car and said, “Welcome sir.” The driver looked up at him through the window and said in Ijebu, “What does that mean?” I smiled; apparently he had decided to play dumb.
“Baba, I no understand Yoruba, na English I sabi. I say welcome sir. You no hear that one?” The policeman retorted.
“I said what is the meaning of what you said to me?” The driver asked again, as a lady sitting directly behind him pointed out the policeman’s name tag to the rest of us in the car. He wore a safety jacket, and it covered the rest of his name; all we could see was “Aye”. The lady concluded that he was Yoruba but was also pretending not to understand. So much drama in one place. I had to suppress my laughter as the policeman decided to ditch pleasantries.
“Where are your particulars?” Patiently, the driver brought out a small bag and showed him his particulars. The policeman went through it all, and apparently, the driver had all he could think to ask for. But unwilling to let him go so easily, he held up a card and asked, “Where is the original for this one?”
The driver replied in an angry, cutting tone, still in Ijebu, “I hope you’re not mad. How would I have this one if I didn’t have the original? Do you even know what you’re talking about?” Too annoyed to sit in the car any longer, he got out, slammed the door shut, and brushed the policeman’s hand off the side mirror, saying, “Don’t break my mirror. Does it look like an armrest to you? If you break it now, you’ll stop me for it later and ask me to pay some money.”
“Baba, respect yourself. If not, I will throw your particulars on the ground and march on them.” The policeman said, his big eyes narrowing, seemingly being swallowed by the bags beneath.
“Don’t tell me rubbish about my particulars, young man. I have been driving before you were born. Your mother was probably still in secondary school at the time! And you talk about marching on my particulars?”
The driver and the policeman went to meet his superiors some meters behind the car while we sat in the car, sweating. My co-travellers resumed their whining about the selfishness of the driver, and Ijebu people in general. I wondered if they would say all that if they knew I am Ijebu. The man who sat two seats away from me, and who happened to be the only male passenger, was particularly annoying.
“Baba is just suffering us for nothing,” he said in Yoruba. “Why can’t he just give them fifty naira or hundred naira instead of putting us through all this stress and wasting our time? Other drivers do it, why is he standing on his rights? He should know that in Nigeria, no one can stand on their rights; there is no such thing. You will always lose. He should just give them what they want. That’s how things are.”
The driver soon came back with his particulars, a triumphant smile on his face.
“Sorry o!” he said, as he stored away his particulars and started the car. Once again, my fellow passengers yelled their complaints at him, and once again, he replied them appropriately.
“I have told you before; if you have money for them, you can give them. As for me, the money with me is for my family. You passengers are wicked. You’re asking me to give policemen money. If I do that, what will be left for me and my family to spend?”
“How much is fifty naira that you can’t give them? You left us all in the heat of this your car because of fifty naira!” someone said.
“Why are you complaining to me about the heat? Am I the one who asked the sun to shine? And, in case you don’t know, it takes money to maintain this car, so you can sit comfortably in it. I starved myself to pay for that licence. Why should I pay anyone bribes after that? If you don’t know what to say, please keep quiet.”
“I have paid my fare o; you didn’t carry me free of charge. I have a right to express my mind,” the sole male passenger said. I wanted to slap him in the face with my book. Didn’t he just say there’s no such thing as rights?
“How much did you pay that you’re running your mouth? Six hundred naira! Seven of you paid four thousand two hundred naira in total. If I keep dashing policemen money, what will I take home to my family? Ògbéni*, it will not be well with your rights!” the driver replied hotly and the whining passengers all kept quiet. He he! If that had been some social media battle, I would have commented on the driver’s words and said, “#Savage!” 🙂
Seriously, if people keep on with the attitude that corruption, bribery, and regular unwarranted payments to policemen are normal, ‘the way things are’; that we don’t even have rights that we can stand on as Nigerians; then Nigeria will never be better. We want change but somehow, we want it to happen without our involvement, without changing our mindsets and bad habits. Who are we fooling?
Photo credit: Ziglar.com
Change is a process, and it can be painful. In this case, we had to sit in an old, extremely hot car with no air conditioner. In other cases, it could be more: it could be recession, falling value of our money, rising prices of commodities…But if we endure it, stand on our rights, and fish out corrupt people for due punishment, we will see the end of corruption. It might take time, but it will happen. We will be triumphant, just like that old driver.
Photo credit: Google.com
As for people like Mr Running mouth whose knowledge of ‘rights’ I seriously doubt, God be with you o.
*Ogbeni- Yoruba word used to refer to men.