'Ni Owe, Ni Owe ni a lu ilu Agidigbo. Ologbon ni O ma jo, Omoro ni mo'. Translation from Yoruba, 'the drum of Agidigbo is beaten in proverbs. It is the wise that dance to it and the intellectual that understand'.
Friday, April 18, 2008
I find that very few people that I know in Lagos would pass the test of the ancients who evolved this dance of the wise. On the contrary many do not even understand the proverb. There is a parable or a proverb that has been playing itself out with one of my friends in this lonely and sometimes mean place called Lagos. There is a adulterated form of transportation called the 'Okada' which is a motorcycle taxi. It is largely unregulated and safety is quite an after thought. In fact it treats life like a Kebab wrapper at 3 am on any High Street in England or better still as the leave wrapping Eko in Oja Oba in Ibadan. Totally disposable and entirely transactional. Everyday since my current visit to Lagos I witness Okada accidents , the victims usually women in skirts and wrappers sitting on the kerbs, thighs splayed and legs in awkward positions either broken, twisted or badly cut. The riders usually men are congregated in a initial heated exchange then a negotiated settlement that leaves their passenger at the mercy of the elements and in the parade for a kind stranger in a car. All these by the way of background.
My friend a fairly, newly minted middle class marketing executive was on her early afternoon jaunt of sorts in Obalende. Obalende is a working class , ethnically mixed area of Lagos Island . She was legally on a one way system whilst two Okada riders were illegally riding against the legitimate flow of traffic when they collided with each other. So far not a unusual day in Lagos apart from the fact that my friend could not avoid hitting one of them who was pushed into the path of her car. She drove this unfortunate man to hospital and proceeded to the nearest police Station to give her statement. As she was doing her civic duty , news came that the Okada rider that she had taken to hospital had died. Her life entered the land of dual systems pathology as she was detained by the Police. She now was a suspect and both the formal as well as informal systems kicked in a brutal dance of torture. She was held all day and all night at the Police Station a fate visited on many but to her somewhat sheltered life it is being held in Dante's hell. She had to pay for the morgue, preparation and burial of the fellow as well as a fee to the family for the death. The informal system was instant and direct in spite of the effort of all kinds of senior as well as influential Police officers. This was all before she was charged with anything. There were other payments made to reduce the full visitation of other indignities and finally the formal system of a charge and arraignment was followed. My friend is presently on bail and awaiting trial. The formal system notorious fro delays will take its time and possibly its toll too.
There are simple corruption and dysfunction comments that are like butter on bread everyone has tasted and know how it goes. I hope any commentary will move beyond this very obvious and traditional explanations. I suspect there is a lot more to this than that. On a systemic note it is arguably ' a gift that keeps on giving'.
For example a life is lost how much value has the family in collecting all kinds of payment put on the life of its breadwinner?
How does the informal system evaluate what is to be paid and to whom?
Is that possibly a more efficient way of resolving the needs of the poor family whilst the formal system takes its long and tortous route?
What do you really think of the continuing informal transportation role that the Okada plays in Lagos ever present traffic?
Two lives have been directly,completely changed by this event , one beyond restoration, that of the late Okada rider. For my friend she enters a place few ever do and if so they need psychological counselling for the trauma but like a true Lagosian she is back at work and driving as well in the sea of Okadas. Many more will be deeply affected presumably the family of the unfortunate rider.
I have no answers but I am deeply affected. Something will emerge but for now I welcome your views.