By Tunde Odesola
Like an arrow shot from the bowel of hell, a silver-color car zoomed past, vroom!!! A merchant of death was behind the wheel. Like a lion on the heels of its prey, about 10 police vehicles followed in close hunt. It was the American law in pursuit of justice. There was no accidental discharge. No hysteria. No shrieking roadside hawkers.
The interconnectivity between life and death is as fleeting as the blink of an eye. Life is the mysterious metaphor that carries honey in its right hand; bile in its left. Last week, these realities unfurled swiftly before my very eyes. May we not encounter maggot in salt.
I was on an official trip with a female black American colleague, Kaila, in the driver’s seat. American roads are safe and pleasurable. No potholes, no checkpoints, no robbery fears. All you need to drive anywhere in America are just your driver’s license and your car insurance. Nothing more. In my fatherland, Nigeria, the list of vehicle ‘partikolas’ required from drivers is determined by the ingenious gluttony exhibited by principalities at checkpoints.
Kaila and I were at a traffic light in Athens, en route to Huntsville, both in Alabama, when she suddenly froze, looked into the driver’s sideview mirror and frowned. I was about to ask if anything was the matter when the fleeing silver-colour car blasted past her side. It didn’t pause at the traffic light. But the hounding police vehicles paused for a second. The chase was macabre. Life stared death in the eye. May we not travel on the day the road roars for blood.
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“He’s stupid. He can’t get away. Maybe he’s got substance on him. They’ll spike him,” Kaila said, as she excitedly followed the trail of the hunters and the hunted when the traffic light turned green. She was almost jumping in her seat. “He’s gonna take the interstate highway! Let’s take the interstate highway! I wanna see the end of this,” Kaila said.
Police. Spike. Intercity highway. I looked at Kaila but my thoughts
went to Nigeria. “It’s ok, you take the intercity highway,” I said. The intercity highway lies along our route. American intracity and intercity roads are an intricate web of superb connectivity that always leave you with optional routes unlike the sorrowful road to paralysis called the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. “Why would the fleeing driver take the highway?” I asked. “Because there ain’t traffic lights on the highway,” came the response.
So, we got off the intra-city road onto the intercity highway, looking to see who would triumph between the law and the lawless. After a short drive, we saw a firefighter truck ahead of us. “Hey, here we go! We’re on the trail!” Kaila said in her deep voice. “How did you know,” I asked. “The firefighter truck!” she said, pointing.
Ha! Bros, when you’re JJC, you’re JJC! Baba Igbajo is a JJC in America, I chuckled to myself.
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In about a minute or two, we saw far ahead, at the right side of the highway, a stationary line including an ambulance and about a dozen police cars – all blazing blue lights. The firefighter truck pulled behind the long line of police cars. The cops have spiked the fleeing car. We could see the screeching imprints of the tyres on the road after the tyres were deflated (spiked) and the car skidded into the roadside prairie. The airbags in the car had deployed. I saw a policewoman steadying a lady emerging from the front passenger seat to her feet. There was no traffic snarl as motorists slowly plied the other lanes on the highway. Everything looked so routine. Life went on.
The suspects were neither threatened nor beaten. They were not paraded before the press. There was no need for press cameras as all police officers wear body cameras while their vehicles also brim with cameras. The Head of the American Police is largely unknown to the public but his efficiency is seen in the security of American lives and property. He’s unlike Nigeria’s Inspector General of Police who daily struggles to show himself to the President as working, ordering that virtually every arrest made by the police be credited to his needless unit called IGP Intelligent Response Team. In a responsible society, every unit of the police must be efficient.
While on the trail, I heard Kaila on the phone urging her mom to be careful if she was plying the highway route. After we got past the scene, she informed me the driver struggled with the cops. “How did you know,” I ask. “It’s in the news,” she answered. “Who told you?,” I inquired. “My mom,” she said.
Ha! American police! My mind pranked me with the type of statement that would’ve been issued by the Nigerian police in this type of situation: “The Commissioner of Police, Egunje State, has warned criminals to flee the state. The tough-talking commissioner stated this after the smashing of an organised family syndicate that specialised in orchestrated intercity banditry and cross-country terrorism…”
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The rot in the Nigerian system didn’t start with the incumbent IGP, Mohammed Adamu, neither did it start with the second nor the third coming of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). Buhari noticed the rot in his first coming in 1983 when he identified corruption as the bane of the country’s development.
Erudite journalist, Dele Giwa, also did. In an article, “Blast from the past: Nobody cares,” published in Newswatch on January 27, 1986, Giwa analysed the unending messiahnic excuses proffered by Nigeria’s leaders for assuming power. Particularly, Giwa examined the respective incursionary roles of Buhari and General Ibrahim Babangida into Nigeria’s power matrix, and he returned with a verdict: Nigerians ‘have been shocked to the state of unshockability’. Giwa wrote, “Nigerian is perhaps the only country in the world where corruption has lost the power to shock.”
Giwa was right. The unholy sums of money stashed in secret accounts abroad by the late thief, Sani Abacha, don’t shock Nigerians, neither did the missing $12bn oil windfall under Babangida. Since Olusegun Obasanjo emerged president in the Fourth Republic, politicians have become richer than the Nigerian state. The anti-corruption ship of Buhari long capsized at the roguish epitaph of Abacha, his benefactor, whose family, Buhari has left to continue to collect millions of naira monthly as emoluments accruable to past Nigerian leaders and their families. If Buhari was sincere with his anti-corruption noise, he would’ve renamed the public institutions bearing Abacha’s stinking name.
When Nigerians voted for Buhari in 2015 as civilian president, they didn’t forget how he, as military Head-of-State, anointed Shehu Shagari’s head with oil via a house arrest but crowned Alex Ekwueme and other southern political leaders with thorns, throwing them behind bars in 1984. Nigerians thought Buhari was born again.
Long before 2015 when Buhari assumed power as president, the power of digital media had opened the eyes of more Nigerians to decent living in a globalised world. More Nigerians have come to know that it’s possible, in an honourable country, to buy a 2020 model of a car of your choice – like the fleeing American, and pay in instalments even when you’re on the lowest rung of the societal ladder. More Nigerians are now aware that in a desirable country, you don’t need to belong to any party or know any ‘oga’ at the top to own a house even if you rank among the least earning workers.
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Nigerians want security. They want jobs, good roads, good schools, hospitals, housing and electricity, not the loud failure Buhari is flaunting with arrogant silence. Nigerians wish their children could get COVID-19 palliatives like American kids who get food supplies twice daily at home despite not attending school. Nigerians wish Buhari had not been left behind at the train station since 1985.
Tunde Odesola is a seasoned journalist, writer, and a columnist with the Punch newspaper