By Bisi Lawrence
*let them burn
As ugly a human undertaking as any kind of war is, none is as gruesome as a fratricidal conflict and that describes every civil war. Our three year-long experience could not have been devoid of some shameful acts on both sides, soured as it was by ethnic prejudices. But the mature and cultured mind takes it all in and allows the finest touch of the human spirit to mellow it down. That is the quality of the mentality that one would expect in an accomplished writer like Chinua Achebe.
One ought to be disappointed, but not quite. For one thing, he had never hidden his dislike for Chief Obafemi Awolowo, who is deeply revered by many people, especially among the chiefs own kinsfolk, the Yoruba people. Chinua Achebe could not even abide the outpouring of adulatory tributes from them immediately after the passing of the man they love to honour as “The Sage”. He opened up with a diatribe that left many people, even among the Igbo, his own people, speechless. He titled this sludge of his, “The Apostasy of Awolowo”.
It was supposed to represent a note of resentment against, or rejection of the genuine expressions of regret and sorrow at the death of a nationalist many people sincerely believed had contributed to the making of Nigeria as a nation, not least among them even several Igbo people on whose behalf Achebe posed to vilify such an illustrious figure. Indeed, it contrasted sharply with the tribute of, in my book, one of the greatest Nigerians —if not the greatest ever— Nnamdi Azikiwe, himsel f of Igbo extraction.
I was myself indignant enough to react with a denunciation of Achebe, who had been my boss when I was a Senior Features Producer in Radio Nigeria, Enugu. He was the Regional Controller, having served earlier in Lagos as the Head of Talks, around the time he authored the highly acclaimed, “Things Fall Apart”.
He was a quietly assertive man who enjoyed every bit of humour even when he seemed to be the butt of it. But he found it easy, it seemed to me, to be somewhat swayed away from being very fair, though fearlessly so, for his nature was apparently anchored on a compulsory impulse to be forthright in all circumstances. He does not seem to have changed much —the same human decent being, with the same purely human failings.
Even if we dismissed the adage that “all is fair in love and war”, for its triteness, we would still have to admit the veracity of its natural impact on the actions and reaction of homo sapiens. In no historical record of warfare would be found the incidence of an army that was fed by the foes against whom it was ranged in open conflict. It has never happened. Right from the time of the Punic Wars in the Thirteenth Century, the opportunity of a blockade has never been missed in warfare as a means of disrupting supplies whether of material or sustenance.
At other times, direct aggression would even be employed to break the line of supply, as in the case of Dresden in World War II. The dreadful ploy is always a loathsome episode in the over-all ugly conditions of war. The evidence of its horror must have etched an indelible image on some delicate minds indeed, especially the sight of those children who were reduced to mere skeletons with distended bellies. It would have given rise to feelings of hatred. But, ov er time, it should not nurture notions of hate.
A second consideration of Achebe’s proffered reason for Awolowo to adopt a “policy of starvation” against the Biafrans during the war shows the contradictions in the presumption that it was in line with the ambitions of the Yoruba politician to capture the entire country in a nation-wide bid for the presidency. How could that be achieved without the indispensable support of the Igbo people who, form a sizeable proportion of the country’s population? Or could Awo have been so naive as to envision a host of those who had survived his starvation onslaught forming a long queue to vote for’ him in an election? That could not be.
Fortunately, the late “Sage” was opportuned to defend his actions while he was still alive. Many have found his explanations acceptable, even if not palatable; but neither is any aspect of war, nor the expressions of even a forthright heart horribly scarred by its ravages.
Suddenly, the young lady was in full flight. She had dared an attempt to cross the road in a fairly crowded enclave when the Okada appeared swinging from one side of the road to the other, hardly caring for the pedestrians who quickly skipped out of its way. But our young “miss” noticed it almost too late. And as it zoomed towards her, she took one quick look and spread her wings. It was a smooth flight.
She escaped from the awful machine …. but the landing was straight into the gutter. There she floundered, emitting a shriek of anguish that gripped the sympathy of all around. The rider of the Okada tried to escape, but the crowd barred his way and descended on him with fierce blows. They might have lynched him but he fought back and made good his escape to a distance, from where he flung imprecations on his assailants. The young lady picked herself up from the gutter with a little help from crowd who were more interested in deciding the fate of the hapless rider waiting for the opportunity to reclaim his slightly damaged machine to resume his journey.
If you live n Lagos, you might have witnessed one or two versions of that incident every other week. Or even more frequently. The daredevil riders operated outside and beyond the law. They would ride against one-way streets; they would ignore traffic lights; they would carry two or more passengers (including pregnant women, or women with babies strapped on their backs), in stead of one permitted by law, on the pillion seats; they would blare their horns with studied provocation; they would refuse to use crash helmets as specified by the law; they would quarrel with their passengers and fellow-Okada operators, and motorists, and pedestrians—everybody. And, with all this and other forms of nuisance manifestations, they would cause constant disruptions in the traffic.
I was so happy I could almost call a party when the new traffic laws keeping them in their place were promulgated. But I was quickly made sober by thoughts of how well the regulations stipulated by the laws would be enforced. There had been no adequate legal restraints on this commercially operated kind of public transport in Lagos, as it would appear, but there have always been traffic regulations in place which the riders flouted with impunity. The policemen simply ignored them or “accommodated” them. So, making laws was one thing, but enforcing them simply had to supplement the legislation.
But now my misgivings have received a pleasant shock with the “demolition” by fire, of several hundreds of the awful machines caught in erring situations recently in Lagos. That should indicate the level of seriousness of the authorities. But there is one more measure that they should adopt, and that is the control of the number of the tricycles (Marwa) and the commercial motor-cycles in each zone where they still operate.
The commercial vehicular population of the city needs to be controlled anyway, in an organized municipal system. Even in the colonial days when there was less threat of traffic chaos on the roads, the number of taxis was controlled within Lagos. It somehow gave way to the untidy situation where the urban roadways became choked with all sorts of commercial vehicles. The vital services they render were thus stifled when traffic gridlock resulted in clogged-up movement.
The limited relief from the nuisance of the Okada phenomenon through the new Lagos traffic regulations deserve commendation.