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Jesus, take the wheel

By Debbie Olujobi

Living under constituted authority presupposes that there would be laws put in place to protect and defend an acceptable standard and way of life. The laws would require everyone to obey the rules that govern society and there would be a  recourse to an established arm of the same law to enforce its statutes and punish those who break the law.

It is not genius to assume that for the society to run peaceably and harmoniously, everyone would be subject to its laws but what happens when the enforcers of the law manipulate and break the law for personal gain or as a blatant show of ego and power? When the law is made an ass and it becomes a tool of perversion, mayhem and murder then there is trouble. Against this background I am reminded of a song title, “Jesus, take the wheel’.

I am slowly becoming convinced that Nigeria as a country is a car, moving at breakneck speed; with no designated driver. If you can picture in your mind a car, speeding along bumpy roads, changing drivers without stopping or slowing down, almost crashing and to make it worse is laden with too many unhappy passengers.

My analogy may not be obvious to casual bystanders of the Nigerian situation but the past few decades have left nigerians in no doubt that the godfathers behind the scene often wield more power than the designated and duly elected office holders (election fraud is a story for another day).

By now my analogy should be clearer with the selective implementation of law and justice that is a daily occurrence. It has become a mere irritation to watch obviously guilty politicians and lately bankers who have robbed the coffers set free while petty thieves are sent to the gallows. Judges and legislators are muzzled to do the bidding of the real powers that be and that same level of impunity is trickling down.

I had an experience this week that opened my eyes to the desperation of the Nigerian situation and it brought a feeling of total helplessness. I commute  to work against traffic and the most convenient route would be through the 3rd Mainland Bridge in lagos. This bridge however has limited flow because it is currently undergoing maintenance work.

I time my movement to coincide with the flow of traffic in the direction of work and suffer the extra long route back home. Last wednesday would have been a normal day like any other except for the almost Nollywood tragic occurrence that almost befell me.

Approximately 300 meters before the bridge, my driver had slowed down; we were both wondering why it wasn’t opened but before we could even ask the officials anything, we were surrounded by police men shouting and threatening to shoot us!

It was unfolding very fast and my driver was dragged out of the car while I was ordered out  with a gun aiming and periodically touching my chest. LASTMA officials and mobile policemen seemed to be enacting a scene out of a mob movie.

When we asked what our offence was, I was told we were guilty of parking on a bridge. My car wasn’t parked and the engine was running till they forcibly broke the key in the ignition. Police harassment is not new and its worldwide so I probably would have brushed it off except for what happened next.

From behind us a man I can only describe as a hoodlum, without any identification or uniform jumped behind the wheel and if my driver and I hadn’t scrambled into the car he would have sped off. He drove at break neck speed into a very scary area of Lagos Island and I began to regret not letting him just have the car. By now my anger and indignation became fear; I was either being kidnapped or about to be robbed of more than my car.

The next 30 to 40 minutes opened my eyes to the new lagos. Unfortunately or fortunately I wasn’t carrying enough money to feed the demands of the man with a gun.

My ATM cards also decided not to work and he did not want my phones or jewellery. I was eventually rescued by the fish monger I knew who gave me all the money she had before I was let go. I should mention that I was not the only one caught in this almost deadly web and one other driver suffered a fate worse than I did.

Right before my eyes, he was dragged out and beaten; he was being stripped when the fish monger came to my rescue. Later on I recalled the man with the gun saying to someone that “he had a HOT” , it seemed he was actually pleading with them that it was just some girl and not worth their time and that may have explained why I got off so lightly.

I have faced the barrel of a gun before and I cant say which one was worse, being robbed by robbers or being robbed by men in uniform.  I tried to report it and you can imagine my frustration and even desperation when state officials said nothing could be done as they had no control of the hoodlums they had empowered!

The operation was timed and executed with precision. The LASTMA officials and policemen stopped us and handed us to the armed man who proceeded to extort and terrorise my driver and I for close to an hour. I was told I had no case unless I had photographs or a video catching the events; If I had tried that, I am sure I would have been killed, I am not sure what fate befell the other driver who was being bloodied when we were set free.

It occurred to me that Nigeria is out of control with no power wielded by any sane authority. Its a car speeding without brakes and my prayer is this, “Jesus, take the wheel; before we crash.”


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