September 9, 2015

Ojuelegba as a metaphor

Late Afro beat maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, means different things to diverse people. While some people see him as a gifted musician, others see him as a social nuisance who lured many unsuspecting people to embrace anti-social ways of life. Many others see Fela as a revolutionary who had a liberating message for his largely naïve and oppressed people. Despite this varied perception of Fela, one thing that is, however, incontrovertible is that he provided a voice for the voiceless people in his country and, indeed, in the African continent. He dared the government with the intent of liberating the oppressed.

He was incarcerated several times for this, but he was never cowed. Fela was an enigma of a sort.

His music was his weapon. With it, he fought many military and civilian dictators and their collaborators to a standstill. When Fela sang, powerful men in the society simply ran for cover. One of his ever green songs, ‘Confusion Break Bone’, aptly interprets the confused state of post-colonial Lagos and its dearth of basic infrastructure and visionary leadership in the days of military disctatorship. In the song, Fela illustrates the hard situations of post-colonial Lagos. This was artistically epitomised by his reference to the chaos at Ojuelegba, a complex Lagos neighbourhood with awful social and spiritual existence almost akin to that of Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah.

During this period, Ojuelegba metaphorically captured the image of pandemonium. In those days, at Ojuelegba, right in the scorching and highly torturous Lagos sun, lots of vehicles trying to connect various parts of the metropolis would be stranded for hours in the typically irritating Lagos traffic jam, popularly referred to as ‘go slow’ in local parlance. It was always a gory sight with many motorists blaring horns at the same time; cursing and hissing at the sight of the utterly bewildering Ojuelegba confusion. It was this chaotic situation that Fela, perhaps Africa’s most revolutionary singer, attempted to exploit as a metaphor for confusion in Nigeria.

Years after Fela symbolically drew attention to Ojuelegba as a satire for confusion in the country; the once highly notorious and riotous neighbourhood was in the news again. Unsurprisingly, it is for the wrong reason.   A few days ago, Lagosians were stunned by the news that a heavy-duty lorry carrying a huge container fell off the Ojuelegba Bridge, landing on a  Nissan saloon car and another Sports Utility Vehicle, SUV, sentencing three people in the process to inopportune demise. The event, which occurred in the afternoon, allegedly created serious pandemonium typical of Fela’s Ojuelegba as motorists along the route  reportedly ditched their vehicles and took to their heels.

Understandably, this state of affairs gave rise to more confusion that subsequently resulted into several accidents, with fleeing motorists and commuters sustaining varying degrees of injuries in the process.  According to eye witness accounts, the container might have fallen off because it was not latched. But, the account of the Federal Road Safety Corps differs as the Corps Lagos State Sector Commander, Mr. Hyginus Omeje, insisted that the container was latched because it fell alongside the flat belt on which it was  hooked.

Whichever way, the Ojuelegba event is sadly a reflection of the careless disposition of Nigerians to the issue of safety and sanctity of human life. The concept of the sanctity of life is anchored on the sacred nature of life, and the fact that nothing should be spared in order to guarantee the safety of life. Unfortunately, we have reached a level in our nation where human life actually means so little to us. We have little or no regard for universally accepted safety procedures and measures. In our clime, people die needlessly on a daily basis and in clearly avoidable circumstances. All we care about is how to amass more and more wealth. The typical Nigerian’s predisposition to amassing wealth, even at the cost of human life, is quit legendary.

Our roads are filled with vehicles that are nothing but merchants of death. Articulated vehicles with outdated tires daily ply our roads while law enforcement officials, who should apprehend them, having already compromised their oath of office, simply look the other side. It is only in our clime that a well oiled fake drug industry could operate undeterred and with irritating audacity. Since the fake drugs barons understand the average Nigerian’s craze for money, whether bloody or bleeding, they would always be in business.     The cost of the Ojuelegba incident is obviously enormous. It resulted in pains and preventable deaths, wasted time, money and other valuables while it also led to the damage of public infrastructure. It is, therefore, for these reasons that it is disheartening to know that most of such incidents are not acts of God, as some would ignorantly want to affirm, but rather the products of human errors, carelessness and institutional failure. Indeed, most of such incidents could have been avoided if those   involved had been more safety conscious.

Typically, in the next few days, several traffic and safety enforcement officials would be unusually active on our roads, trying to ‘enforce’ safety and traffic regulations.

Unless we embrace rational acts, Fela’s Ojuelegba would continue to be a sad reminder of our wacky decision, as a people, to embrace insanity.

That is often the trend in our nation as we act like a naïve silly child who wanted to hide the knife after the havoc is   done. We can continue to play the fool all we want. But, we should be ready to bear the consequences of our foolishness. Unless we embrace rational acts, Fela’s Ojuelegba would continue to be a sad reminder of our wacky decision, as a people, to embrace insanity.


Tayo Ogunbiyi of the Features Unit, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.