By Muyiwa Adetiba
The first time I saw keke Marwa as a means of mass transportation was in Bangkok, Thailand in 1989. I felt like a proper tourist, if not a native as I hopped from one motorcycle to another in search of cheap textile materials. I was apprehensive at first but I soon overcame my fear.
I found the natives friendly and the fares very cheap. Earlier, about ten years earlier, I had seen an even cheaper variety in neighbouring China where people went about in bicycles. I remember feeling amused and even bemused at the vehicles of choice for these simple folks.
And if I must be honest, there was a bit of condescension too as I just could not imagine Nigerians opting for the two or three-wheeled mode of mass transportation. Today, 30, 40 years later, the situation has been completely reversed.
The once narrow, dusty roads have been replaced by wide, ten lane highways while sleek, fast trains have become the preferred mode of transportation in these Asian countries. In the meantime, Nigeria, our dear country with its oil wealth, with its one hundred dollars per barrel windfall has completely retrogressed. Rather than improve on buses which I met as a young boy in the city, we moved to Okada. And when that was killing and maiming our youths in their hundreds, we grudgingly conceded Keke Marwa to them.
In any case, where are the roads?The roads that our colonial masters and founding fathers bequeathed to us have been badly managed and new ones are not forth coming. Despite the rituals of yearly budgets and appropriations, very few new roads have been built anywhere in the country outside Abuja in the past 20 years at least.
Awolowo would be squirming in his grave if he could see the state of roads in Yoruba land. Many of the roads connecting the towns have been completely neglected. The roads in Ijebu, his base, would bring tears to his eyes.
I recently went from Sagamu to Iperu and I couldn’t believe my eyes at what I saw. Not too far from the Iperu billionaire’ house was a gully with jobless youths carrying shovels of sand while trying to make a quick buck off already stressed road users. Just as Prof Ambrose Alli, the late governor of Bendel State, would cry out in anguish if he could see what has become of Ekpoma roads, including the road that leads to Esan land from Benin.
I speak of places I have been to in the past three months which also includes the Ife road to Ilesha. I am sure they represent many of the roads in the country judging from news reports on the deplorable state of our roads nationwide.
As for Lagos State, the less said about its roads, the better. The highways are shining but the inner-city roads are deplorable. Many of them are so bad that you would never know they were once tarred. I am not even talking about far-flung places. Many are in Oregun, Ikeja, Ketu which are in close proximity to Alausa. Lagos is supposed to be the largest economy in Africa; larger than many African countries.
Yet this wealth seems reflected only in the lives of the politicians and not in the ordinary folks who live in squalor and deprivation. As for the rails, we are still talking about standard gauge when Asian countries are using electric trains to move people, goods and services at incredible speed.
But nothing in all of these, reflects the mind set of our rulers who seem to have consigned us to a life of drudgery more than the promise of a governor in one of the Northern States to provide his people with solar-powered tricycles aka Keke Marwa. The level of his ambition for his people in these days of hover crafts, trains and luxurious intra city buses is keke Marwa. Meanwhile, he goes about in bullet-proof cars, heavily tinted to prevent him from seeing the desperation in the eyes of his subjects.
He has a retinue of expensive cars to protect him, to move him quickly along the road and ultimately to shield him from the reality of the subsistent lives of his people. He gets away with it because no one dares challenge his retrogressive thinking. More importantly, he will never have to use keke Marwa in his life. Other world leaders blend with their environment when they leave office and use the facilities they have helped to provide while in public life. Not our leaders. They don’t feel the need to improve on public education because they won’t use it; they don’t feel the need to improve public hospitals because their doctors are in Harley street in the UK; and they certainly will not use public transportation of any form. So why not keke Marwa for the people, while they ride bullet-proof SUVs.
Our leaders have a lifestyle that insulates them from the people they claim to serve during and after public life. They float in the cloud of wanton luxury and don’t see the hunger and the deprivation on the ground. That is why a man who communes in bullet- proof cars and private jets can genuinely think a solar-powered tricycle is a form of progress for his people in these days of smart cars.
To see the number of private jets at our airports, and luxurious cars on our roads, one would not think that about 60% of our people are under the poverty line of one dollar per day. Yet most of these wonders on wheels belong to public servants, their contractors and religious leaders who should be the conscience of the nation. Yes, many of our religious leaders live as flamboyantly as our politicians.
A photograph of a Pastor and his newly acquired Rolls Royce went viral recently. In all probability his congregation would have shouted Hallelujah when the news of the purchase was announced. In all probability, some of those whose money went into the purchase of the car by way of tithes and offerings would have gotten to church that day through keke Marwa. Some of them would probably struggle to have both lunch and dinner that day.
But the pastor must have his Rolls Royce irrespective of the homeless, hungry and thirsty in his flock. The gap between the haves and have nots is getting wider by the day. This often happens in a country which has lost its conscience, its soul and is largely left with cynical, manipulative leaders who ply their trade on the soap box as well as on the pulpit.
We should all be wary of the day of reckoning.