By Adekunle Adekoya
I have come to the conclusion many times that government and governance here is not for us, the governed, but an enterprise for the benefit of those in government. There is very little compassion for the citizenry by those in government. Government agencies and those who run them mainly concern themselves with pecuniary interests, and work assiduously to make life near-unbearable for the governed.
If that is not so, why would Nigerians have to pay higher charges all the time for electricity? Why would we have to pay more for fuel all the time? Why would the charges for driver’s licenses get jacked up? Or passports? Virtually every service delivered by the government has had the charges jacked up several times in the last few years. Why?
For us in this part of the world, travel at Yuletide, Eastertide, Eid-el-Kabir is part of life and living. Many travellers that can afford the fares fly, but mostly the majority of us go by road as the rail sector is just being re-introduced into the transportation mix.
If you ask those on the move, they will have stories to tell of their experience on the roads, especially those using the Sagamu-Benin Expressway, and the Niger Bridge linking Asaba and Onitsha.
The tales can be captured with one word: horror, as gridlocks have reportedly lasted days on the Niger Bridge. Between Sagamu and Benin, the uncountable number of checkpoints make travel a nightmare. I experienced it last month when I had cause to go to Sapele.
Between the Sagamu Interchange and Benin City, I counted more than 56 checkpoints, and I consoled myself that their presence is to help keep kidnappers and other marauders at bay.
While travellers suffered the agony that goes with this, many of the uniformed services that have cause to be on the roads are, in my opinion, there for themselves, and in some instances, merely out to make life difficult for fellow Nigerians.
In social media, a traveller narrated his experience with a patrol of the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, and shared pictures to buttress his narrative. He was stopped, and after a cursory examination, was informed he’d been driving on expired tyres. The man in question turned around and looked at their patrol vehicle, a Peugeot open back, a two-cabin van with registration no FRSC C01.120 RS.
He took a hard look and told them they’re also driving expired tyres! They replied that they’d written their command for new tyres and were awaiting a response. That notwithstanding the FRSC corpsmen went ahead and booked him, fines and all. The exasperated Nigerian asked on his Facebook page: Is this fair?
We can all answer that, but the narrative, yet to be responded to officially by FRSC, reinforces my long-held belief that though we are in our own country, we are actually captives of a system that works to exploit us and make life more difficult for us all the time.
Are these corpsmen not Nigerians? Don’t they know that there isn’t a single tyre manufacturing company in operation in the country? Don’t they know that most vehicles in the country run on used tyres? Don’t they know that brand new tyres are affordable only to the very rich and those in government? In any case, what congruence occurs between a used car (tokunbo) and brand new tyres?
A few weeks ago, this newspaper ran a lead story on the automobile industry with the headline: Policy somersaults drive the auto industry off the roads. The tyre-making industry is an integral part of the auto industry. Growing up, one saw tyre brands like Dunlop, Michelin, Odutola Tyres and others, making tyres here in Nigeria. One after the other, these companies died.
The multinationals among them — Dunlop and Michelin — relocated to climes where better leadership exists. The case of Dunlop is particularly touching. In 2007, a few months to the end of Obasanjo’s second term, Dunlop commissioned a new plant — the ASRT (All Steel Radial Tyre) plant in Ikeja, Lagos.
The facility was powered by a N10.2 billion loan, according to then-chairman, the late Gamaliel Onosode. Fidelis Tapgun, then Industry Minister, represented Obasanjo at the commissioning. A few months later, Obasanjo was out, and late Umaru Yar’Adua was president. Soon, businessmen started getting import licenses to bring in foreign tyres, which were cheaper, and against which homemade brands like Dunlop and Michelin could not compete.
The rest, as they say, is history. Yesterday I was in Ikeja, on Oba Akran Road, and I got moody and depressed as I drove past Dunlop’s premises. It had been taken over by weeds, and the roofs of many of the industrial sheds had cracked.
A bank now occupies part of the premises, while a church uses another section of its premises. Michelin first relocated from Lagos to Port Harcourt, and thence, out of the country. Indigenous tyre makers had been strangulated out of the business. Shame. And a government agency is penalising people for using tokunbo tyres? Don’t get me wrong; I’ve been driving since 1985 when I got my first driver’s license; brand new tyres are good, last longer, and enhance safety on the roads, far better than tokunbo tyres.
If I have my way, I won’t touch a tokunbo tyre. But what do we do now? Why should we get punished for offences we didn’t commit? Makes me remember Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France whose remarks that people should eat cake if bread wasn’t available helped ignite the French revolution, and ended the monarchy in that country. Since we can’t afford new tyres, what should our vehicles roll on? Answers from FRSC, and indeed, the Federal Government, should be interesting. Happy New Year jare!