THE HIGHWAYMEN; THE YULETIDE CHRONICLES
It is no gainsaying that yuletide comes with its own aura—the light, beautiful colours, the Christmas trees, beautiful music, snow, discount sales, gifts and Santa Claus—at least that is the picture an average person in any other part of the world would bear in mind. Here in Nigeria, the narrative has been tweaked by ignorance, economic ‘buoyancy’, and an endless unhealthy hustle and strife to survive.
Christmas here is heralded with the harmattan season, it is so much so that when a Nigerian says “I smell Christmas”, just know that the cold, dry and dusty season of harmattan has fully kicked in! There are also massive holiday travels across the country, rather beautiful Christmas decors—which depends on the magnitude of the particular state’s budget—and an incessant hike in price of every goods and services. Little wonder, people here save throughout the year just for the yuletide spending; it has proven to be a rather precautionary measure.
In years past, an ugly trend had been maintained consecutively by the Federal government; the increase in pump price of fuel during the Yuletide, which usually led to prices of foodstuffs and transportation hitting the roof. For the average Nigerian, in truth, Christmas has been rather endured than enjoyed….an emphasis on the word average. In 2019, thankfully, the pump price was really stable and there was no fuel scarcity of any sort. If no one applauds this government for that singular feat, I certainly do. Well, this price stability in pump price came to prove a point—Nigeria’s problem is not entirely hinged on bad governance, there are worse citizens!
Did the price of foodstuffs still increase? Did the cost of transportation almost triplicate? Did Robbery and Crime still increase? Save your breath, we all know that the answer to all these questions is ‘YES’. How did the cost of transportation increase meanwhile the pump price of petroleum was the same? Why were there lots of traffics on the highways during the yuletide? It was as a result of the series of highway robberies conducted during this Christmas season. A good number of these robberies were conducted in daylight and I witnessed a myriad of them during my journey from Ibadan to Asaba.
Without mincing words, between Ibadan to Asaba, we passed more than forty checkpoints. Yes, I was counting! Except the Immigrations Corps, Naval force and the Air force, we drove past all the military and paramilitary forces this country has—Army, Police, Mobile Police, SARS, SAKS, VIO, FRSCN, Civil Defence, Customs, NDLEA and even some community vigilante. These checkpoints littered the highway that it impeded the fairytale of a smooth journey, the ‘accessible’ roads were meant to be our only scourge. At these checkpoints, vehicles were ‘randomly’ stopped and searched. Drivers of public transportation vehicles had to ‘settle’ at EVERY checkpoint. If you are a visitor in this beautiful country, the word ‘settle’ as regards our highway patrol forces simply means bribery, and here it is not corruption!
We are all accustomed to the familiar handshake between drivers and Armed officers, yes? Millions are made in that exchange of friendship. Even if your papers are outdated or even nonexistent, you can still travel in this country. It is a simple knack; whenever an officer asks for your particulars, just slip a couple thousand naira notes into any A4 paper on your dashboard and bon voyage, you are good to go. Do you know what this means? You can travel across this country with a stolen car, just have enough money for fuel and do not forget the pocket money of your friendly neighbourhood policeman. At one of the Customs Corps checkpoints in Edo state, a driver told me that he had spent over fourteen thousand naira on bribe between Lagos and Edo states. It doesn’t take that much to fuel one’s car for such a journey.
Another part of this tragedy that slaps is this; you can literally see the next checkpoint from the one you are just passing, they are just half a kilometre apart, or less. One funny thing kept happening, whenever the driver of the Cab I was in got to a checkpoint, he says “I don settle your people for back” and the Police or Military man replies “Those ones different from us, you must settle us differently”, what impunity! The expressway is the worst place to be a hero. It is the worst place to take the role of the ‘I know my rights’ kind of citizen. You will just be shot and buried. Did you hear of that story of a Nigerian that was killed because he refused to comply with such malpractices, he was shot! They said he was a criminal, but there was no proof, no ammunition. Is that not an Irony? The real criminals are the ones that guard us.
Can you now logically deduce the cause of the increase of the cost of foodstuffs and transportation during the last yuletide? Yes, it is a no-brainer! It was the increase in cost of bribe. These drivers of public transport companies would not want to make a loss, so they increase the cost of the transportation; hence, the passengers bear the brunt, especially for divers without papers. Same thing applies to truck drivers that transport foodstuffs; whenever they are flagged down, they are obliged to pay a token. Have you noticed that these men see these forced tips as their royalty for standing in the sun and protecting the highway? They rip people off their hard earned money with such impunity—this is the actual daylight robbery. When it is night, these men vacate the highway to their various homes leaving it for the nocturnal scavengers to rip you off your valuables. Since everyone fears the night journey and its perks, we are now meant to pay the cost of travelling ‘safe’ during the day.
People have complained, but with our leadership structure, it keeps falling on deaf ears. Shhhhhhhhhhh!!! Bribery on the highways is still a myth, it does not exist.
THE HIGHWAYMEN; THE YULETIDE CHRONICLES