Dr. Aliyu U. Tilde
First the story. Gatanan gatananku.
The day was Saturday, 30 July 2011, the time 9.14am. My journey from Abuja to Kano was abruptly stopped at Sabuwar Gayan, some 5 kilometers to the old Kaduna tollgate. On enquiry, I learnt that it was due to the monthly Environmental Sanitation Day, when Nigerians are expected to stay home and clean their surroundings for three hours before they are allowed to resume their daily activities at 10.00am. I was not alone at the Federal Highway. Possibly, thousands of vehicles filled the dual carriage way over a distance of five kilometers between the village and the tollgate. And before the road was opened, hundreds more lined up behind me. We were not in our homes so we had nothing to clean. We remained idle until 10.00am.
As I waited, my mind started to think of the fate of my journey. I reached the conclusion that it will be a difficult one, full of hazards and delays. First of all, as soon as the road is opened, I thought, all the thousands of vehicles, including tankers, lorries and trailers, would jam the road in our bid to reach our destinations quickly. The journey of the 230 kilometers ahead of me will definitely be slow, at snail speed. It may take four hours, or more. My car is likely to be brushed or crushed. Some accidents would take place, no doubt. I hope would be spared.
Where I dreaded most were the cities of Kaduna and Kano. Their township routes will be jammed by metropolitan users at junctions, roundabouts and checking points. For some reasons, it may remain so for most part of the day unless there is a divine intervention. There would be no traffic lights to regulate the flood of vehicles. In the few places they are installed in Kano, they would most likely be dysfunctional due to power failure. It was here I started to probe into the dilemma of the traffic police. I prayed that he would promptly report to his duty post ion order to bring some succour to road users.
‘Yellow fever’, as the traffic police is popularly known for his distinctive yellow shirt, is also not likely to be at his duty post if we consider the odds against him. He would also leave his home at 10.00am along with other residents. He will follow the same congested routes to his divisional headquarters or police station to report for duty. Then he will set out for his duty point. He would equally be a victim of the traffic jam as would other road users. Then when he reaches the point of duty, he will be greeted by hundreds of vehicles on every side of the road, driven by very impatient owners who would already be at each other’s throat. They would expect ‘yellow fever’ to play his wand and uncoil the jammed roads immediately. It would not be for just an hour or two. He would remain there until late afternoon hours. It is usually his worst day of the month. When he considers all these difficulties, ‘yellow fever’ is more likely to abscond duty after reporting to his station, leaving us – the road users – to our fate.
I counted the number of jammed locations ahead of me. They would be not less than 15 before I could reach the venue of the meeting at Malam Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital, Kano. It took a full hour to reach the tollgate, that was just 5km ahead, then another hour to reach NTI, outside Kaduna through the Unguwar Muazu – Mando bye-pass. Then it took me another hour to cover the 70 kilometers distance to Zaria. By the time I reached Kano, it was already after 2.00pm. Then just as I thought I was at the gate of the hospital and done with the environmental wahala, I wasted another hour at the Gyadi-Gyadi roundabout, right there, just 40 meters to the gate of the hospital, arriving at the venue after 3.00pm.
All the fears I had came true, unfortunately. I noticed two accidents. There could be plenty across the country. The traffic police was not there except for the two I sighted: one at Dutsinma Road junction, Tudun Wada, Kaduna; the other appeared after forty-five minutes of my stay at the Gyadi-Gyadi roundabout in Kano. The rest have absconded, as I earlier predicted.
Then just as I was leaving Kano for Bauchi, I met another traffic jam at Maiduguri Road roundabout by the NNPC mega-station at 5.30pm. The situation looked hopeless. I thought it will be 8.00pm before I could extricate myself from the mess. Finally, I decided to ‘be like the Romans’. I broke the traffic rule and switched over to the opposite lane, along with many trucks and cars, and narrowly escaped being squeezed by a trailer at a point.
Now comes the analysis.
My question now is: Why should Nigerians suffer so much in a democratic dispensation in order to comply with a 1984 military decree, when there was no constitution to guarantee us the freedom of movement? My experience, harsh as it was, does not compare in any way to that of ordinary Nigerians. I was driving a new air-conditioned car, loaded with music and compartments for drinks and so on. Most Nigerians travel by public transport in vehicles as old as 20 to 30 years, without air-conditioners, overloaded, in the hot atmosphere of the savannah. Imagine how passengers in a bus would wait for an hour at Gyadi-Gyadi at 2.00pm when the hot sun of Kano is at its zenith. I was also lucky to be driving on the smooth Abuja-Kano expressway, thanks to a better FERMA. Those who were driving along Kontagora – Ilorin, Shendam – Ibbi and other terrible roads must have been meted with worse penalties.
In spite of my penchant for rule of law and discipline, I still think that in a democratic era there is the need for authorities to device better means of achieving clean environment than resorting to the draconian Environmental Sanitation Day which nails Nigerians to their homes for three hours, rewards them with untold hardship, and wastes at least 210 million economic hours if it were still implemented across the country. Our engineers, lawyers and health workers in the democratic dispensation of the 21st century should show better ingenuity than plagiarizing the draconian rules of 1984. We need innovative and civilized means of making people compliant with sanitation guidelines 7 days a week. That is what is practiced in the rest of the world.
Kano in particular needs to be more proactive on this because of its large population and its present appalling sanitary condition. The state is lucky to have a dynamic governor that has proved to possess the guts of taking bull by the horn. Apart from the gargantuan task of inventing an effective waste disposal system, the culture of waste management must be imbued in people through enforcing whatever measures are found necessary. A situation where gastroenteritis, cholera and other avoidable hygiene-related epidemics is common should not be tolerated.
However, if the environmental sanitation day has to stay for a superior wisdom than mine, I plead with the state governments to take appropriate measures to reduce our sufferings in its aftermath. In Kano, I have seen the need for flyovers at many locations. I know they are expensive but I cannot imagine what the traffic of Lagos would have been without them. Kano doesn’t have any yet, except for the one presently constructed on the western bye-pass at Na’ibawa. Kwankwaso should start with some, his successors can continue.
But before the arrival of flyovers, let there be traffic lights at every junction that is prone to jams in our major cities. There are some in Kano, but almost none in Bauchi or Jos, for example. This is simple even if it would mean the installation of 6KVA gasoline generators at the junctions – crude as it sounds – to ensure that the traffic lights are functional for the required hours of the day; that is if a central control system is not feasible, or solar batteries and inverters cannot be sustained as a result of vandalization. Let the experts on transport and logistics think of anything suitable. The bottom line is at this age, Nigeria deserves to have traffic lights in our major towns despite our routine power outages. We had them 30 years ago. Let the governments employ the Obaman dictum: Yes, we can!
And before the arrival of the traffic lights, let our public works and the police departments ensure that traffic police punctually arrive at the junctions on the miserable days of Environmental Sanitation. In fact, they should be at there before the end of the sanitation hours to ensure an orderly flow of traffic once the road is open and remain there for as long as necessary.
That is my own story of our monthly environmental wahala. I hope the relevant departments of government have listened attentively. People scheduling national meetings should find better days to fix such meetings to avoid subjecting others to unnecessary hardship.
Meanwhile, I have learnt to avoid Abuja, Kaduna and Kano on every last Saturday of the month, whenever I can, until the Day is cancelled. You better do also.
1 August 2011