A reporter takes a trip around the Lagos Metropolis to observe the many reckless things Lagosians do
By Chiamaka Nsude
According to Wikipedia, ẹ̀bà is a staple food mainly eaten in Nigeria. It is made from dried grated cassava (manioc) flour, commonly known as garri. To make ẹ̀bà, garri flour (which should be further pounded or ground if not already ‘fine’) is mixed into hot water and stirred well with a wooden spatula until it becomes like a firm dough, so it can be rolled into a ball and can keep its shape. When you put hot water in the bowl of garri to make ẹbà, you leave it for a few minutes; then you stir it until it becomes a firm dough; then you can call it ẹ̀bà. It can be made with different types of garri.
Ẹ̀bà is traditionally swallowed with different soups and sauces. The sheer art of swallowing the ẹ̀bà is what makes it a delight. The gift that comes with swallowing a bolus of ẹ̀bà which thrillingly goes down the throat is the savouring of the complimentary helping of soup that stays in the mouth. But ẹ̀bà by itself is not so interesting if it is swallowed without the soup. It would stick to the throat. To get fulfilment, it must be swallowed with soup so that it can go down smoothly. Because of the thrill that comes from consuming it, to most in Lagos, ẹ̀bà is life. If you take away their ẹ̀bà, you have taken away their life.
This is perhaps what that copywriter must have envisioned when he wrote copy for a once-famous billboard in Lagos many years ago. If you were in Lagos, especially on the Mainland, in the 1980s and a greater part of the 1990s, you would recall the billboard at the pedestrian bridge at Sabo bus stop which used to read, “Eba dey sweet o! Use the bridge!” That creative sign was put up by the Lagos Mainland Local Government, at the time led by Chief Bolaji Oni. Sadly, the sign is no longer there as time and age may have removed it. But it was there for a very long while.
In February 2012, the Lagos State Government came up with another publicity campaign. This time using handbills. The handbills read:
“Don’t cross the express road. Use pedestrian bridge. Crossing the expressway is a suicide mission because it can send you to your early grave. The government has provided pedestrian bridges for you and other cherished citizens so that your life can be safe. Therefore, why must you cross the express road when you can conveniently use pedestrian bridges which are in every part of the state.”
Obviously, because of the tempting imagery of eba which, with any African soup, is a necessary staple, the footbridge signage was indeed catchier. It was short, sharp and sweet. Pun intended.
ARE YOU A JAY JAY CEE?
Jaywalking occurs when a pedestrian walks in or crosses a roadway that has traffic, other than at a suitable crossing point, or otherwise in disregard of traffic rules. Like its walking counterpart, jaydriving refers to driving against traffic rules. On the converse, a Jay-Jay-Cee is a ‘greenhorn’ known as a ‘Johnny Just Come’. He has yet to be introduced to the urban code.
The city of Lagos has always been a hub for exploring life’s endless possibilities, enjoying life within tight schedules and getting smarter in the midst of so much craziness. The population has increased over the years as hundreds of thousands, and more people troop into the city annually for business, vacation or relocation. The many wonders which the city holds and takes every chance to unfold has kept residents and tourists alike, so in love with the city.
Love for the city has gradually begun to wax cold, not because the city has entirely lost its charm but, largely because it has become a real scare to live and survive in Lagos as there is an increase in care-less-culture. Hence, “Eba no dey sweet for Lagos” like it used to. The things which made it a place to look up to; the nerve centre for commercial activities, now haunt the inhabitants of this largely populated city.
A walk around the city prompted some necessary questions on the lawless, jay-walker Lagos culture and LM sought to get some answers from Lagos residents.
“EBA DEY SWEET O!”
Let’s go back to the signage – Eba dey sweet… There are common sights of pedestrian bridges in Lagos. While some are slightly dilapidated, others are in good shape and more are currently under construction. It has, however, become really common to find pedestrians crossing extremely busy roads instead of making use of the over-head bridges where they are available. Mrs Helen who is a fruit seller in Lagos, says that part of the reasons why some pedestrians do not make use of bridges where they are available is because of ease of access, seeing that it is less of a task crossing the road out rightly than taking pains to climb up a bridge. She explains that the elderly people who may have inflamed nerves consider it a herculean task, going all the way up and back down just to get across the road.
Mr. Monday thinks ease of access is a really lame excuse because life is precious. He explains that some pedestrian bridges have become hot spots for hoodlums to carry out their sinister trade; they would hang around and rob unsuspecting pedestrian bridge users. He says a number of robbery incidents have been recorded on some bridges which left victims severely wounded and robbed of valuables.
Tomilade Adesola, a Lagos resident, while answering a similar question on Quora, gave this interesting response:
“We love to defy the orders of authority. Therefore we disregard any law that seems inconvenient to our everyday activities. Now, It’s not the inconvenience that makes us disregard the law, it’s really more of our determination to disrespect and disobey authority. We are like “you can’t tell me what to do and how to do it simply because you are my Governor or President.”
“We are all always ready to call the bluff of the authorities simply because we believe they don’t deserve our respect and they don’t have a right to require that we follow their directive, even if that directive is with the best intention. And that is the same reason why you’ll see vehicles follow the BRT Lane, meant for the BRT buses alone even when it is only light traffic on the normal route.”
The laws such as the Lagos Road Traffic Law 2012 or the Lagos State Environmental Management and Protection Law of 2017 are hazy on jaywalking except if one can be arguably classified as attempted suicide which would then be prosecuted under the Criminal Code. But the Nigerian Highway Code says “the pedestrian has no right of way at a pedestrian crossing or Zebra Crossing” until they have stepped on it. A right of way simply means a person’s rights or authority over a portion of road prescribed by the law. Trying to cross a highway, refusing to use a nearby pedestrian bridge, therefore, means that if a person is injured or killed while attempting to cross a highway in such a manner, they have no rights for redress.
RISIKAT HAWKING ON THE RAIL TRACKS
For a very busy city and a commercial nerve-centre, it is only normal to have the presence of trains which facilitate transportation for both business people and their goods and leisure travellers. Well, the presence of trains and the use of them has not deterred Lagosians from carrying out trading activities on functional rail tracks. Bearing in mind that trains do not apply brakes while in motion, it is expected that activities like trading would be carried far away from the tracks but, no!
Mama Risikat sells riskily along the rail tracks at Oshodi under bridge. When asked why she and other traders prefer to conduct trading activities on the rail tracks, she said it was more cost effective. Speaking further, she recounted the horrible experience she had trying to get a stall as she was levied and harassed incessantly by law enforcement agents for a small space she managed. According to her, maintaining a spot at the tracks has been cost effective and the increased patronage she enjoys outweighs the risks she is exposed to on a daily basis. Even then, she still pays a token to supposed local government officials.
The Nigeria Railways Corporation Act of 1968 prescribes that “a person shall not, unless expressly authorised in writing by the general manager so to do, in or upon a railway vehicle or railway premises- (a) hawk, sell, hire, or offer or expose for sale or for hire any article or goods; or (b) tout, ply for, or solicit custom, hire or employment.” Rail tracks are deemed railway property. The offence of hawking on a railtrack attracts a penalty.
KINI TRAFFIC SIGN?
Commercial bus drivers and rickshaw riders are fast becoming ‘jagabans’ on the road. If road traffic signs are on roads to control speed, enable access and maintain order on these roads, these intentions seem not to be understandable to our ‘jagabans’ because they constantly beat the living daylight out of the road signs.
Mr Austin who is a mini-bus driver in the Ikeja-GRA axis responds to the question of why some drivers ignore road signs by simply stating that “Nigerians are always in a hurry going nowhere”. He explains that passengers constitute the major reasons why drivers go on to beat traffic because they put pressure on the drivers who eventually give in. Apart from the “hurry-hurry” factor, he also stated that some drivers go on to beat traffic because they have connections with law enforcement agents who easily turn a blind eye to these drivers’ offences because of familiarity.
The penalty for driving against traffic or one-way is forfeiture of vehicle and three years imprisonment.
“Buy buredi!” “Buy pure water tutu re!” The child hawkers shout.
In an era when child protection has become the collective responsibility of the community and awareness about child abuse has increased, a lot of parents and guardians seem not to have received the message. You can hardly go about without finding children hawking and loitering on the streets of Lagos. These are kids between the ages of 8 and 14 who should be at school during sessions or at home during holidays. Their hawking activities continue from morning until sundown.
Madam Salako, a roadside food vendor, strongly believes that poverty is the major reason why kids are exposed to street trading at a tender age. She gave an example with her teenage grandson who has been living with her but has experienced some difficulty with getting enrolled into junior secondary school because she has yet to meet up with the monetary requirements. According to her, “children will not eat sand” and to ensure that, they had to be a part of the fending process.
Section 30(2C) of Part III of the Child Rights Act (2003 ) states that: “A child shall not be used for hawking goods or services on main streets, brothels or highways.” A person who contravenes this provision commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term of ten years.
SUICIDE OR PLAYING DOCTOR?
With the level of physical and psychological stress which Lagosians are forced to cope with on a daily basis, it is abnormal for people living in the city not to come down with illnesses, whether minor or major. A sharp pain in the head or a little bite in the stomach is enough to tumble across to the dispensary to get a dose of paracetamol or tetracycline – anything that will deal with the symptoms. It is common to see people carelessly consume medications that have never been prescribed by a medical personnel; just that prescribed by a fellow neighbour who never could tell the active ingredients or the indications or contraindications of any of the drugs he has prescribed to his friend. Whatever the reasons behind such habits, the life expectancy of people who engage in it, are bound to diminish in varying proportions.
Mr Chika who works as a dispensing pharmacist says that people resort to self-medication because they want to cut costs, thereby endangering their lives unnecessarily. He explains that most cases he attends to, come as emergencies, which need immediate attention and leave him wondering what could have kept those people from seeking proper medical attention at the preliminary stages of the illness.
For Ms. Toyin, the situation is as a result of the country’s poor health systems. She laments about several cases which involved close family members where staff at the National Hospital did not attend to them as urgently as the circumstances presented. When asked why the people involved had to wait for their case to require urgent attention, she explained that the symptoms had to persist before they considered seeing a doctor. She said this, referring to the literature usually found on medicine packs.
Mr Austin thinks it is ignorance that makes people self-medicate. He stated that, although there were no health insurance facilities functioning to serve common people in the country, these people act ignorantly without consideration for the risks involved. Citing examples from other nations in Africa, where he has travelled to and lived with his family, he decries the low level of medical resources and lack of significant awareness which common people require to take the right actions when they fall ill.
There is currently no law in Nigeria which regulates the prescription of drugs. Also, Nigeria as a country does not have a strict liability regime, that is who should be punished when a person self medicates without prescription. The laws relating to drugs in Nigeria deal with the regulation and control of the manufacturing, sale, and distribution of drugs such as the Poisons and Pharmacy Act, Cap 366 of 1990, the Food and Drugs Act Cap 150 of 1990, the Counterfeit and Fake Drugs (miscellaneous provisions) Act, Cap 73 of 1990, the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, Act, Cap 91 of 1992, the Drugs and related products (registration) Act, Cap. 19 of 1993, and the Standard Organization of Nigeria Act of 2015. But there are laws which cover attempted suicide in the Criminal Code. Section 327 of the Criminal Code states that “Any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year.”
All of these point to decadence and lawlessness, bordering on wanton recklessness. Lagos has not always been like this. With these ever increasing social problems, it is only left to the imagination if there will be the possibility of some change in this reckless or jaywalker culture.
SOME GOOD IN THE MADDING CROWD
As much as there are a lot of Lagosians who are given to being lawless, there are some who simply abide by the rules.
Mrs Micah Isaac is a seamstress who says she cannot remember the last time she took medicine without seeing a doctor. Once upon a time, she took some medication without a prescription and ended up with swollen lips which required a lot of money to treat. After the incident she vowed not to take any form of medicine unless duly prescribed by a doctor.
Mr Joseph Ejechi who is also known as Old Soldier explained that he has been in perfect health for as long as he can remember but, cannot say the same for his wife and children. He says he prefers taking his children to the hospital because he believes that is the best place to get medical care. As concerns road use, Mr. Ekechi reiterated his unflinching disposition to maintain the law. He could not recall when last he crossed the road where there were pedestrian bridges. He added that he had just completed some distance on foot from the bus stop and had to use the pedestrian bridge to get to the spot where we had this discussion. Apart from the safety which using bridges provides, he feels keeping to the law is the best way for him to model his Christian faith as he carries Jesus everywhere and should be seen as a good example.
Mr Mark Mordi, a businessman and contractor says he is used to not beating the traffic because of the fear of being made a scapegoat. He has chosen to be patient even as everyone around decides to be reckless, because the penalty for flaunting traffic rules is not something he has the mental strength to deal with when caught. Mr. Mordi shared the frightening experience he had along Agege motor road which has forced him to use pedestrian bridges wherever he finds them.
“A couple of times, I have witnessed vehicles knock people down on this road – up to two or three cases. Just two weeks ago, a young man who was returning from church was trying to cross the road while a car drove one-way on the BRT lane and he was knocked down. He died instantly, we were the ones who removed the corpse from the road.”
Anele Jane is a secretary with a private law firm and she is of the opinion that visiting hospitals is better. She says she uses the services of an HMO which subsidizes whatever costs her medical bills incur. She had learned to use the clinic right from her university days when she discovered that it did not really cost so much to register with the school’s health centre and occasionally stop by for routine medical checks. That had made her get used to visiting the doctor instead of self-medicating.
Sadly, it would seem that the rush to survive has paradoxically put life on the back burner…or should we say na who ẹ̀bà epp?