Uniform Madness: Occurrences in Lagos

Does putting on a uniform make one mad or does madness attract one to the uniform? It's like the chicken and the egg; near impossible to know which came first. As we sidestepped the policemen whaling on the street thugs, you comment on the short temper of some police officers, Ireti says everyone could be short tempered if their uniform protects them from the repercussion of their actions -Ireti is the deep one, in case you were wondering. Nkem rants about how she'll never stand for her rights to be trampled on by anyone wearing any godforsaken uniform and you and Ireti shake your head in unison. Nkem's father's driver is waiting for her at the end of the road, her godfather is a retired 4 star general, of course her rights won't get trampled. You all get to Adekunle Bus-stop and head off in three different directions; Nkem to the Island, Ireti to Mainland and you to Ebutte Meta.

                                                                                       ***

It's another day.

You're tired, irritated, late and you have a headache. Somehow, you suspect that the tiredness and lateness is what caused the headache and being stuck in a danfo bus in this heat with the smell of fish attempting to crawl into your very pores is not doing wonders for your mood. The traffic is atrocious, especially because you know there's no sane or even semi-sane reason for it.

The driver gets to Sport Commission and swerves to avoid a boy on his bicycle. The swerve brings the bus dangerously close to the car behind. You turn and see that the car is driven by a woman in uniform, somebody in the bus mutters 'O Jisox' in a heavy Igbo accent. You silently agree with the statement, so does everyone in the bus - loudly and at the top of their voices. You look at your wristwatch, you're 10 minutes late and getting another bus in the middle of the expressway is near impossible. Your headache gets worse.

The car manages to get through the traffic and parks diagonally in front of the bus. The female University of Lagos (Unilag) students seating in the row behind you say 'ghen, ghen' - that national sound of a fight about to break out - and as they laugh, you wish they were wrong but you know they're not. You try to calculate how much later all of this is going to make you, you quickly send a text telling your colleagues to start the production meeting without you. You catch a glimpse of the military woman as she storms toward the driver and sigh, mentally adding another 15 minutes to the journey.

The driver, that loud man who's been bopping to fuji and having shouted conversations with passengers at the very last seat, comes down and starts begging the woman before she says anything. His conductor and other well meaning passengers come down and join him in begging. Some even kneel on the muddy floor, pleading with this woman to forgive the driver for not hitting a little boy. You buy sachet water from the hawker who's doing brisk business around the bus.

Fifteen minutes later, the woman is finally ready to be appeased. You sit up, thinking finally, we can get out of here. But not just yet. She says she'll move her vehicle and let the driver go if he lays on the floor. The crowd is silent. Everyone knows where this is going. You all turn to stare at the driver, wondering if he'll accept the indignity as repayment for not hitting a child. You wonder if he'll think feeding his family that day is more important than his pride. You wish he would say no and refuse to be humiliated, to refuse to lie down and bow to anyone because of the uniform they're wearing. After all, you think, we're no longer in a military regime. You think all this but you don't say a word because you know better. The driver lays flat on his belly, and that servant of our nation, that scourge of Boko Haram, the Nigerian soldier in the person of that woman walks all over his, literally. 

The woman moves her car and the driver gets back in his bus. The journey continues. The radio is silent, the driver doesn't say a word until you drop off at Anthony Bus-stop. The entire bus is silent but for the sound of the Unilag girls.

                                                                                       ***

Another time.

You're headed back home when you see the traffic. It's long and dense, like some demonic leviathan from the Old Testament - thick and impossible to get by. You curse yourself under your breath for not taking an alternate route, although how you could have guessed there'd be traffic is something that does not cross your mind. Where there were once four lanes, there are now six, moving at an excruciatingly slow pace. Your keke (tricycle) is on that legal 'one-way' lane that passes by the front of a barracks, so you're not too surprised to see the soldier coordinating traffic for better movement.

You are surprised when he pulls your keke to the side for an offence only he knows. The keke driver tries to ask what he did wrong and the soldier's response is two slaps, hot enough to have the sun whistling. In the blink of an eye, two soldiers beat up the driver without explaining his 'offense' to him and you, like everyone else in the crowd that has gathered, watch on in silence unable to do anything. When they let the bleeding driver go, you pay the injured man 200 naira for a 50 naira journey and walk off, against the traffic with vague plans to get alternate transport at the next bus-stop.

You arrive home some fifty minutes later, you walked home.

                                                                                       ***

Yet another day.

You're at that pesky traffic light in Old Yaba, the one close to the police station that stays on green for all of 8 seconds and has cars and kekes lining up into the next street. An okada (commercial motorbike) dodges around, avoiding the traffic. For a few seconds you wish you took the okada instead of the keke, but you're not late and the sun isn't that hot so it only lasts two seconds. The okada makes an abrupt halt, capturing your attention.

A police motorbike is driving against traffic (and against the law), the okada stops and cautiously backs away to avoid hitting the police bike. He almost succeeds. The okada grazes the police bike just a little. The policeman parks his bike in the middle of the road and chases after the okada rider. The okada rider tries to run for it but is stopped by other police men in front. They force the okada to park, take the keys and the police bike zooms off with the okada rider's keys.

In your keke, the driver and one of the passengers start complaining about the police. Another passenger faults the okada rider for not 'obeying the last order' and an argument breaks out. You want to ask what the hell obeying the last order means, but you don't. You listen to their arguments for a few minutes then you start wandering what will happen to the okada rider and how he'll make his daily bread.

                                                                                       ***

Yes, another time.

Emmanuel is in the house, you haven't seen him in a while. He tells you he no longer has plans to go into the military and you say something like "Thank God", and a conversation ensues. He says you have to support the Nigerian Army, they protect us after all. You don't agree entirely. The ones facing Boko Haram are worth your respect, the others not so much. Even as you say that, a part of you wonders if those 'good' ones won't act the same way when they return from their deployment. He tells you about his friend Seaman Patrick Paul who died only a few days ago in Borno, another victim of Boko Haram and you console him. 

He tells you about the Directorate for Civil Military relations in Ship House, Abuja and how they're trying to smoothen relations between soldiers and civilians. He tells you all sorts of stuff but even he can tell you don't entirely believe him. Then he shows you some cases where the army was forced to pay damages because of the actions of it's soldiers. You're not entirely certain you believe him, but you do some research and you realize it's true. That the Nigerian Army can and has been held liable for the action of soldiers, and somehow this cheers you up.

                                                                                       ***

This time.

You perk up as you pass the front of the barracks. Will this be the day a slap will earn someone millions? Will a uniformed person be held liable for his/her actions because you took a picture? You smile in anticipation, a cold smile but a smile nonetheless. The soldiers carry out their duty courteously, so you mean it when you thank them. You're genuinely saddened to hear of the death of Lieutenant Colonel Mohammed Abu Ali and other brave men and women of the Nigerian Army who paid the ultimate sacrifice in defense of the nation. You no longer clench in anger when you see someone in uniform. You don't automatically feel grateful either. You think to yourself that maybe your ambiguity isn't such a bad thing after all.


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