Everyone is a big man in Lagos. Even those you look down on are big men in waiting so be careful how you speak to them. One day, you might be insulting them, the next, they are driving past you in their convoy and splashing rain water on your new clothes. That's how it is in Lagos. Here today, there the next. I love the social mobility of this place. I hate that the most popular way to show that you have arrived is with a siren convoy.
You see, a big man cannot wait in traffic like the rest of us. Even when the most pressing matter on his plate is to go home and cut his finger nails, he still cannot wait in traffic like the rest of us. Come on, can't you see how demeaning that is. A whole big man, sit in his air conditioned car and actually wait to get somewhere. No. Abomination. Switch on that siren now! And it's funny, the Nigerian psyche has been so brutalised by decades of military rule that no-one questions what right this big man has to turn on his siren and force a way through traffic. It's amazing. Once people hear the siren, almost as if by magic, a way begins to be made in the most gridlocked traffic. It is like watching a modern parting of the Red Sea.
Last week, I was sitting on third mainland bridge when one of these big men decided to switch on his siren. The driver taking us home is a rather strong headed individual and he refused to stop or clear to the side for them to pass. That is, until the armed guards in the big man's convoy got out of their vans and began to bang people's cars, telling them to stop and move to the side. Of course the driver stopped after that. Who wan die? As the convoy drove past, I saw the number plate of the main vehicle. It said ADMIRAL 1. If I had a stone on me, I would have hurled it at that car and probably been arrested for attempted murder, like the unfortunate hawker who threw a sachet of Pure Water at a governor's convoy. Thankfully, there was no stone and so I am not typing this from Kiri Kiri maximum security.
As the convoy passed, the driver said, "They didn't born us properly. That's why we must sit in traffic." It's true. We were the one's that were born with one head while they were born with two. That's why a big man cannot queue in this country anymore. For goodness sakes, where are the dividends of democracy, those thieving politicians are always talking about. You mean after a dozen years of having the vote, I still have to clear road because an Admiral is passing? Are we at war with anybody? Is he rushing to command a fleet? If not, he'd better sit in traffic like the rest of us.
The Governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola, is famously known for not using a siren when he moves about Lagos. As I have heard him say in an interview, "Sirens are for emergencies. Using one when I move around implies that we are constantly in a state of emergency in Lagos. Which we are not." Unfortunately, B.R.F is leading by example and we all know how famously bad Nigerian leaders are at following good examples. It's about time someone started legislating against this big man syndrome that expresses itself in the unnecessary use of sirens.
I know out of all the problems that face Nigeria, you may think that sirens are the most insignificant but I beg to differ. They are the most visible sign of the culture of impunity that exists among our big men and leaders. A culture that says I am not subject to the same laws as everybody. That's why they steal, that's why they kill, that's why they inflate contract prices. When sirens start getting silenced, other illegal practices may soon follow the same fate.