Traffic thieves, social security and other stories

Casmir Igbokwe

First published Aug. 23, 2009 

I had an encounter with a hoodlum last Thursday. I was returning from the National Theatre, Lagos, where I attended the book launch of former Information Minister, Prince Tony Momoh. I was stuck in traffic between Sheraton Hotels and the flyover bridge on Mobolaji Bank Anthony Way, Ikeja. It was about 3pm. After a while, I switched off the engine and wound down my side window.

 I was enjoying Faze’s music, Originality, when suddenly a young man with bloodshot eyes emerged. He was holding an umbrella. He bent towards me and commanded, “Give us money for food.”

 Sensing danger, I quickly dipped into my pocket and brought out some money. It was mainly in N1000 denomination. But I had N500 and N200 in-between the notes. I gave him the N500.

 He collected the money, and with a guttural voice, made some signs as though he was calling some other people. He bent towards me and commanded again, “Give us money for food.”

 I was praying silently that traffic should move. It didn’t. I wondered why the man kept on saying “us” when I saw only him. “I have given you N500 and you are still disturbing me. Is it not only you?” I asked.

 Pointing behind me, he said, “It’s not only me. The rest are over there.”  While this was going on, nobody bothered to find out what was amiss. Everybody stayed glued in their vehicles.

 I felt like giving the idiot a punch. But I checked myself because I have heard many stories of how bandits rob in traffic in Lagos. For instance, a few weeks ago, a colleague of mine became a victim on Oba Akran Avenue, Ikeja. He was going home from work about 6pm when two men on motorcycle pulled up. They showed him their gun and forced him to wind down. They not only took his phones and those of other two people with him in the car, but also collected all the cash on them.

 There is apprehension in many parts of Nigeria today. Nobody feels safe anymore. Politicians, who embezzle public funds, sleep with one eye. The average man who struggles to live a comfortable life, drives with trepidation on the streets. The hoi polloi who have nothing to offer, risk falling victims of ritual killers.

 This type of scenario usually occurs in a nation where there is extreme hardship. The global financial meltdown has not only melted the finances of the poor away, it has also put even the very rich in a state of confusion. The sacking of managing directors of five banks by the Central Bank of Nigeria penultimate week led to the revelation that the near downfall of these banks resulted from bad debts owed by those we call rich men. I never knew that some of them were living large on borrowed money.

 Part of the reasons people indulge in criminal activities is fear of the unknown; the fear of living from grace to grass.

 This is why I support the comments credited to the Vice-President, Goodluck Jonathan, last week. He said that corruption was due to insecurity as most people accumulated wealth for fear of the future. Assuring that the Federal Government would provide social security safety net for Nigerians, Jonathan said, “People have to pay school fees for their children, provide food and other essentials. Some people may not want to be corrupt. But because they want to secure their future, they go the extra mile to get out of the way. If the future is certain, I’m sure some people will not be corrupt.”

 I sincerely hope that this is not part of the mere rhetoric this government has come to be known for. This social security, I guess, was behind the Pension Reform Act enacted during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration in 2004. Every month when I get an sms credit alert from my pension fund administrator, I develop some feeling of safety; that at least, something is being kept aside for my retirement.

 If all Nigerians have this feeling of safety, it will go a long way in reducing crime to the barest minimum. Just last week, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Farida Waziri, said her commission recovered over N50bn from corrupt politicians within the last one year. This is incredible.

If Jonathan and his colleagues in public office could pledge to serve Nigeria with all their hearts; if they could reduce the amount of money they give their wives for jewellery, there will be more than enough to take care of this social security.

 Even as I pieced this together yesterday, the Bayelsa State people were suffused with militants’ disarmament ceremony. When ‘Field Marshal’ Boyloaf entered the arena, there was wide jubilation. He was ushered in with the royal splendour that even President Umaru Yar’Adua may not have received anywhere in Nigeria. One of the leaders of the militants said he had 20 graduates in his camp. What they want mainly is employment.

 Shortly before the ceremony, I had watched T.B. Joshua’s show on Africa Independent Television. The Synagogue Church prophet gave out Emmanuel TV rice, wheel chairs and N50, 000 each to some disabled people. The way the man and his congregation celebrated the thing made me feel that there was more to the gifts than meets the eye.

 Nevertheless, I wished that the thief who waylaid me in Ikeja were there to collect his own largesse. He was probably driven to do what he did by extreme hunger. When he collected my N500 and still wanted more, I gave him extra N200. He was still not satisfied. I prayed that he should not ask for my phones. But luckily for me, the traffic moved at that point. I sped off. He pursued me to a point, flagging me down with the N200 I gave him saying, “Take, take, take!”

 Good Samaritan! Traffic stopped again at a point. But it was a bit far from the young man. I kept on looking back, hoping and praying that he doesn’t surface again.

 I have since learnt not to put all my money in one pocket. I am also thinking of getting an inferior phone which I could easily give away should I be asked to do so. I hope you have also learnt one or two lessons here. What a country!

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