Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Between Dimgba Igwe and Sunny Ofili: Who will Stop the Carnage on Nigerian roads?

“The masses have never thirsted after truth. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim”.- Gustave Le Bon

I found it extremely difficult to write about Nigeria in recent times. It becomes even more difficult when I lost two dear friends to avoidable automobile accidents in the last two months. Don’t get me wrong, I know death happens. We all have to die one way or another. What irks me most are the avoidable deaths and carnage on Nigerian roads. More so, when some of these deaths could easily have been avoided by deft planning, care for road users and enforcement of extant laws, something now alien to Nigeria as the rich, the wealthy and politicians live by impunity.

The first to die in a ghastly motor accident is my good friend and colleague, Sunny Ofili. Sunny as we all like to call him was first an award winning journalist, a tech savvy United States government technocrat, before he decided to move back to Nigeria to serve his people in Delta north. Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State appointed him as special adviser on information and communication technology (ICT) on September 11, 2011. Before his appointment, he widely consulted some of us in Diasporas who were very close to him (most especially myself and Iwedi Ojinmah). He had established the first Nigerian online newspaper, the “Times of Nigeria” online as a veritable news aggregation website patterned after Drudge and Huffington post (Ojinmah and I blog frequently on that platform).

He also took risk in exposing the corrupt Obasanjo regime at that time. I recalled his late night call for help to pay for document from the Corporate Affairs Commission registry in Abuja. Some of which proved the involvement of the Obasanjo’s presidency in shady oil contract deals in a Portuguese speaking island country in the Bight of Benin. We also pay to have some of the contract document translated from Portuguese to English. I recalled the urgency in his voice as he tried to escape arrest by operatives of the Federal government when they heard he is snooping around. He eventually had to come back to the US through the Benin route-made famous by Uncle Wole Soyinka. He knew well that route, as he took the same route on his way out of Nigeria as he fled the pernicious Abacha regime. As we often say in Nigeria, the more things change the more they remain the same.

I restated all of these to emphasis this point: Most cats with nine lives often died feeding on a drunken poisoned mouse. The obvious irony was apparently lost on Governor Uduaghan in his elegy at the burial of Sunny Ofili on September 5, 2014 when he said: “Over the years, I have learnt to control my anger but on the day he died, I was very angry over the circumstances of his death. I asked myself why Sunny entered that vehicle. He did not need to embark on that journey. When you wake up in the morning, pray not to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, pray against associating with the wrong people and pray against being dragged along with the wrong people at the wrong time.” What an irony! The vehicle Sunny should have avoided was that of his government. The wrong people he should have never associated with are the Ibori/Uduaghan crowd. The wrong time is 2011 and not 2014.

Obviously, the governor’s comment is in reference to the fact that Sunny Ofili chose to ride in a Jeep driven by an heavily intoxicated driver, the Late Agbogidi Henry Ezeagwuna, the Obi of Issele-Uku, (who also happened to be the traditional ruler of his home town and his father-in-law). Granted Sunny should never have agreed to ride a car driven by an heavily intoxicated driver, but the real irony here, is that the same Uduaghan used Sunny’s reach and influence with Delta north first class chiefs and Obis to get his government reelected. This happened even though he and his predecessor, James Ibori had nothing to show in terms of benefit to the Delta people. The vehicle Sunny should have avoided is the disaster prone Jeep called the Delta state government. A government that has no exact policy on road management! A government that sustains itself through bribery and sheer impunity. A government that receives more statutory allocation than any other states and yet primary school students still attend classes under a thatched roof! I could go on, needless to say that the death of Sunny Ofili is no more a sad event than the thousands that died daily on Delta roads while the Delta state and Federal Government of Nigeria looks on. It is also a warning to many of us idealist in Diaspora: Look before you jump!

And then there is Dimgba Igwe, of the Weekend Concord fame! He along with Late Michael Awoyinfa started the demystification of celebrity journalism in Nigeria. They both put the poor on the front page of newspapers in Nigeria through their rich stories on Nigerian masses. Imagine the shock on the face of newspapers literati in Nigeria in circa 1990s, when Weekend Concord published an in-depth story on the travails of “dumpster diving” college graduates in Nigeria in the early 1990s. Dimgba Igwe died this week in the hand of a hit and run driver, in another PDP controlled states, Abia state, with all the federal might at their disposal. Yes, it could have happened in an APC control states, but as long the president continue to go around to gloat in Osun and Ekiti about how he would have love to help the respective states but for the fact that state government is controlled by opposition party, it is fair game to remind him about the carnage in the states controlled by his party! After all, it is the federal government of Nigeria that controls the Federal Road Safety Marshall. The same federal government forbids state government from establishing any patrol on federal roads by statute.

The ongoing divisive and ethnic politics in Nigeria is largely responsible for the inept and corrupt regime stalking our land. You can bribe the traditional rulers to force their people to vote for you and called it democracy. But you cannot protect the people from callous death, in the hands of Boko Haram, Niger Delta militants, OPC, or a random drunk driver. What a shame! We are at a point in our democratic experiment we need to start asking our leaders tough questions, one of Winston Churchill's pithy observations seems appropriate – “however beautiful the strategy, one should occasionally stop to have a look at the results”. Is this the democracy we fought for as student union activist and journalist?