By Francis Ewherido
It looks like some Nigerians become something else once they are in uniform. I am not talking about men in uniforms with guns only. I want to start with men in uniforms who are bloody civilians like the rest of us. After closing from work and when they are in their neighbourhoods, they are regular people like everyone. But the same person as a private security man at work will only allow those with good and expensive vehicles to drive into business premises while others with less expensive cars are ordered to find somewhere outside, park and walk to the venues.
Every state has some form of task force or agency with uniformed staff. In Lagos the fear of Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) is the beginning of wisdom. It is better to be arrested by the police than be held by LASTMA. I have experienced both. The LASTMA experience was not palatable. Recently, I saw a relatively new body, the Lagos State Parking Authority (LASPA), set up partly to “strive to promote safe and viable parking.” But clamping a vehicle properly parked in a business premises as we saw in a recent viral video is not part of the mission of LASPA.
Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIOs) are all over the country. In Lagos they are no respecter of the value or year of manufacture of the vehicle you drive as long as you do not have the required documents. But I noticed that in Delta State, they avoid expensive vehicles and target cheaper vehicles. In all honesty, some of these vehicles should not be on the road. They are not roadworthy. But the economic situation in the country is tough, so they should take that into consideration in doing their work. But truth be told, many VIOs are not there for the reasons they were employed. “Their presence for road nor pure most times.” They behave like an income generating agency for government and sometimes for themselves. No efforts are made to caution motorists and let go. It is mostly about imposition of penalty, fines and extortion. FRSC officials are better. You see attempts to ensure safety on our roads many a time, but some of the officials are also not pure.
On Nigerian Immigration Service, I just want to remind them that God hid the anus from public view and even the owner’s view because it is unsightly as important as it is. You can, therefore, not be the face (first people international visitors meet) of Nigeria at our international airports and land borders and be like an anus. Meanwhile, I did data capture for my new international passport over three months ago and the passport is still not ready. They told me to come for pickup last week. On getting there they said it was not ready. When my wife who went asked why they did not contact us with the phone number I dropped, they directed her to the notice board. How was she supposed to see the notification if she did not go there? That is very unprofessional. Anyway, the minister of interior said they will clear the backlog in two weeks. We shall see.
I talked about medical personnel in public health institutions a couple of weeks ago, so I will not spend much time on them. I just want to remind them that the primary job of medical personnel is to care for patients and save lives where possible. The hospital is not a place for ego-tripping or practising of daylight witchcraft (wickedness) by medical personnel. My wife took a hit and run victim to a general hospital in Delta State. The victim was in a critical state and needed urgent medical attention, but the doctor and nurses were nonchalant. My wife voiced her frustration. They got angry and started hauling innuendos, thinking that she hit the man. It was when they heard her name at some point that they sprang into action. “You for tell us say you be Ewherido now.” Why should who you are determine getting prompt attention in an institution funded with taxpayer’s money?
I am not an importer, so I do not deal with customs, but importers have sordid stories to tell. I have only encountered them at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport and I did not have issues with them, but other travellers have had terrible experiences with them. Some people also have issues with them between Shagamu and Benin Expressway. The experience can be harrowing, but some of the victims’ hands nor clean too. Many of the vehicles were smuggled. But customs still stresses people for goods that were properly imported and the right duty paid. A friend once took them to court rather than budge to their illegal demands.
There is nothing you do not already know about Nigerian Police. They are ubiquitous, so let us move to military. The truth is, I have never had issues with army people. It is avoidable and I avoid it. An experience as a little boy might be responsible for my caution. After the Nigerian Civil War ended, one soldier, came to stay with a relative in our compound. He drank ogogoro all day, every day. On this day, he was drinking again. Meanwhile, there was a little boy nicknamed Tudu. The spoilt adults in the compound would repeatedly sing “ogogoro master, toyoyotoyoyo…” to Tudu who laid on the ground and moved his waist as if he was making love to a lady the “missionary” style. Naïve children like me with strict upbringing never understood (although we later did) what the grown-ups were excited about and why they always made this boy to perform this act. On this day, one man started singing the song and Tudu was in his usual element. Meanwhile the ex-soldier was drinking ogorogo in the room. He thought he was the one being referred to as ogogoro master. He sprang out and started brutalising the guy. All explanations fell on deaf ears. He beat him from the compound into the street. From that incident in 1971, it got ingrained in me that soldiers were not to be toiled with.
But I did have issues with a naval officer about 20 years. The driver of the bus he used for side hustle rammed into my car wrecking it. He was very lackadaisical about the whole matter. Then a former naval officer told me to report the matter to his boss that the guy would come down come from his high horse. I did and it worked like magic. His boss, an officer and a gentleman, a well-polished commodore then commander of NNS Aradu, the naval flagship, invited me to the magnificent ship where the naval officer was working. When I got there, I was shocked to see the guy shaking and complaining to his colleagues that I wanted to remove his uniform (get him sacked). He humbly compensated me for the damage to the vehicle.
The point of the whole article is that people in uniform should treat the rest of us like fellow human beings, not sub-humans. They should show professionalism, empathy and fairness. I do not think that is asking for too much from people whose salaries are being paid with tax payers’ money.