Adamu Muhammad Hamid PhD
A place where traffic rules are flagrantly blatantly violated could be metaphorically described as a place without those rules. If you are a stranger in a city, usually the first metric for understanding the extent of discipline among its inhabitants is to observe how they obey simple traffic rules. Though, on this metric the whole country is guilty, some places are worse than others. If you want to see traffic offense personified, come to Bauchi, a city at the entrance of Northeast Nigeria-it’s rated as one of the state capitals in Nigeria with the highest road traffic offense..
Because the city is moderately populated as compared to Kano, Jos and Kaduna, road traffic is almost always manageable; gridlocks are rarely seen. This situation however negatively predicts the frequency of traffic rule violations. Ordinarily, it would be predicted if there is low traffic, there wouldn’t be any need or urge to violate traffic rules because motorists don’t have to wait long at any point anywhere. At junctions, traffic wardens do not stop the flow for long; so traffic is always on the move. Ideally, every road user would be expected to be calm. This however is not the case with Bauchi. In those past years when traffic lights were functioning, they were frequently violated by motorcyclists. When traffic wardens stop the flow on one lane to give way to other lanes, you see motorcyclists in front poised to use any available opportunity to slink even when their turn is not due. Go to Wunti traffic junction, you’d say I told you! At the same traffic junction almost every night, you’d see motorists from all directions locked for hours, everyone hoping to be allowed a chance to pass, yet no one was ready to be patient to give way to the other.
At all the major markets, Wunti, Muda Lawal and Central markets, hawkers stand or push wheelbarrows on the road, blocking parking spaces for customers wanting to park their vehicles and get into the markets. Again, major roundabouts like that of the Emir’s Palace, Wunti, Central Market, etc. are turned into mini markets for selling cereals and used dresses. Kobi and Ran streets are political campaign centres where you see poster stands for different party candidates, especially any incumbent governor, blocking parking spaces.
You also see traffic wardens allocated to places where traffic is sparse, at the expense of junctions or crossroads that are prone to accidents if such officers are not allocated. For example, at the narrow crossroads of the State Library at which all directions are blocked by storey buildings and road users are always at high speed, there are no traffic wardens allocated. But at Zone 12 Police Headquarters junction along Ahmadu Bello Way (a very wide dual carriage with sparse traffic), you see them in doubles and triples taking instant shifts. You keep wondering about this paradox. Is it due to the presence of a police formation or something else?
As is the case in other urban centres in Nigeria, police and other security agents mostly see it as a right to violate traffic rules and not respect the guidelines for siren. They apparently open sirens at will to create stampedes in heavy traffic or confusion, intimidating road users and traffic wardens as well.
Zebra crossings are marked only in higher institutions of learning; and even there, the traffic signs are not respected.
Every week, the evenings of Thursday to Sunday are marked by durbar procession on the major roads of Wunti, Kobi and Railway. Whether blue-blooded, connected to the traditional institution or not, individuals mark their wedding celebrations by organizing durbar on the major roads. A team of horses, sometimes numbering hundreds are hired, stopping traffic for hours and sometimes forcing road users to violate rules by diverting to the opposite lane. And by so doing, such a celebration would hardly pass without leaving road crossers with broken arms or legs from avoidable accidents. In addition, Bauchi is a city where almost everyone has one traditional title or the other, the someone of the Emir, or the someone of someone of the Emir, and the chain goes on ad infinitum. Having those titles is not what is wrong per se, since it is the custom. The problem is the installation of each; no matter how distant it is from the Emir, it has to be marked by long durbar processions, which usually causes many road accidents.
Most stunning in some political rallies is when motorists drive in reverse gear, moving backwards following the rally, while some young adults sit on car roofs, as the cars move fast. And during wedding celebrations of comrades of motorbike or tricycle transporters, colleagues show solidarity by organizing a cascade retinue rally on the road, sometimes removing the silencers of their bikes to roar all over town. Major roundabouts like that of the Railway are completely avoided, road users just take shortcuts. Again, on major roads, you see motorists and bikes riding against the way of the road reluctant to take the next available U-turn, which happens to be not in the direction of where they head to. To pick a passenger at the opposite road, motorcyclists cross over the dual carriage median instead of the patience to take the next available U-turn. This is a common practice everywhere in town.
In Bauchi there is no traffic rule that is not violated. When you visit countries that respect order, you can’t see anyone riding a bike without wearing a helmet. Most of the time, you see bike riders with extra helmets in case they might have reason to pick a passenger. Those who did not travel abroad might have observed this in foreign films. Though helmet violation in Nigeria is not peculiar to Bauchi, it must be highlighted as a serious traffic offence. While in Bauchi. I have witnessed many deaths from cerebral haemorrhage sustained through accidents preventable if helmets were worn. Many times I have also personally taken time after sunset to observe headlight violations among bike riders. You just have to be extra careful and vigilant when crossing the road at night. About half of bike riders ply the road with headlamps off. Riders do not consider it necessary to have functioning headlamps. Those who care a bit, switch on their handset lights and use it in place of headlamps. It is also common sight all over town that adolescents ride a bike in threes or even fours, and under-aged mostly between 13 and 17 years of age ride tricycles as transporters.
Again, a road traffic offence preponderant in all the states of Nigeria is the use of mobile phones by bike riders and motorists while driving. In shocking circumstances, you see a bike rider typing SMS or surfing Facebook or other social networking sites while on the road.
Market days at Akaleri, Durun, Magama Gumau, Soro, Mararaba Liman Katagum in the state are held on Trunk A roads, right on the road, blocking the way for almost the whole day for commuters. This practice again is not peculiar to Bauchi, but, perhaps, seen only in Nigeria. Even in foreign films, you don’t see such bizarre scenes.
Above are abridged examples of road traffic offences you see every day in Bauchi. As I reel them off to you, I guess some questions bother you: Are Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) not operating in Bauchi? Doesn’t the state government have a State Development Board? Etc. Though there is a state development board located near Sa’adu Zungur Comprehensive Model School, you wonder what exactly their duty is. Aside from blocked parking spaces at major markets discussed earlier, if you visit the new extension of Ibrahim Bako Estate, you see magnificent buildings raised, extending across what should have been roads on the original plan. This however is a discussion for another day.
While there are outposts of FRSC at major places along Jos road and near Alfurqan Academy, their activities inside town are near absent. Their major road operation is on Dass road, mostly on Thursdays. I hear people say they come out on operations on that road on Thursdays because it is market day at Mararaba Liman Katagum, some 30 km out of town, along the road. While their major duty is to prevent accidents, they make their preoccupation only checking for vehicle papers and driver’s licenses. You see vehicles mostly stopped to be checked are the rickety ones, belonging to the downtrodden, and tricycles and Okada. Motorists on Poshest German cars and other expensive cars and jeeps are allowed to pass expeditiously, many of them having illegally tinted glasses. Come to think of it, by the way, traffic rule violations we see in Nigeria every day is just a microcosm of the reflection of our indiscipline and lawless society.