“It’s a mad, mad world”

July 25, 2011

Newspaper Columns

Dear God,

There is none else to turn to, but Thee, O Lord, although my computer just now showed one of those annoying “seems you want to write a letter; need help? just type letter with no help?” templates!  I am not the only one who is sick and tired of the above Road to Hell and cannot take it anymore but since I have a column, I plead on behalf of others..  Almighty God, I pray that you look with mercy on Nigeria and prevent the following mishaps waiting to happen along this infamous stretch of road that even Lucifer (rightfully confined to hell by You) could not have dreamt up:

  1. Cutlass and knife vendors moving en masse with other vendors from other Lagos roads, especially Oshodi Bridge, to the stretch from (after) the Majidun bridges to the Redeemed camp.  I can foresee insanely frustrated commuters buying these implements and wielding them freely.
  1. Prayer warrior camps (warring camps?) abound on this stretch of road as You know, dear God: Redeemed, Deeper Life, Mountain of Fire, etc. and NASFAT.   Do not let it happen that these churches and mosque decide to have their Holy Ghost Night and vigils the same weekend not only because of the mother of all traffic jams that would result but also to prevent the southwest erupting in religious clashes from the “Express.” No. 1 could also happen.  Cutlass vendors would do big business as commuters get gridlocked in the Worst Traffic Backup Of All Time Anywhere On Earth!

Those are my two prayers, God Almighty, and even though from Watt’s Catechism memorized in elementary school, we learnt that you know all things, I must still present an essay not because I have no faith but the part of me that is Nigerian believes that we must scream our wants to Thee.  Why do I have what to many may appear like an “irrational” fear of this road, and stay away as much as possible from Lagos?  At heart, I will always be a country girl which would explain why Lagos is not one of my favorite places. Having my place of birth in Southwestern Nigeria, God, Lagos is of necessity in familial circle.  In the last several years, many new-age churches have set up prayer camps along a stretch of this road and then, as often happens in Nigeria when one thinks nothing worse could happen, it does.  NASFAT, a Muslim sect that I understand is patterned after new age Christian churches, cleared her own thousands of acres for its vigil camp.  This stretch of road has cried out for attention but since citizens in these parts are left to their own devices, I plead that Thou look with pity on us, O Lord:

I was in high spirits as I left Lagos before six on a November morning last year, thinking of the uncluttered road ahead; so seemed the policemen who were already doing what they do best – shaking motorists down at five police toll points between the old Lagos toll gate and the second long bridge.

Then, we came upon it but nothing I saw gave any hint of the apocalypse that was to come. It was the beginning of where the world literally stopped for me, and as I was to find out later, thousands of other motorists.  We were still miles from the first prayer city, Mountain of Fire but after thirty minutes, it seemed we were having an unusual rate of movement (even to a non-frequent traveller of the road).  I contacted Lagos that I would not likely be able to call from Ibadan by nine as promised.

By 7.30 and barely a mile from where we were three quarters of an hour earlier, I saw about a dozen able-bodied young men dressed in white and caps that showed they were Muslims, walking briskly towards Lagos.  I was impressed at the exercise the young men were giving their bodies and remarked so to the driver.  “Mommy, ona ti block!  Se e ri pe ko s’oko lat’Ibadan!”   He told me there must be a huge back-up because there were no vehicles from Ibadan side and he hoped it would not be like a day he left Lagos at eleven and got to Ibadan at five!

By ten, the driver had convinced me (it took my mind and heart longer than my eyes to accept an obvious fact) that the “lanes” for cars were the shoulders while the trucks had the two once-tarred but cratered lanes.  You may have ridden in taxis in New York and  Miami in the U.S., Italy or any of those cities of the world noted for suicidal drivers who handle their vehicles as weapons of war but you ain’t seen nothing until you drive in Nigeria.  Amend that to read “you ain’t seen nothing until you get caught in a traffic jam on the Lagos ‘express’.”  It brings out the worst in us.  Suddenly, the misaligned, well-holed road had become six lanes: on the left shoulder that we joined were two ‘lanes’ over brushes and a NITEL underground cable sign (I took a picture of it) while on the right shoulder were two other ‘lanes’ of cars and small buses.  By now, we decided to turn the air conditioning off because our gas meter showed we had gone below half.

As often happened, a police or army entourage would need to pass through and instead of helping put some order into the chaos, they would find a way to pass even when they had to drive the wrong way.   There were policemen with bandanas tied on their heads like thugs.  Or may be it was thugs who had hijacked police vans and police uniforms; anyway, they are often one and the same, using their vehicles and canes to inflict further punishment on the people.

I had to do something to pass the time and I started counting the trucks nearest our ‘lane.’  By this time, the driver had joined the ‘lanes’ to the right which, he assured me, was faster!  We had traveled (started running the car was more like it) for four hours and Mountain of Fire was still in our future.  I would get out of the car to photograph the sea of vehicles and thousands of unflustered drivers who had abandoned their vehicles to enjoy, as it were, the great outdoor picnic until they got back in their vehicles in which there seemed to be a Devil in the Nigerian Driver which unleashes its hold on us once on the road.  Suddenly, there would be ever so slight a movement way ahead and everybody would scramble into the vehicles with joyful whoops as if someone had sighted Christ’s Second Coming.  Fela, the artist/philosopher of “Suffering and Smiling!” must be wearing a bemused look up there.  The People would drive as if their vehicles were octopus-like and could be handled through spaces that could be dared only by that creature with sac-like body.  Their vehicles, it seemed, could go to ruin because another hapless ‘Tokunbo’ was waiting at home; worse, that they have more than one life each.

All along, we kept on seeing what became thousands and thousands of Muslims walking towards Lagos and whatever fancy idea I had of people doing aerobics had completely disappeared.   I had never seen anything like it because by the time we had crawled to the NASFAT camp, I figured more than half a million people must have attended their version of Holy Ghost Night.  It was around noon and the Redeemed prayer city was still ahead while the gas tank of our car was now below the quarter gauge.   By then, the single row of trucks on our side which I had started to count at ten had grown to 263 (two hundred and sixty-three), that is, over five hundred and the end-of-the-world back up and front up were still there – our side as well as from Ibadan.

While presenting these supplications, Dear God, may I request, as in a Catholic Church prayer of my youth – Prayer for the Conversion of Africa – that it would please Thee to convert Nigerians to the ways of true Christianity; help us focus on those long and winding prayers which most have perfected so that they show in our ways not just on our lips; teach us to render our hearts, and not our clothes!

I remain,

Tola Adenle, a Christian (even though I have friends in new age churches who say I am not!), and pray, through the grace of He who reigns with Thee and the Holy Ghost.


The Comet on Sunday, December 1, 2002

ps.  Older readers and old movie lovers know the above title was borrowed from that hilarious 1960′s movie starring Spencer Tracy and funnies like Jonathan Winters & Jerry Lewis.



Nigerian newspapers and online news sources
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