I read with shock the news of the death of Aisha and one other, with another injured in a Road Traffic Accident a few days ago in Damaturu, Yobe State. May Allah have mercy on the souls of the deceased and may he grant the wounded shifah.
The circumstances of the case were as bizarre as they were avoidable, the perpetrator is a soldier who was signaled by the traffic light to stop at Gwange Roundabout while the victims were in a Keke NAPEP that got the green light. And for the bizarre part, the soldier chased by no one and heading to no place of real urgency charged into them. There was no warning of a siren, only a childish attempt to beat traffic light, two innocent people killed, one injured and a host of laws and rules and regulations broken. He had only one job; obey the rules!
Three things have stayed on my mind since I read and made inquiries of the incidence; the uncertain nature of our existence; the constant overlooking of traffic offences; and the over tolerant nature of the Yobe people.
All the parties involved were out on distinctively personal endeavours – Aisha had barely a week ago completed a Pre-NDE program in Science Laboratory Techniques (SLT) at the Federal Polytechnic, Damaturu. The Keke rider was out in search of his daily bread and the soldier out to protect citizens like he sworn to didn’t plan to kill or injure anyone that day; at least not innocent citizens. Each of them was confident of setting eyes on his/her loved ones, as God will have it not all of them will, and they are not to blame for it bar the soldier who should’ve known the he owes us a duty of care whether on the road or off it, at the battle front or when cruising in the comfort of his vehicle.
For them, everything – the smile they are accustomed to seeing, the uncertainty of tomorrow and the pursuit of happiness – was ended, some permanently and temporarily for some. All would have been avoided though if he had spared a millisecond to contemplate all possible consequences of his actions.
Road Traffic Accidents is a major cause of direct deaths, trauma-related deaths and disability in Nigeria according to BA Solagberu et al in their well researched Epidemiology of Trauma Deaths. Damaturu, is however, well placed to avoid fatal accidents. The most obvious reason being that it is not a high way, hence speed is controlled – for those that are not reckless or careless anyway. It has good traffic infrastructure; good roads and functional and effective traffic lights; excellent road designs, the majority road users are Keke riders and they belong to one of the most organized unions in the northeast and thus as should be expected, obey traffic rules and regulations.
Howbeit, fatal accidents have occurred and are on the rise, committed by a single and familiar monster against peace loving citizens. The monster owns the road and on the sight of it, even the Traffic Police halts the normal flow of commuters for I to pass, why? Because he fears its wrath or maybe in order to avoid incidents like this. But the traffic light does it’s work like it was designed to, without fear, favor or bias and it did on this occasion. Like I said earlier, the soldier had only one job – to follow it.
Incidents like this extend to the whole of Yobe State. Earlier this year, a 15 year old boy was on his way back from school in Potiskum when he was assaulted by a drunk long-stick-swiveling soldier from the back of a Military Truck. A mere look at his pictures would tell you he suffered from grievous bodily harm. We picked the matter up through CoY-PCR and were 100% prepared to follow it to a logical conclusion. But had to drop it after holding a meeting with the parents and the Commander, and the culprit admitted to the offence. The parents accepted the apology and the Commander’s word that the culprit would be duly punished. Whether that is a logical conclusion is not for me to say but military impunity has worsened signaling that the soldier’s punishment, which was never made public, has not served as a deterrence to others.
Now we watch our backs when we drive because once a military vehicle is behind you, you are obligated to move to the side lane for them to pass, true story! As a matter of fact, for your own good you should not consider overtaking them no matter how urgent your business is. They won’t even arrest you, they will “catch” you, charge you, try you and pass judgement on you and enforce the judgment on you (or on your vehicle) by breaking the breakables on your car and bursting up what they can. I laughed it off when a cousin warned me against overtaking them, but then my Aunt accepted her sentence in good faith and others had to follow suit. I was so shocked to the extent I developed checkpointphobia.
Off the road, it is the same story, they continue to see themselves as Senior Citizens; they are the Corruptors of morals, engaging young girls, mostly hawkers, disabled beggars that stay by the checkpoints and food sellers, in illicit sex. And these are girls that can order them to beat you should you in any way offend or be in disagreement with her or someone she knows.
They and their girls don’t queue at ATMs and now people urgently in need of money can pay and hire soldiers to escort them to the checkpoint to give you or whoever is on the queue the “muna sauri zamu shiga daji” (we are in haste, we need to get back to the bush) flimsy rhetorical excuse that you can neither reject nor accept. What a great entrepreneurial spirit to match their illegal activities.
But shiru-shiru fah ba tsoro bane (meekness doesn’t equate to fear). Things became this bad because we have been very tolerant and super forgiving. Yobe law students used to joke during my undergraduate days that they won’t practice in Yobe State saboda kowa dan jan Allah ya isane (all wrongdoings are left to God), so no market for lawyers. Now, I realize that it has never been a joke, just a short statement that portrays the sad reality of our attitude that has for so long been exploited by outsiders. The truth is that we as a people forgive too quickly and too much or when none is an option, leave things for God to judge in the hereafter. I cannot fault your belief, as we will all answer for our actions one day, but injustice is a plague that should only come this far, it must be cut off else it corrupts and consumes us all.
To not call the soldiers to order would be scandalous, to ask for them to be forgiven would be an insult on the memory of the deceased, and to call for any other means of settling this matter other than by a Court Martial or in a Civil Court as stated by S. 114 of the Armed Forces Act, would give rise to anarchy. For when anarchy looms, it starts with the little laws, picking them one by one and building a silos for bigger laws. The little laws have mostly been broken with devastating consequences and cannot be allowed to continue. A stitch in time, after all, saves nine.
“Sorry” wouldn’t bring the dead back or put food on the table if dependents have been left behind and bringing the soldiers to book wouldn’t do any of these things either but in the bigger picture, it would set a precedence. If that boy in Potiskum had gotten true justice then maybe the soldier in Damaturu wouldn’t have bamboozled Keke NAPEPs with his truck but it has happened and if he is punished, then maybe it would end the “me toos”, no new Aisha and no new Muhammad which could very much be me and/or you.
We have reached a crossroad, which may well sound like a cliché, and in the near future, people – and soldiers especially – could very well pay for such recklessness or we could all be raising children that are motivated to join the military, not to serve but because it will be the only way to escape the abuse. This is what will happen if a society glorifies bullies!