are eerily disturbing paradoxes in Wole Soyinka’s poem, “Death
at Dawn.” In the poignantly bewildering poem, order is beset by
chaos, joy by grim apprehensions, and the vitalities of life by the
wrenching exhaustion of death.
poem resonates with the appalling and curious impossibilities
riddling its social referent. Its landscape is endowed with enormous
potentials, “sunrise” and “Markets,” yet it
is crushingly “burdened” by “closed contortion”
set at dawn, yet in place of the freshness and hope common to that
time of day, we find stalking inertia, futility and “wraith,”
all of which suggest a jarring absence of life.
Nigeria is a nation of journey-loving people, yet travelers in the
poem are crushed by anxiety, pain, and fear: “Perverse
impalement” and the “Wrathful wings of man’s
Progression.” The road is perverse because it falls short of
even the modest expectation of citizens.
poem thus takes down many gnawing ironies in its startling
environment. Through the miserable condition of road, the poem hints
at the lethal misrule that has bedeviled the country from
the poet suggests that if leaders had the sense to use the gory state
of roads in the nation as mirror, they would be shocked at the
extreme human and economic cost of road mishap to the nation.
frightening risks of traveling on these monster roads persuades a
careworn mother in the poem to caution:
May you never walk
When the road waits, famished.
play, “The Road,” again engages the monstrous
carnage on Nigerian roads. As in the poem, the road is strange. It is
like a killer spider lying in wait to spring a surprise at its
unfortunate traveler- victim. Its bloodthirstiness thus becomes a
the nation’s anemic, dummy institutions, roads that were
created to advance the people’s progress, instead bleed the
nation bloodless and cannibalize whatever is left of the road users.
anyone familiar with the awful roads in this country, the metaphors
are not farfetched. Many reasons account for the unnerving
bloodletting on these roads.
drivers factor as a major cause of fatal accidents. Many commercial
and private drivers buy their driver’s licenses without basic
driving knowledge. Many are kite-high on drugs while driving.
most parks where travelers board taxis or buses, drugs are openly
sold and just as commonly consumed. The most deadly alcohol on sale
is “Combine,” so called because marijuana is soaked in
moonshine to extract the maximum effects of both drugs.
a shot of this crude mixture can cause instant insanity. That is
perhaps why the concoction is also called, “Rapid Result,”
because its fiery, explosive effects on abusers are immediate and
optimal. When unschooled drivers high on dope jump into rickety
vehicles barely held together by rust and speed down roads that are a
byword for deathtraps, the result is frequently a notoriously high
record of fatalities.
reason that the roads are so lethal is that more often than not, they
are unmarked and without vital traffic signs to guide users.
and police are readily on hand to molest and extort money from gutted
passengers and weary drivers. Thus, instead of stopping traffic
violations, officials abet it, hence the devastation on the roads.
vehicles themselves are often dilapidated. Cars and trucks designed
for four passengers carry twice or more that capacity. Officers turn
a blind eye so long as they get their bribes from the drunk drivers.
The inevitable ghastly crashes never bother such officials.
drivers apart and unfit vehicles apart, trips on Nigerian roads are
extremely hazardous and arduous because the roads are often in
A road in Abia. All photos were taken by Kaanayo Nwachukwu, and were used with his permission.
surround many cities like some oddity in science fiction. However one
gets the impression these are built more for prestige than function.
Officials construct the fancy roads to glorify themselves and
distract attention from inept leadership.
cost for the beltways and flyovers is often hyper-inflated, so
officials can get their cut of the filthy lucre. Hence, nothing is
left for the maintenance of derelict motorways or the construction of
new ones to decongest the few passable but clogged roads.
This soccer game, also in Abia, is halted while a Mack truck that is up to its passenger windows in pothole makes its way down the road.
of this, potholes rapidly degenerate into craters and deep gullies,
thus making the roads so badly rutted that motoring is extremely
daunting. Roads are commonly strewn with wreckages of upturned
vehicles, corpses of accident victims and the goods they were hauling
before the mishap. Armed robbers take advantage of the gruesomely
misshapen roads to ambush, rob and rape their victims.
One never knows whether the people on the side of the road are bystanders or armed robbers, ready to take advantage of the situation.
result is slowed down economic progress. Trips that could have taken
hours to make stretch on for days because of long diversions.
factors account for the deterioration of roads after they had been
paved. The volume of traffic and the weight of the vehicles that ply
the road should be considered in planning a road. Living in the
country, I never saw any facility for truck weigh-ins.
Even downtown, there is no effort to do any road maintenance.
testing before construction ought to be imperative. Most of Southern
Nigeria, for instance, is moisture saturated. Throwing asphalt on
such terrain is counterproductive when what a system of bridges is
what is needed.
these conditions are taken into account when proposals and contracts
for road building are written and awarded. But these good intentions
bend to official greed and graft as they collude and conspire with
contractors to cut cost for personal gain.
shoddy and hardly completed projects are commissioned for public use
by authorities once money changes hands in the cesspit of deals that
define leadership here.
transparency virtue in the country, the morbidly blighted conditions
of roads could be righted. The state experimented with tolls to raise
money to service the roads. Unfortunately since government itself is
neck deep in voodoo accounting, those who run the tollgates used it
as license to become overnight millionaires.
the state dismantled the tollgates. But the reaction was just as
a way was found to embrace a people-first leadership approach, our
lucrative oil reserves could adequately maintain our roads. In
addition, the way states in America raise funds to keep roads in good
shape could work for us too. Registration and property tax alone
could provide money to fix roads.
citizens were taxed based on the value of the cars they drove, they
would be enough money to keep the roads in drivable condition. That
is, if the money got into the treasury and was used for the intended
annual registration of vehicles after inspection to guarantee their
worthiness would bring in enough money for maintenance and other
facilities necessary for road safety.
since powerful state officials take to the skies in private jets
bought with state funds, it is unlikely anyone will pursue creative
ideas to stop road carnage in Nigeria. Because rulers ensconce
themselves in these luxury jets, they hardly spare a thought for the
lives of other citizens they disdain as “ordinary Nigerians.”
Imo Ben Eshiet was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Raised in his village, Uruk Enung, and at
several cities in his country including Nsukka, Enugu, Umuahia, Eket and Calabar, Eshiet is a
detribalized Nigerian. Although he was extensively exposed to Western education right from
childhood in his country where he obtained a PhD in English and Literary Studies from the
University of Calabar, he is well nurtured in African history, politics, culture and traditions.
Imo is currently a teacher in the high priests group in the Summit Ward of the Greensboro North