Get Out of My Way
Monday, July 1st, 2013
Sirens were traditionally reserved for emergency vehicles: police vehicles in pursuit of criminals, ambulances conveying the sick to the emergency ward, the fire service on emergency runs, and, occasionally, senior state officials attending ceremonial functions. My
first encounter with the sound of a siren happened when I was a kid. There was a Wema Bank branch close to my father’s shop in our home town, and two or three times every week, there were these police vehicles that come to the bank to bring or take away money. The sirens on the vehicles were so loud that they could be heard when they were still hundreds of metres away. On hearing the siren, everybody usually scampered for safety because the policemen driving the vehicles had the habit of driving recklessly, without any regard for pedestrians’ safety or that of other road users.
Nowadays, the use of sirens has become so common that it is no longer limited to use by police vehicles, ambulances and fire service trucks. It is not uncommon to see politicians, businessmen and artistes put sirens on their vehicles. Indeed, the use of sirens has become so common that just anybody with money to purchase the gadget can put one on their vehicle without any questions or repercussions. The instant a siren is fitted on a vehicle, the driver immediately develops a feeling of invincibility and indestructibility, and they drive with reckless abandon and total disregard for the rights of other road users. Sometimes, they drive as if the road was built with the money of their forebears. Woe betide anybody who would not give way to a vehicle with a siren fixed on it. What is most annoying is to hear some vehicles speed by in the dead of the night, with their sirens on full blast, depriving hapless people of their peaceful sleep. This particular attitude makes one wonder, whether the people who do this actually understand the essence of using sirens on vehicles. The madness usually reaches a crescendo when there is a traffic jam. Instead of exercising patience like other road users, they begin to oppress everybody with their sirens and reckless driving as if the other road users don’t have equally important things to do.
There was an incident a few years ago on Lagos Island, when the naval ratings of Admiral Harry Arogundade beat up a lady, Miss Uzoma Okere, and stripped her half-naked. Her offence was that she didn’t give way to the admiral’s convoy, despite having heard the sound of their sirens. It was only through the intervention of the judiciary that the wrong done to the poor woman was properly redressed and the Nigerian Navy made to pay a heavy fine for the infraction.
Recently, the governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, had an encounter with a lady Senator representing Owerri Senatorial District in the Nigerian Senate. According to reports, the Governor’s motorcade caught up with the Senator’s on the road, and because the driver did not leave the road for them to pass, the governor’s security men descended on the helpless driver and beat him mercilessly. The Senator who was present interceded on behalf of her driver and, according to reports, the Governor’s security men threatened to shoot her. Apparently, all this happened in the presence of the Governor. To say that the actions of the security agents – and by extension the Governor’s actions – are wicked is to make an understatement. It is equally illegal and unlawful.
The Lagos state government, in realization of the menace of siren usage, has banned its use by politicians and government officials. The governor, in order to set a good example, does not use sirens in his motorcade when on the road. According to the governor, the use of sirens by those in authority is a way of terrorizing the taxpayers whose interest they were meant to serve. However, beyond the enactment of a law banning the use of sirens by politician and government officials, the government needs to do more to ensure that the law is enforced. There appears to be no change in the attitude of people towards the indiscriminate use of siren on Lagos roads. I hope that we will notice positive change in this area in the near future, so that the roads can become safer for ordinary road users.
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