When I was a teenager growing up in Nigeria, the most popular means of transport in the towns and cities was the taxi cab. They were usually not very new and not particularly comfortable but they were cars. In the bigger cities like Lagos and Port Harcourt there were trains and we would very often dream of going on train rides, in Nigeria, not in any European country. We had cars. If your parents did not have a car you went around in a taxi shared by three other people. And you got to your destination safely, in one piece. There were traffic issues in the cities but it was bearable.
Cars were not the only things we had. We had people, good people. Friends, neighbours, extended family. Children felt safe in the neighbourhood. Parents could relax knowing that their kids would be looked after in the neighbourhood. Everybody was responsible for everybody.
Kids had role models. There were people to look up to. Doctors, Lawyers, Accountants, Teachers and all manner of professionals; my Dada was an Accountant and we were the envy of several kids at school and in the community. Being rich then did not necessarily mean that you had lots of money, it was more of you being able to afford your life and being content with what you had. That was my teenage days. Then we grew up and went away.
By the time we opened our eyes to take a look at our society everything had changed. The generation that grew up using cars for taxis and dreaming of riding in electric trains had given birth to a generation that had ‘Keke Napep” for mass transit. Keke Napep is a contraption that sums up the decay in our system like nothing else could. It is a Tricycle usually imported from India or wherever, unstable as can be, but able to cut through traffic and go into places where regular cars cannot or would not enter.
The Keke is a symbol of poverty and lack. The Keke shows how far we have fallen as a people. From riding in cars we went down to riding in Tricycles and motor bikes. From investing in buses and trains to investing in wheelbarrows. From clean, well-built housing estates to shacks not fit for human habitation. We have truly come a long way, like the old advert says. Unfortunately, our way has been down.
We have been in a downward spiral in the past thirty years or so. Yeah, I know, there have been a lot of positives but has anyone noticed how unsafe our neighbourhoods have become? Is anyone still looking out for the neighbour’s child? How many women today would feel comfortable enough to leave a toddler in the care of a neighbor while she goes shopping?
My Mother told me a story long ago of how she left my older brother in the care the tenants when he was less than a year old. She went shopping for groceries or whatever; by the time she came back the lady had force-fed the young boy with pap and he had taken in so much that he was choking. She raised an alarm and the child was rushed to the hospital. His stomach had to be pumped to evacuate the offending gruel, luckily the child survived. No one pressed any charges, the Police was not even called. It was recognized for the genuine mistake it was. I shudder to think what the reaction would be if it happened today. Suspicion has pushed away trust from our society; today’s role models are more likely those with a lot of unexplained wealth than any other group.
Young men want to be musicians and comedians because they believe they will “make it” quickly. The young lady’s dream is to be like Kim Kardashian-famous for being famous and not much else!
We have become a Keke generation-people who are content to dream below our imaginative capacity. A generation that watches its politicians tear the very fabric of society apart and goes on without an effective protest-how did we get here? When did we begin to think of the 3-legged and unstable tricycle we call Keke as a possible solution to our mass transit issues?
I know someone will be quick to point out that not everything in Nigeria is bad; I know that too but do we have to wait for it to go bad before we sit down to think? Aren’t we better than this?