The day started like any other, I woke up, had my prayer and prepared for work. For some reason I couldn’t understand, I was sluggish and headed out to work at 7.35am when I really should have been out at 7.15am. However, I wasn’t bothered because there is nobody who really bothers to check when I arrive at work; I am a minor partner at the firm I work.
I boarded a commercial bus popularly called ‘Danfo’ heading for Oshodi and when we got to Oshodi, the conductor shouted Gbagada church, church… church. “How perfect”, I thought to myself because that was where I was headed-for. Passengers who had reached their bus stop alighted from the bus whilst those heading for Gbagada boarded it. One of them is somebody I know, a young lady who has a small stall beside my office at Gbagada. It is quite strange that I have bought recharge cards and snacks from this young woman for over a year and I don’t know her name. I doubt she knows mine or maybe she does, the truth is: I don’t know. Since I don’t know her name, let us call her ‘Smiley girl’, I call her that because she has a very cheerful and friendly personality; she meets you with a smile every time she sees you… well most times.
One of the unwritten rules of commercial bus travel in Lagos is that you pay the transport fare of your acquaintances, friends, family, neighbours and even enemies if you are ‘fortunate’ or ‘unfortunate’ to board the same bus with them. I don’t know who started it but I am sure it will always be like that as long as commercial bus travel exists in Lagos.
I was put into a dilemma with the entry of Smiley girl into the bus. Why? You may ask, well another unwritten rule of commercial bus travel in Lagos is that you had better enter the bus with your change. Otherwise, you could end-up having to deliver an ‘Attitude Adjustment’ or ‘Super kick’ to the bus conductor after minutes of exchanging verbal abuse with him just to receive your change.
To avoid this scenario, I had carefully calculated the maximum amount it would cost me to get to work and carefully arranged the change for each bus I was to board to get to work. Apart from the small change with me, I only had N1, 000 notes on me which is just a ticket for trouble with Danfo conductors. A trip from Oshodi to Gbagada Church costs N70 and I had three N20 naira notes and one N10 note making N70. If I wanted to pay for myself and Smiley girl with my N1, 000 note, the conductor would have had to give me N860 change. Whether he had it or not, I didn’t want to find out.
Hence, I decided to pretend I did not see her because she sat on the first row of seats and I sat at the second row and she hadn’t seen me or at least I thought she hadn’t seen me. We bought paid our transport fares and I waited as the Danfo driver drove recklessly along the expressway.
I knew I had to greet Smiley girl before we alighted from the bus and the perfect opportunity arose when we got to Anthony bus stop. About half of the passengers alighted from the bus and Smiley girl was now seated in front of me. I tugged at her bag which she slung across her shoulder; she looked back and burst into a smile when she saw me, “when did you enter the bus?” I asked although I knew when she did. “At Oshodi” she responded, as the bus moved on. “Okaaay”, I replied.
Finally, the bus got to junction bus stop and we alighted. As we walked towards the street where my office and her stall are located, I initiated a conversation about how our paths crossed that morning, she had recently moved to the area I live in around Airport road and we board the same buses from time to time. She responded stating that she had found it difficult to find a bus because it was an Aswani market day which means a Tuesday, “but the road is free”, I said. She responded, “That is Aswani for you, sometimes the road will be free in the morning and there will be traffic when you are coming back, on other days the reverse will be the case.”
She said hello to a man on his way to work who passed by us. She always greets people along the way when we walk to work together from the bus stop because she is very popular in the area. She speaks fluent Igbo, Hausa and English. As we walked on, we could see the traffic on Gbagada expressway.
It happened like a scene from a movie, a commercial motorcycle (popularly called Okada here in Lagos) rider lost control of his bike on the expressway, he and his passenger crashed on the road. They were lucky that they weren’t crushed by on-coming vehicles. People at the bus stop screamed and Okada riders stationed at the bus stop rushed to the two of them and got them to the median of the road. The passenger was injured but had a few seconds to make an attempt to jump-of the crashing bike this ensured that his injuries though nasty where not critical. As for the rider, oh the rider! He had crashed head-first with the bike; both he and his passenger had not worn helmets.
I brought out my mobile phone from my pocket and dialed 767, one of the Lagos State Government emergency numbers, the other being 112. The male call center operator promised that an ambulance would be on its way soon after asking for the details and location of the accident. I asked Smiley girl to hold my bag and walked to the place where both casualties lay, the Okada rider was a bulky man in his mid-thirties and I could tell that he was gravely injured. His life hung in the balance, he tried to move his arms but I told him not to, some people were already looking for his phone and that of his passenger a man who looked like he was in his late twenties, he could still speak.
One of the helpers, a man who look like a forty-something year old suggested that they be rushed to Gbagada General Hospital which was close by, I told them that I had called for the Lagos State Ambulance and it would arrive soon.
About four minutes later, some of the helpers heaped the injured Okada rider on another motor cycle after spraying sachet water on his wounds which were all over his body and head in particular. He was coughing blood.
By this time, I had gotten to Smiley girl’s side, a middle aged-woman screamed Ismaila, yeee! O ni ku! (Ismaila, oh! You will not die) in Yoruba. Smiley girl said she knew the man; he is a popular mechanic along the street on which my office is located. Well, I don’t know him. The passenger too was helped on his feet and put on an Okada and rushed to Gbagada General Hospital as well. The Ambulance I called had not arrived about 10 minutes after receiving my distress call.
Somehow, I am not sure that not waiting for the ambulance was a good idea because I have been at the entrance of emergency wards in Nigerian hospitals and I know that casualties are not always attended to immediately. There is the issue of getting the medical staff to come out to attend to the stricken individual which takes time. Then again is the long questioning of the helpers by hospital staff to know if the casualties are armed robbers or may have anything that could get the medical officer in trouble with the hospital authorities and the police.
I feel that if the helpers had waited a little bit more, both casualties would have gotten expert first aid from the Lagos State Ambulance team and would probably have been transferred to an hospital with better facilities where they would receive prompt medical attention.
Irrespective of what I think, the majority of helpers did what they thought was best. Smiley girl identified a young man who had hurried on to the expressway asking about what happened as the brother of Ismaila the Okada rider.
Smiley girl and I walked towards our respective places of business whilst I called 767 again to report to them that the casualties had been rushed to Gbagada General Hospital, the voice at the other end thanked me for this new piece of information.
This accident reminded me of the risks I took whilst on National Youth Service in Cross River state taking Okada rides from Abuochiche to Ogoja on katsina Ala highway, those were really dangerous rides on an interstate highway with some daredevil Okada riders; half of the time, neither the rider nor I used helmets. I thank God for his continuous protection and pray that he spares the life of the Okada rider and his passenger.
I just can’t stop pondering at how things can change in the blink of an eye; both of those men were in one second full of life and in the next, they were battling to stay alive. One second indeed can be a very long time.