It is a few minutes before the hour of departure. An agitated man stands in the middle of the aisle of SP0001 around the group of ten seats with a table. Doesn’t he have a seat? Maybe he is one of those people who managed to buy a ‘standing’ ticket. He has a single diagonal scarification mark on the left side of his face. He looks terribly familiar – Kano, Zaria? Most probably ABU, Zaria. He is wearing a blue-themed Zanna Bukar and a grey jallabiyya. He appears to be ranting at somebody I can’t see from my seat number 1 at one end of the coach. He is saying stuff, in educated English, about people respecting themselves and not usurping the rights of others. He is articulate and indignant. To his right is an angry-looking elderly man, in kaftan and damanga. What is really happening?
People’s murmurs suddenly get louder, and they start to rise from their seats all looking in the direction of the raised voice. Their cacophony soon drowns out the original lone voice of protest.
The train blasts the last signal and begins to move in the direction of Abuja. People lose their footing momentarily.
One of a family of Nupe ladies having dinner in the row of seats in front of me shouts, “Please sit down now”. Yes, please sit down. Everybody wants to have a clear view of what is happening. Who go siddon for dis kin situation? Naija pipo wey like ‘tory?
Apparently, the object of the man’s indignant protest is a military officer who has taken the seat assigned to the short elderly man and the other guy is trying to get the military officer to stand up and yield the seat to its rightful owner. Everybody joins in the protest against military arrogance and injustice:
- Doesn’t he have his own ticket?
- He must stand up.
- Yes, he must.
- That’s how these military people have been oppressing us since independence.
- Who does he think he is?
- Ba zamu yarda ba.
- If he wanted a seat with a table, he should have asked nicely.
- Dole ya tashi.
- Why didn’t he go to a first-class coach where every seat has a tray that he can use as a table?
- These military people ma sef!
- Common Boko Haram they can’t fight; it is only civilians like us that they can harass.
- Why is he even joining us on this train? Is he also afraid of kidnappers on the highway? Yeye!
Two of the armed policemen on board come into our coach to mediate. We begin to sing in unison:
We shall always fight for our right!
Soli, soli, soli!!!
It emerges that the army officer’s assigned seat is not even in this coach. Out of pure military arrogance and disregard for bloody civilians – even if they are decent-looking elderly men – he has refused to stand up from the occupied seat. He simply says that he is a military officer and would not stand up. I am infuriated. He must stand up from that seat. We must sustain this protest.
We continue to protest noisily.
The place is filled with anger.
Finally, he rises from the seat. He is not even wearing a uniform. How are we sure he is even the military officer that he claims to be? He is wearing a black face cap and an ugly black and grey long-sleeve top. Yeye man. As he walks down the aisle out of our coach with a sheepish smile on his face, passengers continue to verbally assault him. Others clapped him out of the place jeering and hooting.
Somebody sympathizes half-heartedly, “E don do nah. At least the guy don stand up.” We ignore him. Nonsense.
Our hero, who started the protest on the elderly man’s behalf, walks toward my side. A woman on the right end of my row, her bleached face mottled with grey, green and red, shouts in his direction, “Well done sir. You are a leader. The kind of leader that this country needs. Please join politics to help save this country’’. Great unexpectedly perceptive talk from the lady. Do not judge a book by its cover.
People power. We used it to force out Ibrahim Babangida several years ago. We need to use it more effectively to force our leaders to respect us and do the right thing. We need a culture of protest.
But wait, aren’t soldiers supposed to be honored people, adored and respected by all? After all, they lay down their lives to protect the rest of us. How did they come to be so resented in this country? There must be something deeply wrong with the soul of a country that doesn’t respect its soldiers. The Nigerian military needs a complete make-over. The whole country needs a complete make-over.