Bolekaja in Yoruba means “step down, let us fight”, it is the name of a type of commercial vehicle in Lagos. But there is also something I call the Bolekaja spirit.
What is the Bolekaja spirit I hear you ask. Well, it is that spirit that takes over grown men on the streets of Lagos, that spirit that makes you throw caution to the wind and blows to the head of your opponent. It makes well mannered, well educated and seemingly reasonable men go bonkers.
My 1st experience of the Bolekaja spirit was in 1993, I was on my way to Unilag (Now MauLag :)) where I was studying Estate Management, it was around 7:30 am on Obafemi Awolowo Way in Ikeja and as usual it was hectic, bumper to bumper stuff, the typical Lagos “go slow”. My friend Chuks was driving, I sat in front while his mom sat behind me, it was our usual routine, we would drop off his mom at work in Yaba and he had the car for the rest of the day. But this day was to be different, this was the day one of those unruly bus drivers decided he would “chance” our lane but unfortunately for him and for me (you will soon see why) he hit our car.
I was left fuming, suddenly I felt something take over my senses, I didn’t know what it was then but I now know it as the Bolekaja spirit. I flung the door open like a man possessed, charged at the driver’s side of the vehicle and tore his door open, I jumped in and started to attack him, punches, kicks, elbows, you name it, the driver struggled out the front passenger side of the bus, I went after him, this turned out to be a big mistake, you see I weighed 50 kilos and was only as strong as a 12 year old so my punches and kicks had no effect.
As I stepped out of the bus, the driver had recovered from the shock of being attacked by a skinny “Ajebo” and was waiting for me, I was greeted by a left jab and staggered into a right, lets just say he gave me a boxing lesson. As I was helped into the car, one eye shut and lips swollen, the spirit left me and I was filled with shame and remorse but also pain from the numerous blows he had expertly aimed at my head. The shame was made worse when I had to explain to every girl I fancied at that time what had happened.
You see, I have always wondered why grown men act this way and though there are many reasons, the one that readily comes to mind is that most drivers in Lagos are not insured and it is every driver’s belief (even those with comprehensive insurance) that if you are not assertive enough after an accident you will be left with the bill, this is fertile ground for the Bolekaja spirit, the perfect place to manifest itself. Get as many cars insured and you control this menace.
Uninsured vehicles have always been a bone of contention in Lagos, some argue that it is an unnecessary expense since the insurance companies will usually refuse to pay up, others say they simply can’t afford it. I estimate that of the 5 million plus vehicles on Lagos streets (Na Fashola talk am o!) less that 30% are insured. Where have I plucked these figures from, well the truth is that if laws are not enforced or properly enforced then these laws will be broken irrespective of the country. In the UK before the introduction of the insurance database that allows the police and DVLA to instantly check insurance records it was estimated that 20% of vehicles were uninsured this figured has since dropped to 5.8% which is approximately 2 million vehicles.
Now I am not statistician but let us add the Nigerian factor into the equation and my figures are not so far off, infact some will say that my estimate is generous. Fix the insurance problem and we reduce the power of Bolekaja. One of the ways to ensure that majority of vehicles are insured is to adopt the Australian method where every vehicle is automatically insured (third party) once you buy your vehicle licence.
How would this work, obviously the cost of a vehicle licence will increase and will vary based on the brand and age of the car (as well as other factors). The difference between the old price and new price will go into an insurance pool where insurance companies can then come and bid for those cars that they want to insure. It then means that every vehicle is insured and it is up to the owner to get the comprehensive bit of his insurance policy.
My next Bolekaja experience will take place 15 years later not too far from Aldgate in East London, here Bolekaja is called Road Rage, this part of the story will have to wait for another day.
Update: This post was initially written on my Facebook and WordPress pages in 2014.