COMMENTARY: The Tombs We Call Roads, The Coffins We Call Vehicles

Martin Jumbam
Martin Jumbam

By Martin Jumbam, Monday, August 21, 2017

When I was a young student at the Government Bilingual Grammar School in Man O’War Bay in Victoria, back in the 60s, I spent my holiday periods with a cousin of mine, a police driver at the police barracks in Bota.

One section of the police force I found fascinating was the automobile department. It was in charge of inspecting vehicles to ensure that they were road worthy. Just about everyday, you would have vehicles lining up to be inspected and those that failed the test were slapped with an “Off-the-Road” sign, and the owners had to make sure that they were well repaired before bringing them back for certification. Woe betide any driver who tried to bribe his way out of the system. I saw a number of them lose their driver’s licences when they tried to corrupt an officer to let their vehicles off the hook.

Here, I should mention for praise a police vehicle inspector, whose name, if my memory still holds up, was Inspector Ayuk — he must be of blessed memory now. He was in charge of that section and had the reputation — honestly earned — of being a no-nonsense police officer. He gave no room for any argument with any driver, neither did he take kindly to any subordinate officer under his authority, who tried to play tricks with any driver to clear a vehicle that was not road worthy.

I had tremendous admiration for him and he too took a liking for me when he saw how curious I was as I watched him and his officers inspecting vehicles brought in for road-worthiness check. I remember him asking me if I intended to join the police force after my studies. I told him I would like to work like him and I remember him rewarding me with a hefty laugh and telling me to concentrate on my studies first. From that day on, he would always let me hang around and listen to him give instructions to my cousin and other police drivers as they inspected the vehicles.

This scene has come to mind today against the backdrop of what we call roads but which are, in reality, tombs swallowing our sons and daughtersin moving coffins called vehicles. In just one week alone this month, numerous families are mourning their loved ones consumed on roads in just about every corner of the land.

I wonder what has become of the motor-inspection departments that were so well manned by the likes of Inspector Ayuk in Bota in those days? A month or so ago, I took my pick-up truck for inspection and the young man who did the inspection pointed out

a number of faults in it, which I appreciated. But then, instead of asking me to take my vehicle to a garage and have it straightened out before bringing it back for certification — as Inspector Ayuk would have done in those good, old days — he instead told me that, being the good guy that he was, he was giving me a clean certificate, notwithstanding the obvious faults in the vehilce.

When I asked why he was giving me clearance when it was obvious that the vehicle had failed the test, he merely smiled, gave me a knowing wink, and then said that since it was mid-day, he hoped that I, as his father, would give him something for lunch. I told him I had no lunch for him, and drove off, not before he said some unprintable things about my bald head, which he thought was the ugliest he had ever seen.

The point I’m making here is that every good thing we knew in West Cameroon of those days, before this “marriage” was consumated, seems to have gone down the drain, with the attendant consequences we are suffering today. The likes of Inspector Ayuk, men and women of unimpeachable integrity, who did their work with love and dedication, have now been replaced by fellows, like the young man who inspected my vehicle, that failed the test, but still went ahead to issue a pass certificate and then requested compensation in the form of a lunch ticket.

How sad! May the souls of our brothers and sisters, who have perished in road accidents, especially over the past week, find rest in the Lord. Amen.

Martin Jumbam is a veteran Cameroonian journalist, political and socio-economic commentator on national life.

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