Rosmary Hollis (1981) on Slogans on Nigerian Lorries
I’ve been reading some memories of colonial officers and their wives who were in duty in northern Nigeria alongside some the other literature I have to read for teaching and writing – and every now and then I stumble across a little gem.
This is Rosemary Hollis whose husband was a district officer stations Bauchi, where she met a young Tafewa Balewa (38), Azare, Wamba, Kaduna, Kontagora and Potiskum in the decade leading up to independence. Her memoire is quite nicely written – very entertaining to read and much less patronising as some of the others. This is what she says about her time in Nigeria, which she found challenging, and what helped her to cope.
Trying to keep up an intelligent and in any way useful life, often while ill too, was quite difficult – but there were hilarious moments … What saved everything, apart from our personal devotion (Michael and I) was the sheer niceness of the Nigerian people.
My emphasis. And, let’s be honest for a moment: Despite the bad reputation that some Nigerians give the country, it’s true for the average Nigerian or at least those I met: ‘sheer niceness’ and hospitality.
The book is also illustrated with some of her own drawings that she did while she was stationed in Nigeria with her husband. But, the gem I wanted share with you regards her description of Nigerian lorries:
… The main road through Wamba, leading from the south to Jos was like a corkscrew, winding and twisting up and down over rickety bridges and sudden ravines. This called for extra careful driving and well-maintained vehicles, but unfortunately the lorries which roared up so furiously to and from the south were always in a very poor state of preservation, and were driven by marvellously carefree people, who either had no brakes and gears, or never bothered to use them.
Usually they had pious slogans in large lettering on the cap roof, such as ‘God is Good,’ ‘Blessed are the Ignorant,’ God’s Case is No Appeal’ (a curious one); and on one derelict vehicle lurching in a ditch we once saw inscribed ‘God is Our Only Hope.’ Some of the most reckless drivers, however, are to be found at the wheel of lorries which say ‘Safe Journey Austin Boy.’ Other good ones are ‘Destiny is Unchosable,’[sic] ‘No Telephone to Heaven,’ God Helps those who Help Themselves,’ ‘Safe Drive Soon Heaven’ – and perhaps the most apt of all - ‘Heaven Help Us’! [her italics].
Drinks shops too, where they occurred in small towns near the main railway (which was about thirty miles from us then) had splendid names. My chief memory is of one called ‘The Hotel of Every Description.’
Further north [than Wamba], lorries were generally in an even worse state, held together literally with string, wildly overloaded, with swaying piles of goods, and passengers hanging on like flies all over them. These drivers were very courteous about allowing cars to pass, when at long last they realised that they were being followed, but as they seldom had driving mirrors, and created such a terrific dust and overwhelming noise, it was usually necessary for someone at the back to clamber round the outside of the lorry, and to peer into the cab, in order to bellow in the driver’s ear that someone wished to pass. It looked a horribly risky undertaking.
The marvel is that these lorries do not come to grief more often, as they are generally wildly driven, and in a desperate state of disrepair, so that even when they have decent road (as against the dangerous Wamba road) safety is almost nil.
Rosmary Hollis (1981): A Scorpion for Tea or To Attempt the Impossible. Elms Court et.al.: Stockwell Ltd.