The car in your hand is an aeroplane' - Niyi Osundare's (1986) Song of the Nigerian Driver




The other day I found another poem that fits the subject of my current project, i.e. lorry decorations. To pay respect where it is due, I acknowledge my debt to Christiane Fioupou (1994) who mentioned this poem in her study of representations of the road in Wole Soyinka's works. I may have found it eventually – I am currently still flicking through issues of the weekly West Africa in which it has been published. However, it would have taken me a long time.

Anyway, here's the poem. Enjoy.

Song of the Nigerian Driver

The car in your hand is an aeroplane

Which only flies by prod and push

This, indeed, is a speedy secret

Not contained in your clumsy manual

So, pump that pedal, brother,

Pump it hard and cut your wings

Your ticket to the skies

Is under your feet

The car in your garage

Is never less beast

Which only grieves when

It's showered with care

So, flog it like a fatherless donkey

Don't dote on plugs

Or brakes or mufflers

the less you care the stronger it goes

Some people, when they drive,

Are cautious wretches

They watch the panels for funny lights

They use the mirrors and those irksome pointers

They save their horns save for drastic needs

They are nice and kind like seasoned monks

Damn their style, avoid their ranks

Don't get infected with their CARE-ful bug

If you can do a hundred miles

Why stop at a cowardly eighty?

At two hundred in sixty minutes

Flies may still perch on your sluggish wheels

Your engine, under-used, may just decide

To die, one day, a slothful death

So, chase the road to its sudden end

Line up the traffic and thunder past

Some fools, when they drive, try to look ahead

At those mashed metals

Still drenched in smoking blood

Then they fly into needless remorse

Close that book, forget its lesson

It is their luck, not at all your own

Their bloody reward for a careful drive.


(published in West Africa, 20 January 1986, 138)

I am pretty sure I can use that somewhere to illustrate a certain attitude to driving that (stereotype alert) I perceive as quintessential Nigerian (I am perfectly aware that is ridiculous. It's in my very own home country of Germany where no politician dares to anger motorists without repercussions because, you know, a free people deserves free driving, Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger! Note that the second 'frei'/'free' here refers to the absence of speed limits on German highways. I still can't help myself, sorry). I also (and, I hope this is not as ridiculous) associate this way of driving with certain ideas about what it means to be a man: a certain wildness, a certain aptitude to risk taking and a certain disregard for rules including traffic laws. I think I will relate this to lorry paintings including those of cowboys that I'd argue also reflect certain and not dissimilar ideas about masculinity. I'll work out the details when I write that (working) paper (or putting it all together will make me realise how mistaken I am, let's see).

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