Fietsen! At 18 months, the average Dutch child is already riding a bicycle (two-wheel) proudly and effortlessly. This continues for as long as she lives. It is part of the national heritage. The use of the bicycle (fiets) (plural fietsen) tells me that the Dutch are good at making a virtue of necessity. In old cities like Leiden, it is by bike that you can reach most places.
But fietsen to the Dutch are more than a means of individual transport: a bicycle is a mass transit device also. A woman can carry three kids on one bicycle (picture below); a lover and his girlfriend joyfully share a bicycle. A rich family has bicycles for everyone—you need to see the graceful convoy on their way to a park or church! Well, this one is truly amazing: in Amsterdam, there are bicycles for commercial transport—like Nigeria’s Okada or Kenya’s Boda-boda!
In Nigeria, bicycles are ridden by the poor (especially women in the South South and South East) and by the nonconformist—like my elderly friend, Pius Stephen Omole, a grand hippie. Yet, bicycles are cheaper and healthier for the environment. I enjoyed cycling around in Leiden. But you cannot try bicycling in Nigeria—you should not. There are no bicycle paths. To cycle, you must struggle on the same road with suicidal okada (motorcycle) riders, daredevil taxi drivers; ever-angry bus drivers and murderous truck (trailers) drivers. To that list of dangers you must add the spoilt brats of politicians and government contractors cruising around in dad’s four-wheel-drive jeeps. They too do not suffer fools on bicycles gladly.
When he was Minister for Transport, Mr Ojo Maduekwe, speaking for the government, told Nigerians: “Buy bicycles, all of you. Ride them and live long etc. etc”. To show that he meant it, he got a bicycle—costlier than the average Nigerian could afford. Surrounding himself with an ambulance, several security men and cameramen, he cycled for a few short metres in Abuja before he was knocked down by a bus driver. The ambulance rescued him. Which should have come first: decreeing that Nigerians should ride bicycles or providing safe bike paths for them? Anyway, that was the end of Maduekwe’s bicycle campaign in Nigeria. He has since moved on to other ideas which he peddles to keep his position in government as minister. Such ideas/acts include leading a team of ministers to Saudi to thank the King for tolerating the presence of our sick and invisible president, or arguing with the US over the precise content of the infernal diapers worn on Christmas by Abdul Muttalib—Nigerian-born al-Qaeda boy. Ah, may God save Nigeria. To the Dutch: long live fietsen! (And thanks Edith and Hans for lending me your bike.)