Metropole Magazine

Today's Weather: Abuja NG: Partly Cloudy, Day 360|Night 260

07 Aug Written by  Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

Whose Radio Is It Anyway?

One of the more memorable scenes in the film 'Rush Hour' has new arrival, Lee, fiddle with his host’s car stereo. The host, Carter, pauses and the audience can see him trying to comprehend what has just occurred. He finally recovers from the shock and admonishes the erring man:

“Don’t you ever touch a black man’s radio, boy!” It’s a scene every fare that has seen the film should be reminded of when moved to change the volume of a cab stereo.

To me, the fare has temporary ownership of the vehicle: the boot, the seats, the radio—especially the radio. The driver merely holds the steering wheel in trust; he holds the forte while the fare gets around to other things such as staring, daydreaming, sleeping.

Considering how often I get into mild altercations with drivers, I am sure they disagree.

Most are reluctant to confront the paying customer, so they adopt all manner of tricks. On a relatively long journey, the mischievous ones turn the dial down a few notches and increase it seconds later. It is a good trick and well, if you can think that fast you deserve the noise you crave.

This charity and praise of street-genius doesn’t come up always; sometimes the need to be the lesser man, the one who isn’t a fool, overrides the import of last Sunday’s homily. It is normally sufficient to give a practised glare or, if remote, an irritated bark. Naturally, the driver’s cooperation is needed.

Beneath the wooing smiles of a driver may lay a stubborn streak. So, it follows that a few passengers have been chucked out of a cab for insisting on silence. My practised glares have been met with counter-glares accompanied, sometimes, by a hint of menace. All of those times, I have contemplated alighting...but you know how inertia is: better to slink into the dank seats than to act like standing up to a cab driver is equivalent to standing up for human rights. I do not kid myself; I know the revolution would not be commuted.

It isn’t always bad. I have been introduced to good songs in cabs. But Abuja is different from Benin or Lagos where commuting vehicles even above radio stations, inform the average person of what is trending. So far only two episodes stand out: I recall the enthusiasm of a driver singing along SolidStar’s Omotena one night in Garki. The man’s enjoyment of the song was so infectious minutes after setting down I was humming the tune. I also heard Black Magic’s Repete for the first time in another cab. Perhaps there’s a cultural lesson in this since those songs are among the best Nigerian songs released in the last few years. There might be a market for a book titled Culture Lessons from Radio.

But, again, this isn’t Benin where one can listen to the complete works of Tuface, P-Square or any other pop hero, on a single trip within the city. Abuja doesn’t function that way. Abuja gives culture lessons in delicate sips; Benin, in slurps; Lagos, in drunken swigs.

Besides, music is not the only reason I stretch my hands towards car stereos. Certain moods reject both news, and the babble of on air personalities in love with their own voices; both delivered in a foreign accent. As the writer Chuma Nwokolo wrote, “...two Naija presenters laughing in American.” Those six words could be the FCT’s slogan.

Abuja cab drivers are eager listeners of the news. Probably because it provides a rich and varied fund for the fleeting, elliptical discussions cab drivers the world over are famed for. Or considering the fickleness of the Abuja administration, maybe they don’t want to be caught off guard when the administration decides to ban their enterprise. It happened to buses recently; who’s to say it cannot happen to cabs?

There is a chance the powers-that-be may outlaw commuters soon. Thus, for the moment, enjoying every cab ride is a sensible creed to go by— even if this means ignoring Carter’s counsel.