Nigerian Motorcycle Riders - Pumpkin-Head Rides Again

Global Economic Woes Lead to Fruity Lids

According to a Reuters report, Nigerian police have recently arrested scores of motorcycle taxi drivers with dried fruit shells, paint pots or tire shards tied to their heads to avoid a new law requiring them to wear helmets. Huh, where have I seen this before? Oh yeah, that would be me.

There was just this once (maybe twice) back in NYC where I was short a helmet one chilly October day. I may have liberated a pumpkin from a fruit stand, smashed it in half, scooped out some of the seedy gunk, and wore the fragrant, dead pie filling on my head while I rode about town wishing citizens a happy Halloween. Pretty clever, huh?

This is what it comes down to, and it's really a global phenomenon: Nigerian motorcyclists say helmets are too expensive and some passengers refuse to wear them fearing they will catch a skin disease or worse, be put under a black magic spell. Why didn't I think of that? Maybe you can control the whole biker population by manufacturing helmets with built-in voodoo?

Before you say this is something out of a crazy B movie, just think about it. If we can re-program the biker brain, think of all the mischief and mayhem that will go undone? No speeding, no drunk driving, no terrorizing families in wood-paneled station wagons, no taking over towns. Maybe everyone driving anything should wear a cursed lid; maybe then we will all be law abiding, happy zombies.

The law, which took effect New Year's Day, pits two equally feared factions against each another: erratic motorcycle taxis known as "Okadas," whose owners are notorious for road-rage, and the bribe-hungry traffic police. Some bikers have used calabashes-dried shells of pumpkin-size fruit usually used as a bowl-or pots and pans tied to their heads with string to try to dodge the rules. I am kind of proud that they may have been inspired by my daring pumpkin-head protest ride (okay, well, I thought of the civil protest part after some overzealous policemen wanted to make desert out of my head).

"They use pots, plates, calabashes, rubber and plastic as makeshift helmets," said Yusuf Garba, commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission in the northern town of Kano. "We will not tolerate this. We gave them enough time to purchase helmets. Six months ago the price of helmets was below 800 naira [about $5] so complaints about non-availability and high prices are no excuse," he told Reuters. Helmet prices have since risen sharply as sellers cash in on demand.

He said 28 arrests had been made in Kano. Newspapers have reported more arrests in other cities. Those detained are fined and their bikes impounded until they buy helmets. There are tens of thousands of Okadas buzzing around Lagos, a chaotic city of 14 million people. Many Okadas are given to unemployed and illiterate youths as part of poverty reduction programs or on hire-purchase schemes run by businessmen.

Most have never been taught traffic rules, according to Reuters, but then again, don't we have way too many rules? Can't we all just drive? And I wonder where I can get me one of them Okadas things?