At Isaac Popoola’s home in Lagos, the guests arrived one week early. Every New Year Day, relatives, as well as friends, fill his expansive compound in Egbeda to celebrate with the family.
But the steady stream of human traffic – grim-faced sympathizers and tearful relatives – that arrived on Christmas Day had nothing to celebrate.
On Christmas Eve, Mr. Popoola, 54, died after a fierce struggle with an officer of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, LASTMA.
The traffic officer, who accused him of committing a traffic offence, allegedly banged his head, repeatedly, on a metallic part of the bus as they struggled for control of the steering wheel.
“He told his mechanic that he’d do just two trips yesterday (Christmas Eve) and he’d rest today,” said Ibukun, 26, Mr. Popoola’s eldest son.
“If he was here, he’d probably be taking a bottle of beer or Five Alive,” he added.
Born in 1958, Mr. Popoola tried his hands in various meagre jobs, including working at a petrol station at Mushin, before delving into the transport business in 1984.
Baba American, as he was popularly known at the motor parks where he worked largely due to his funny character; the Modakeke-born commercial bus driver rose through the ranks, completing his two bedroom apartment in 1991 and moving in with his family.
“Everyday, he leaves the house by 5 a.m. He comes back anytime. Sometimes he does one trip and comes back. Sometimes he returns by 6 p.m. or 9 p.m.,” said Ibukun.
Aremu Salau, his bus conductor, said that the bus left their garage at Egbeda, early Thursday, with 17 passengers and headed towards Oshodi.
Mr. Popoola never made it to Oshodi.
Ibukun said that when he got wind of his father’s death, “it was a total shock.”
“The vulcanizer at the bus stop came to the house and was asking for the mechanic’s – my dad’s friend – number. I was sleeping then, so I woke up,” said Ibukun, a graduate of Accounting from the Federal Polytechnic, Offa.
“He (the vulcanizer) didn’t want to tell me. He said I should stay cool. I called Mr. Sunday, the mechanic; he was the one that told me.
“I was shocked. I never had any premonition,” Ibukun added.
Inside Mr. Popoola’s compound, worn out vehicle engines and used tyres litter the premises.
A medium sized goat teetered to a Guava tree struggle to shield itself from the hot, afternoon sun.
“My father bought the goat for this year’s celebration. We’d never celebrated Christmas since I was born. We do the celebration every January 1,” said Ibukun.
“But for this year, my father said we’d do it on January 2nd because he’d planned to go to work on New Year Day.”
Distanced by the state
After Monday’s fatal incident, authorities of the state’s traffic agency quickly stepped out to disown the officers allegedly involved.
In a statement issued after the incident and signed by Bola Ajao, the Public Relations Officer, LASTMA stated that the officers, identified as Adesanya Olatunde and Ogunride Oludele, “acted on their own contrary to the operational guidelines of the agency.”
Ibukun said that neither LASTMA nor officials of Lagos State government had reached out to his family as they mourn their breadwinner.
Before his remains was deposited at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital mortuary, on Monday night, the family was forced to make an initial deposit of N21, 000.
“They said we’ll be the one to bear every cost until government intervenes,” said Ibukun. “His friends from the motor park contributed money and we paid the bill,”
At the Area F Police headquarters, where Mr. Popoola’s lifeless body was first taken to, on Monday; his wife’s periodic cry of anguish punctured the relative quietness at the station.
“He is very gentle, humble. I don’t know why the LASTMA man killed my husband. Now I’m a widow,” Dupe Popoola, the deceased’s wife, said.
“From where will I start? My children do not have father again. Who’s going to render the help? Very terrible; I can’t bear it. Who’s going to help me?”
‘We want justice’
Ibukun said that their traditional New Year Day celebration had been cancelled and the family would focus on burial preparations.
His mother’s petty trading business would be insufficient to cater for the needs of the family of five children – three of them seeking admission into the university.
“He is not a pillar. He is pillars. He handles the crazy NEPA (electricity) bills, feeding, the land charge bills and every other thing.
“Nigerians must know. Lagosians must know how my father was killed. Justice must be done.
“On the 24th of every blessed year till the rest of my life, I’ll always remember that my father left us,” Ibukun said.