Officials Say Pumpkin-Wearers Not In Compliance With Helmet Law

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Reports this week said that police in Nigeria have begun cracking down on taxi passengers who refuse to wear helmets as a new law requires.  The helmets are required for passengers of what the article described as the hordes of "erratic motorcycle taxis known as 'Okadas,' whose owners are notorious for road rage."

Some passengers say they are unable to comply with the helmet law because the helmets are just too expensive.  It is true that prices have risen sharply since the law went into effect.  (Construction workers are said to have set up a "lucrative trade" in which they rent out their safety helmets for $4 a day, which will seem like a great idea until something hits them in the head.)  But officials had little sympathy, saying the public had been told months ago about the law's start date, and so those who had not planned ahead had only themselves to blame.  Other passengers, though, said they were worried about evil wizards.  They have expressed a concern that helmets bought from a third party might be "laced with magic spells" that could knock them unconscious (for robbery purposes) or worse.

These reasons in combination appear to be why, according to police, many passengers refused to wear commerically made helmets and instead were making their own headgear by tying on pieces of old tires, cooking pots, and hollowed-out fruit.  "They use pots, plates, calabashes [a fruit about the size of a pumpkin], rubber and plastic as makeshift helmets," said a safety official.  "We will not tolerate this." Not that it would be impossible to contrive your own protective gear, but tying a calabash to your head is probably not going to get the job done.

Sources said other passengers were concerned that they might catch some sort of disease from wearing a helmet, but as one columnist wrote, the various pleasant diseases they are worried about are already rampant on public transit in Nigeria anyway.