By Paul Adepoju (firstname.lastname@example.org)
As early as five in the morning, protesters were already outside setting up barricades with logs of wood, trees and tires. The atmosphere was still cool that it looked as if things were normal. For a second, you would think the barricades were set up to inform drivers to be conscious and cautious of a faulty car nearby. It looked like a harmless gathering of early risers. But two hours later, things had gone haywire. Commotion was everywhere to the extent that you’d believe a revolt was taking place. Now look around and compare the scene with what held sway say like 2 hours ago. They aren’t comparable and it’s just one evident change you could see, burning tires.
Most times when there are civil actions like strikes and protests, at least a tire fire is seen on every street. This is not restricted to Nigeria, West and North Africa, or any other place; tire fires unite the world.
Understanding the importance of burning tires during struggles is quite difficult, almost impossible because recorded history has no definite description of the world’s gradual interest in tire fire, and the world’s acceptance of burning tires as a means of making peoples’ grievances known.
The Arab Spring was initiated in Tunisia after a young man set himself on fire. Had he drowned himself in water, the effect wouldn’t have been widely spread because some people would see his death as accidental or suicidal. But people all over the world take arson serious.
Tire fire is a serious strong message to the government suggesting that the people are annoyed and are ready to do anything; literally going all the way to achieve their set goals.
Rising global interest in addressing environmental challenges like global warming and climate change could tempt some badly hated governments to ban the burning of fires since it is scientifically proven as a major harm to the environment. Burning fires produce a lot of smoke, which often carries toxic chemicals from the breakdown of rubber compounds while burning. A single tire contains about the equivalent of 7.5 liters (two U.S. gallons) of oil. More than enough fuel to burn down 3 houses, or more when in the hands of a “professional”.
States and cities like New York state, Minnesota and several others already have legislation in place to prevent or check indiscriminate burning of tires. But not in Africa. The anger of the people fuelled by the loss of interest of the government in addressing and regulating fire tire could be seen as an extension of the continent’s centipede steps in addressing enormous challenges. Hence when there is a tire fire, the gory black images shot and aired by the foreign media paints the picture of a hardened government and resolute citizens that will go to any extent, including an interference with the delicately balanced ecosystem, to make their voices heard.
The burning tire is also expected to instill fear in the mind of those who are opposed to the cause.
Tires are typically not prone to self-ignition as a tire must be heated to at least 400°C for a period of several minutes prior to ignition. Anyone who is ready to go all the way to that temperature and beyond should be taken serious because he/she/they are armed with a weapon of mass destruction. They can cast, bind and destroy with strong fire.
That’s why protesters are often prevented from getting access to properties and infrastructures of national or state importance. With just one misguided rolling burning tire, a national treasure could become a black heap of ashes. The fear of this happening is a bargaining power in the hands of protesters. Apart from fuelling fires, tire fire also fuels anger.
Throughout my experience with riots and rioters, protests and protesters, I’ve not seen happy people happily flaring tires. No. It’s something you do when you are angry and you want to show your anger. In some environment-friendly conservative cultures, you throw shoes and you get attention.
But elsewhere tire fire and arson might not even get mentioned in the newspapers which causes more anger and pressurised bottle becomes filled with maddening anger. This is what is happening in Nigeria.
Tire fire isn’t an every protest event, it’s reserved for those tough times when the issues affect every Nigerian irrespective of age, sex religion, and standard of living. During the military junta and the fight for democracy, tire fires were all over the country. A foreign tabloid even used the phrase “nation up in flames” to describe the struggles then. A re-enactment was also achieved during the labour-spearheaded strike action to oppose the recent hike in fuel pump price as a result of the president’s removal of fuel subsidy.
While Boko Haram crisis is dividing the nation along religious, ethnic and sect lines, tire fire is uniting the rest of the nation. During the entire period of tire flaring, Boko Haram was on break.
Robbers that decided to operate at night also had to contend with residents who stayed up till daybreak burning tires to ward off criminals.
Some of the questions that come to my mind every time I see thick black smokes from a tire fire is: Where are these tires coming from? Who is footing the bills (I’ve never seen protesters contribute money to buy a burning kit that includes tires). I also want to ask who is providing the matches? Who is striking the fire? More questions, few answers.
You rarely see the planning that goes into burning tires, but you will definitely see the resulting thick smoke and ashes on the road. This is an attitude that Nigeria and Nigerians should work on improving and utilizing to achieve a lot of great things. The burning tire symbolizes the aggregation of the peoples’ affliction and dissatisfaction. The resulting thick smoke rises beyond what could be hidden or contained by any powerful force. And the ashes you step on while going about your daily chores are meant to remind you that the battle is not yet over, it is only suspended until a later date when the pressure will become unbearable and a burst will become inevitable. This is the mystery of the burning tire in Nigeria, and beyond.