‘If you can drive in lagos then you can drive anywhere’. if there is a saying that irked me the first time I heard it, it is that one. An unassuming sentence filled with a dose of condescension that irritated me.I don’t know if it’s the words put together to form that sentence that annoyed me or if it’s the self assured smirk of whoever it was that delivered the lines at the time of delivery that made me want to shout.
It took me a while to see reasons with that statement… it took me much more longer to admit that I see reasons with that statement. And although I still resent people who say it, I am willing to tell you, especially if you have never driven or been driven in Lagos, how Lagos driving differs from driving in any other place, town, city, state or country.
First of all you do not drive for the fun of driving, you will not hear a Lagosian say something like ‘I’m going out for a drive, I want to clear my head’. Before you get into your car, start the engine and leave your house, you must have a purpose for leaving, and clearing your head or any other inconsequential thing a non-lagosian might think is a reason for driving, is not one of your purpose for driving. You are special. If you must pick up your clothes from the cleaners yourself, it has to be on your way back from work, or church or club because ‘I’m going to the drycleaners” is also not a reason to drive out of your compound.
Since you have found a good reason to leave your house with a vehicle, preferable a SUV, you must know that driving from point A to point B requires you to have your 2 eyes shared into 6 places. Two in front, two at the back and 2 on each side of your head. Do not trust only your side and rear-view mirrors when driving, especially when driving in traffic which you will drive in 80% of the time. You have to be alert to anything and everything because the smallest unobserved object could be the determinant of if you will go home in one piece or if you or someone else will be headed to the hospital in several pieces, or even to the police station. Don’t be alarmed, it is normal. What are you on the lookout for? Motor cyclist who will not be ‘banned’ moving at the speed of light out of nowhere looking left right back furtively for fear of being pursued and apprehended by the police; roadside sellers who stand in between cars selling things ranging from recharge cards to Efo leaves and even mattresses; beggars who appear without warning face pressed to your window begging in languages you may or may not understand and will not move expect you give them N10-N100 or pointedly ignore them for 5 minutes; Tankers carrying AGO or PMS as well as Julius Berger trucks changing lanes abruptly to get in front of you without using their traffic lights with the aim of denting your car if you do not let them in; oh and you must not forget to watch out for the Nigeria Police in their Hilux van with siren blaring as they squeeze to make way to pass in between cars in the middle of rush hour traffic with one police hanging out from the passenger’s side swinging a rod like object at anybody or any car who refused to give way for them to pass through while the other police officers jeer from the the back of the car swinging their guns menacingly.
What it means to drive in Lagos is to know the time to leave your house or office for the purpose for which you have chosen to go out. If you leave at the outskirts of the island, Ajah for example, and you work in Lekki where you resume by 8am… you know that when you leave your house by 5am, you will get to the office by 5:35am, what you choose to do there before 8am is for you to figure out, because you know that if you leave your house by 6am, you will get to the office by 7:45am, which is a waste of fuel. Traffic is not the bane of Lagos roads… its driving without the mental time table of when the invisible goddess of traffic decides to come out at intervals and play that is the bane of the Lagos roads.
To be a Lagos driver is to be aware that the traffic laws and regulations are NOT to enhance legal easy and fluid driving, rather it is for the purpose of harassing and extorting money from unsuspecting drivers. ‘amber’ DOES NOT mean ‘get ready to stop’. It means STOP. Don’t stop and you will see the LASTMA officials descend upon you like flies on a fresh sore. You dare take a one way turn in Ikeja in a place where there is no warning sign that it’s a one way? Your car will be towed, you will bail it out with N30,000 only after you must have shown your tax clearance certificate for each month of the year, before that you must have tendered your new Lagos state drivers license for safe keeping. Nobody gets off with a warning as a first offender, as a matter of fact in the sight of a LASTMA official, every driver is a defaulter who should be taught a lesson.
These are the officicials to watch out for:
KAI officials: Kick against indiscipline
VIO: Vehicle Inspection officials (you are dead if your vehicle license expired 10 hours ago)
Yaba Local government vehicle officials
LASTMA: Lagos State Traffic Management Agency
Road Safety officials (make sure all your break lights are working before you leave your house)
Police: These people can stop and arrest you for anything including driving without permission to tint your glass.
To drive in Lagos means to drive like you are being pursued by demons from hell, when you see the bold sign 50km/hr it means you should do 80km/hr… this is not because you delight in breaking traffic laws…nah, you must try as much as possible to cover as much distance as you can when you can, because in the next 60secs you might be unfortunate to be caught up in a traffic that will keep you on the road for 2 hours instead of 20mins.
What it means to be an expert driver is to do all the above, unconsciously dodge potholes before you see them, make a U-turn by edging close to the second lane without being 'scratched' by the car in that lane so that you can make the turn in one complete move, enduring the shouts of ‘o ya we re ni’ and if you like respond by giving them the middle finger, quickly answer a call or two or three and check ‘recent updates’ on your BB while driving before the ominous watchful eye of a LASTMA or road safety official sights you, while all the time nodding to the sounds of ‘we making money, we making money, we making money this year’ playing on Rhythm 93.7fm in your sound system, a sound only you can hear because to be a Lagos driver means to have your windows rolled up whether or not your AC is functioning for fear of having a gun pointed at you while you are being robbed in broad day light traffic.
Not to know how to do all these means you are still a learner. Please put up the big red ‘L’ sign at the back of your car…there is no shame in being a learner. This is Lagos.
If you have driven in Lagos, you can drive anywhere on earth. I say this without a smirk.