The Returnee Driving in Lagos


Nigerians will tell you, that if you can drive in Nigeria, you can drive anywhere in the world. Anywhere – in – the – world… Oyinkan Braithwaite writes

My fellow Nigerians, this is a fallacy we seem determined to propagate, despite our daily sightings of accidents on the road. We say Nigerians can drive anywhere, because of our ability to drive on the roughest roads, in the roughest of manners. But the truth is, if we were to carry this style of driving outside of Nigeria, we would get arrested in a good number of countries.
First of all, we do not know traffic laws. And I count myself in this. When I took my driving test a couple years ago, in order to renew my driving licence, I failed. But I still got my licence. And I know I’m not the exception. Most drivers on the road, don’t know when or how to give way. In fact, I’m certain many have never heard the phrase ‘give way’. Give way means to allow someone else to pass, especially if they are in the roundabout, already passing you, reversing, etc. But we are strangers to this concept of letting someone pass us. In fact, letting someone pass you is considered a sign of weakness. You must surpass everybody – maybe it reminds us of when our parents would ask, why we let Uche pass us in class – does Uche have two heads?
Another traffic law that we are unfamiliar with are speed limits. We have all watched the news, or at least we are familiar with American movies – going above the speed limit will cost you money (and I don’t mean the N500 you may use to bribe); and too many speeding tickets will result in some jail time. Speeding is taken seriously because it can cause major accidents. How many bodies do we need to see on the road before we realise that the sign that states 50mph is there for a reason.
In England, there was an overhead bridge that I passed on the motorway which stated how many deaths had taken place on that road, that year. The number was one. Could we boast such a number on the Lekki-Epe Expressway or the Third Mainland Bridge? We have got so used to seeing car that appear to be a part of our culture.
Secondly, the enforcers of the law are more concerned with lining their pockets than with keeping the road safe. The LASTMA officers are more likely to wish you a happy weekend and wait patiently for you to bring something from your wallet than to pay attention to a danfo running a red light. After all, what do they stand to gain from pursuing a danfo, besides a headache?
Of late, I have learnt to spot the brown and yellow uniform from afar; because I know I don’t need to be doing anything wrong to be asked to park. And so, I have subconsciously created the culture of dodging those in uniform – LASTMA, police, VIO, KIA – when in fact, I should be able to trust that they are there for my safety and protection; but that is a topic for a different article.
A friend once told me that the way to know whether or not you were a good driver was using the passenger test – how comfortable does the individual sitting beside you feel? Do they have their seatbelt strapped across them twice? Are they holding their hand to their heart? Are they pressing imaginary brakes?
Of course, the reason for a lot of the aggression on the road is the traffic. In Lagos, there is traffic at almost every hour of the day. And we are all so eager to avoid it. But if we can’t avoid it we are determined to beat it. So, you end up with a motorway full of drivers behaving as though they are an extra in a Fast and Furious movie; and ignoring the fact that those people are fictional characters.
One way to combat this would be with better public transport systems. When I was in England, I didn’t have a car. I took buses, trains and tubes everywhere and I wasn’t anywhere near as stressed as I am when I am driving here. This helped to greatly reduce the congestion. The last time I travelled there, on my way from the airport, I wound down the window and listened to the sound of the wind. No one was horning. No one had to horn.
Here we horn for everything – Get out of the way; I’m coming; Don’t hit me o! Are you crazy? Once I came across a man who seemed to be leaning on his horn, because it was just one long sound and it went on and on. I didn’t even know who he was horning at. Perhaps he didn’t know. But most of us, don’t realise that horning isn’t meant to be an hourly occurrence. It may surprise many of you to know that there is car horn etiquette. Car horns are meant to notify drivers of dangers and prevent accidents. They are not supposed to be used to bully or harass other drivers. They can startle a driver into pressing their brakes at the wrong time. Those of you who are customising your car horns…those things can cause a heart attack.
I would also like to address the issue of changing lanes. Please, commit to the lane you started with. I understand, the other lane is now moving faster than your own lane; but don’t give in to temptation. You are not a snake, drive in a straight line. In ‘the abroad’, swerving is only considered to be appropriate if you are avoiding a hazard, but many of you are swerving into another lane. In truth, any action of yours that causes the other drivers to brake suddenly is poor driving.
It is worth taking another look at the way we treat our traffic laws and the way we behave on the road. Let’s practise our culture of kindness and generosity when we are driving, as well as in our homes, schools and places of work.