Lagos Traffic: Stories of Insanity by Brian Botts
I’ve enjoyed writing many posts about the things I like and love about Nigeria as well as providing insight on subjects based off of my experience. This post however is going to cover a subject I don’t like about Nigeria; The Famous Lagos Traffic. There have been so many things that have happened to me or that I have witnessed in my years of riding through Lagos. And the only word that comes to mind to really put it all in perspective is ‘Insanity’.
Before I get started, let me again state that I absolutely love the Street Vendors who walk in between the cars in traffic. They literally are saviors. They have everything available for you whether you are thirsty or hungry. They make the dreadful trips manageable.
Without further ado, here are a list of things that have happened, been witnessed and other observations that define the Insanity of Lagos Traffic.
I come from a Country where Police are here to protect and serve. They aren’t perfect and there are always instances of police brutality, unjustified killings and arrests as well as corruption. However, those instances only make up a small percentage of the actual good police do for us in the United States.
In Nigeria, I’ve been robbed at least 10 times. And everyone of those instances were from the police. Whenever I go out in Lagos, I make sure I put most of my money in my shoe and put a little change in my pocket. The police like to stalk the beginning of the Third Mainland Bridge when leaving the Island to the Mainland. They also have various checkpoints on roads in Oshodi and Ikeja. They pull over whoever they want to. My car got pulled over a lot and I’m partially to blame for this. I prefer to sit in the front passenger seat when riding. I do this for 2 reasons. 1: I’m no better than the driver. He is a man trying to earn living to support his family just as I am. 2: I need air conditioning. I blast it on high and let the cold air blow all over my face. It’s so hot in Nigeria, that taking a shower or bath in the morning is useless. By the time I’m done drying off, I’m sweating.
So we got pulled over a lot because the police saw a white guy in the car. The first few times I was intimidated by the experience. After about two years, I became quite good at arguing with them every time I got pulled over. I changed so much, that one time when I was back in the United States, I was pulled over picking my wife up from the Airport. I started arguing with the policeman and almost got arrested. You don’t argue with the police in the United States. But I was still in a “Nigeria” frame of mind. When my wife got out of the airport, she saw me fiercely arguing with the policeman. She yelled to me, “what the hell are you doing?” I finally caught myself and apologized.
I finally got good at making this robbery experience short and painless. Since the bulk of my money was in my shoe, when I get pulled over and the Police talk “settlement”, I empty out my pockets and show them that “this is all the money I have. Here, take it!”. They take it, we move on. Here is the thing, you have to give them a settlement. If you don’t, they search through your paperwork and find something wrong with it or make something up entirely. They will tell you that you have to go to the station and it costs a lot of money. But if you settle them, it’s a small price to pay.
Nothing infuriates me more than the yellow buses. They stop in the middle of the road. They block 2 or 3 lanes of traffic. They seem to stop every 10 feet to pick up passengers. Then you get to areas where there are designated bus stops like after the Third Mainland Bridge or farther north to Cement, and the buses are everywhere. People walking everywhere.
They don’t obey any kind of common sense law. They will dent your car, take off your side mirrors, ram you from the back, and anything else. In Nigeria, you can’t take for granted that every one on the road with you knows how to drive.
In the United States, the only time a car will beep their horn is if someone is cutting them off, preventing accidents, or letting people know in front of them that there is a green light and they should go.
In Nigeria, the horn is the lifeblood of driving. You beep your horn for every reason including just letting other cars know you are coming or letting people know you are turning. Or you might be the 300th car in the line of traffic and you will beep your horn because you are not moving even though the people in front of you can do nothing about it.
I have been in and seen so many accidents in Lagos that it could fill a 10,000 page book. I’ve seen puny ones, violent ones and horrific ones. I’ve seen a women get run over by an Okada standing on the sidewalk minding her own business. I’ve seen Okada’s run right into the back of a massive truck. I’ve seen oil tankers explode and kill everyone within 50 feet of it.
Most importantly, when there is an accident, no one will take the blame. They will argue and argue and argue. This actually is the culprit for a lot of traffic. The key to driving is learning to give way. You go, I go. You go, I go. That’s how you prevent back ups in mergers. But everyone is so pissed from being in traffic that when it’s time to actually start moving, they won’t give way to anyone. They have two cars, one from the side and one going ahead colliding and not moving. They will sit there for hours just on pride and principle.
I was going to VI one day. When you get off the Third Mainland Bridge, there is a road that is circular that goes under a bridge which leads you into VI. We were about to go under the bridge when there was a hold up. We had to stop. The car behind us hit us and damaged the back of our car. My driver got out of the car, the other driver started yelling at my driver. He said, “What’s a matter with you, are you mad? Why did you let me hit your car?”
It was so ridiculous that there are no words that can come out. They start fighting, and the police come and shove their AK-47’s in everyone’s faces including mine. They take us back to the police station. The police chief talks to the passenger who was a professor at a school. Then he calls me in to talk to him. He said that after talking to the reputable professor, he feels that my driver was at fault for the accident. I asked him if he was serious or if he was just having fun with me? Because that is the most absurd thing he could say. He said he wasn’t joking and that the best thing to do is settle the good reputable professor and then be done with it.
This is exactly what I said to the Police Chief: “Sir, let me understand. Let me compare this to something. If I was sitting in a restaurant eating at my table and the professor and his incompetent driver ran through the restaurant and ran me over, you are saying that the accident would be my fault because I was sitting at the table eating in the restaurant? Because that’s essentially what you saying right now. We are stopped in traffic. We can’t go anywhere. This guy runs into the back of us because he isn’t paying attention. So that’s our fault?”
The chief said his decision was final and that as an American I wouldn’t like being locked up and by the way I was talking to him, he would like to lock me up. So I talked to the kind and reputable professor who mends and shapes the young minds of Nigeria and tried to settle it. The professor demanded 25,000 Naira and nothing less. I told him that the bulk of the damage was done to my car that I have to pay for because my driver was foolish enough to stop instead of running into the car in front of him in traffic. I will give him 15,000 and that is it. The admirable professor agreed. 15,000 for hitting my car would be justifiable. When I was leaving, I saw the professor and the chief splitting the 15,000.
Well folks, there you have it. Lagos traffic is not something I’m fond of and so far it’s been the worst driving experience out of any place I’ve been to. But you know what? I still love Naija. When you love something, you take the good with the bad.
Article by Brian Botts