By Adeola Aderounmu.
They always say: if you can drive in Lagos, then you can drive anywhere in the world. I have heard this expression a million times before. But what I know now makes me underscore this statement as highly fallible. Call that statement a thrash if you like.
Lagos driving, which is more similar to a contest of speed, is just absolute rubbish. It is a risky and dangerous adventure. It seems that there are only a few sane drivers (as differentiated from people) in Lagos. Some people actually believe that you have to be crazy to drive on major roads in Lagos. When I was a teenager, I was told that many drivers in Lagos are mad. It was difficult for me to comprehend how mad people can be behind the wheels. Essentially, the implication as I came to understand was that people hardly followed the rules of driving. They still do not anyway. To worsen the non-compliance of the reckless drivers in Nigeria generally is the near absence of road directions and signs on major streets and highways.
It is a common knowledge that a lot of people behind the wheels in Lagos didn’t attend any driving school. Many people in Lagos learned how to drive by themselves. There is also a popular and accepted opinion that you must have crashed into many other cars before you can have strong hands to hold the steering wheel of your car and drive well. This is simply a malformation of attitude that has caused many unnecessary accidents and destructions. I know at least one true story of some teenagers behind the steering wheel of a car that killed another child on 5th Avenue in Festac Town sometime in the mid 80s. Perhaps there are many other unreported incidents.
Learning to drive by yourself is an example of the kinds of thrashes that we were fed with as we grew up in Lagos. This is what happens when the society is disorganized. For sure, there are driving schools in Lagos but how many people are taking the opportunity of attending the schools? Are we sure that the driving schools are competent? What kinds of collaborations exist between the driving schools and the Federal Road Safety Commission? Where does the Ministry of Transport come into the picture? What role is left for the police in ensuring the safety of lives on our roads? It may be okay if your friend or dad teaches you how to drive but there ought to be a superior or authoritative supervising body.
Have we not succeeded in creating confusion with too many organisations and duplication of roles, such that nobody is doing the job that somebody expects someone to be doing? Road safety in many places that I have seen is a function of the Ministry of Transport in collaboration with the Police. In Lagos, everything is so unclear and you don’t know who is taking care of what. Nowadays, every local government seems to have strangely clothed men and women on the streets doing almost nothing but creating confusion. Even the Lagos state government has its own fair share of these people in complicated outfits.
Anyway, my advice to those who think that Lagos driving can be adopted in other countries is to perish that thought once and for all. First, Lagos driving license may not serve you for more than 1-2 years in many countries outside Africa. If you do not have a license yet, you may want to be very selective as per the places to go so that you can drive without a license (but with a permit). In that case, try their London and stay far from the Scandinavian Islands and Germany.
Whichever way you get tilted, remember that you cannot fully implement Lagos driving abroad. If you do, you will come face to face with the full wrath of the law. Over speeding is strictly forbidden and adherence to speed limits is a necessity especially around residential and congested industrial areas. If you drive with Lagos license and you disregard these simple rules, you may find it difficult to smell a driving license in a long time. You may forfeit your European driver’s license or other temporary driving permits as well if you go against these rules. I know a handful of Nigerians who have been in soup over driving issues in Europe. Their offences: over speeding, ignoring road signs, ignoring the traffic lights and even driving on bus lanes! Going against a red light is enough single reason to lose your driving license in Sweden. Maybe you can begin the process of re-applying after 2-5 years depending on how the determination of the severity of the offence turned out. If you are coming from Lagos, please make sure you don’t drink and drive here. You constitute a danger to yourself and other road users. Perhaps you haven’t thought that this could be a serious offence as ordinary 20 naira will bail you from the police anytime in Lagos. Here, other people will ring the police on your behalf if they suspect that you are going behind the wheels after a drink. It is that serious! Who are you?
In Lagos, people drive against the normal flow of traffic. They call it driving on a one-way road. It is very common among the drivers of public transport buses popularly called danfo drivers. Bullion vans for carrying money and police vehicles are the next in line of serious offenders. This crazy aspect of Lagos driving has led to many road accidents. Many lives have been lost due to recklessness of this nature. Sometimes, unsuspecting pedestrians and road-side hawkers have been sent to their early graves. This type of bad habit does not exist anywhere outside Nigeria. No sane person drives against the normal flow of traffic. Even ambulances don’t do that because the other road users have been instructed to pave the way for them. The police can have their way here only when they have the siren blaring. When vehicular traffic is low, there is no need for the blaring siren of the police, just the blue spinning overhead lamps on the car will do.
Lagos driving is made more arduous with the bad states of roads. I know that in Festac Town (that rotten government forsaken town), they are now using cement to tar the roads. Somebody help me! Who is supervising this type of crazy job? I wonder the millions that went into that? Is it okay to use cement to fix roads? Without dragging on forever, I will strongly advice the Lagos State government to embark on a series of citizen oriented programs to save the traffic situation in Lagos. First, they need to orientate all the crazy drivers and would-be drivers on the need to adhere to the regulations that govern safe driving. To this end, they must encourage attendance at accredited driving schools. They should make sure that prospective drivers take theory and practical courses. They should also have eye test that must be supported by documents and which can be verified.
Imperatively, the issuance of a valid driver’s license should be standardized and uniform so that the culture of safe driving is imbibed across the country. In the nearest future, it is left for Nigeria to develop to the extent that will allow the Police to honestly and sincerely take care of traffic offenders. How this puzzles into the task of the Road Safety Commission is an experiment left for the concerned authorities to discern. It is up to the Ministry of Transport both at the federal, state and local government levels to wake up to their task of providing good roads because bad roads invariably will lead to bad driving in the first place. If only our power supply will be boosted, then the concept of traffic light returning to our road after decades of absence will not be a bad idea.
Indeed, fixing one problem in Nigeria means fixing many other problems simultaneously. This can really lead to deviation from what one sets out to address, not only as a writer, but as an enforcer of policies. We really have a long way to go but we can make it shorter if we put all our hands on deck at the same time. We must talk less and act more these days.
May the glory of Nigeria come, soon!