An Encounter with LASTMA

LASTMA

Like Mumbai, Moscow, and L.A., Lagos is well-known for traffic jams. The thorny maze of automobiles, motorcycles aka okada, and pedestrians, inspired the Lagos state government to create an agency to ease traffic congestion. Lagosians hailed LASTMA as innovative until LASTMA began contributing to the bottleneck.

“The fear of okada is the beginning of wisdom, and to avoid LASTMA is understanding,” said a friend, when I started driving in Lagos soon after my return. I had survived reverse parking into tight corners on narrow European streets, but here in Lagos, the challenge was different.

LASTMA
Acronym for Lagos State Traffic Management Authority

An initiative to reduce unemployment and sanitise Lagos roads. Commuters lament the actions of its officers, who are the “reason” for the growing number of ATM machines.

Do not confuse them with the:
Army (green uniform)
Police (black uniform)
Traffic wardens (orange and black uniform)
Theirs is a proud cream and maroon

They are not bad people but a reflection an endemic system.

Motto (of a few bad eggs): To bring insanity to Lagos traffic and lay ambush for mugus.

So, I drove very carefully. Too carefully, annoying Lagos drivers who attempted to terrorise me with their ear-splitting horns, dare-devil manoeuvres, condescending stares, and foul words as they overtook my snail-paced car.

Me? I refused to give them the satisfaction of looking at their faces when they pulled up to my car, moments before overtaking. I kept a straight face and commanded my neck not to turn. I could at least hold one ace, I could relish the silent knowledge that they may have won the battle, but I had won the war.

Once, at a junction, LASTMA officers caused commotion by waving go to adjacent lanes of traffic simultaneously. I drove a few meters and stopped in confusion. Maybe that was the mistake—stopping to make sense of chaos; pausing to take stock rather than forging ahead through the pandemonium. Seconds later, two officers headed my way. I apologised and explained that they had unwittingly caused the mayhem.

They insisted that I let the windows down. I was privy to this trick and refused. When they persisted, I relented and wound down a crack. The officer at the passenger-side window stuck his hand through the tiny space with the agility of a monkey and next thing I knew, he was sitting beside me.

Madam, park for side, you dey cause go-slow.”

I complied and the “usual” conversation followed.

My kids began to cry. My son asked, “Sir is our mum going to jail? Is she in trouble?”

I wished he had not spoken. How much is a child’s distress worth to a LASTMA officer?

Oya madam fast, do quick. See as you don make the children dey cry.” Poking his face in the space between the front seats, he said to my daughter, “Small girl, don’t cry. It’s okay.” Turning to my son whose cries were louder, “Tell your sister sorry. You’re a man, don’t cry.”

My son wailed, “I’m not yet a man.”

“Okay big boy, sssh, it’s okay.”

“I’m not a big boy, I’m only eight!”

Realising that conversing with my son was pointless, he turned to me. “Oya now, madam shake body, so you fit carry dem go Mr Biggs. E be like say dem dey hungry.”

I thought about many things but “settling” LASTMA was not one of them. I folded my arms for a long silent sit-in. With an exasperated hiss, officer one got out to engage in heated dialogue with officer two. I saw my chance and took it.

RAKING

The ability to bluff your way through anyone or anything that threatens you on the streets of Lagos.

Any dialogue that begins with, “Do you know who I am?” or in pidgin, “You no sabi me?” is raking.

A loud voice and threatening gesticulations add panache to the craft.

However, in cases of real emergency, access to a high- ranking military officer is a plus.

The next time I encountered LASTMA officers, my driver was negotiating a left turn on a road with no prohibiting signs. Two officers suddenly appeared.

They insisted that he wound down. I gave the driver a simple choice: your salary or the window, and secured his cooperation. They informed us that left turns are illegal. I welcomed the helpful information and the driver attempted to change direction.

They mounted a human roadblock. “Madam just tell am to wind down,” they threatened.

I assumed my best big man’s wife pose, squared my shoulders, and sat up higher. I was glad that for this all-important trip to Shoprite, I decked to the nines Naija-style with designer sunglasses to complete the look! But the officers didn’t budge. So, I pretended to call my imaginary military officer husband after all, power pass power. They backed off.

What is the purpose of LASTMA, to correct or to collect? I hope things have changed since I wrote this post a few years ago.

lagos state traffic laws

© Timi Yeseibo 2013

You may also like:

When in Trouble . . . Just Yell: http://ofilispeaks.com/when-in-trouble-just-yell/

LASTMA in the Eyes of the People: http://flairng.com/new/lastma-in-the-eyes-of-the-people/

Lagos the liquid wonder: http://bizzibodi.wordpress.com/2013/11/02/30-days-of-lagos-lagos-the-liquid-wonder-by-ferdinand-c-adimefe/

Photo credit: LASTMA website

Image URL: http://www.lastma.gov.ng/traffic_law.pdf

http://www.lastma.gov.ng/

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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36 thoughts on “An Encounter with LASTMA

  1. Oh my, your son’s response did crack me up. I find the approach of most of the field agents representing these transport unions as uncivilized and disrespectful. For these agents, every day is “business.” Once, I was in a friend’s car, sitting next to a friend of his. We’re headed for a town in Delta. At some point we veered into a less busy road and shortly afterward were stopped by a group of men (note: some wore uniforms). Quickly, one of them yanked one of the door open, jumped in and ordered us to park. Reason? One way drive. There was no sign close to the area to indicate the road was bound by such rule. If not for my friend’s friend, who I later discovered was a military officer our journey would’ve been terminated.

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  2. Hahahahahahaha. I hear about Lagos traffic all the time and it scares me. If I find PH traffic exasperating, then I don’t even want to imagine what I’d do in Lagos! Nice write-up T, as always!

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  3. LOL. This is funny. The pretend call to the “military husband” was genius. Somehow, the storytellers are the ones who have the most interesting experiences.
    Oh, and I like your son, he should marry my unborn daughter. <_<

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    1. Lol! Raking: the ability to bluff your way through anything that threatens your existence in Lagos! Seriously though, LASTMA needs to get their act together.

      @storytellers, not really, life is routine… we take the mundane and add a lively twist 🙂 My son… let’s talk bridegroom price when your daughter’s here!

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  4. I read this on my phone last Sunday, and burst out laughing at your son’s responses. When my girls asked why I was I was laughing, I had to read out that part to them, and they laughed too. I then had to explain to them that law enforcement in Nigeria, is a ‘bit’ different to how it is here. Been meaning to comment since then, but carried last i.e I was a Lastma 🙂

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  5. These things happen all the time. The way they jump into cars is soo annoying. In fact people usually just keep driving the officer that jumps in as far as possible. Then make a funny call and act all creepy. They will usually beg and jump out of your car.

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  6. Timi, you have a gift for story-telling, ahn ahn! Not sure you are looking forward to more LATSMA encounters but I’d like to donate my two cents of weaponry to your arsenal.

    Next time, at the request of “drop something na,” just reach for your purse. Pull out your business card that says you’re a professional blogger with links to your blog. Or print out this page and distribute it to Officers 1, 2, and 3. Highlight this part: What is the purpose of LASTMA, to correct or to collect?

    Not sure how I came up with this idea but if I predict another run-in with posers who extort so this might come in handy, lol!

    BTW I love looking forward to Sundays. Happy New Month! 😀

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    1. No, I’m not looking forward to any more LASTMA encounters. When in Lagos, I drive very carefully. But, I have noted your tips and added them to my arsenal- with LASTMA, you never know what your offence might be!

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I look forward to your comments which encourage me to keep on writing 🙂

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  7. I have heard several LASTMA horror stories, and now I have two more to add to the list. 🙂

    There are three lessons I have learnt here: (1) Never wind down when a LASTMA officer tells you to (2) LASTMA officers are corrupt (duh!) and (3) LASTMA officers are as agile as monkeys. # 3 keeps replaying in my mind and will be for a while. The fear of LASTMA …

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  8. Sometimes, when I look at the chaos around us, I doubt the legitimacy of the word “civilization.” Whenever I catch myself driving in New York City, I think that, somewhere along the line, I should have been diagnosed with masochistic tendencies and been given heavy medication.

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    1. Eric true. There’s just something about traffic that can bring out the “uncivilized” in us- “normal” people become impatient and unforgiving of anyone who wants to cut into their lane… Once I guarded my “space” with power & might daring that man to cut into my lane; only to look at Mr Annoying and discover he was my beloved colleague! I quickly “relaxed” and yielded 🙂

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  9. These policeman can be kind of domineering and scary! I think telling your son not to cry was a little over the top and unexpected. I don’t appreciate their trying to say anything about the children and am glad things worked out in the end. Good idea about the pretend phone call, sister!

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    1. Given that it was their first experience with Nigerian “cops”, my kids were very afraid and my son vocal 🙂 But really, any child would be afraid. I was a little shaken too.

      @ pretend phone call, what a lifesaver!

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    1. Na wa! The concept of LASTMA is not bad. The corrupt officers give LASTMA a bad rep., but they are a microcosm of the larger society…

      @my son, out of the mouth of babes… yeah, you’ve gotta love that boy! Thanks.

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      1. The concept is brilliant but not so much it’s execution.Yes, the corrupt officers definitely give a bad rep likewise do corrupt police men, politicians, e.t.c one bad apple and all….Props to all the competent people though, they never get enough credit, bless em.

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        1. So true Tomi. I remember one traffic warden at the junction between Ligali Ayorinde and the entrance into Oniru (City of David area). Come rain or sunshine, he was at his post, doing his duty, saving us from the madness of Lagos. I didn’t know what to do to appreciate his conscientiousness, other than “dash” him money from time to time 🙂 Others did too. And the best part was that he never gave me “preferential” treatment. I had to wait until it was the turn of my lane to move.

          I didn’t have this blog then, but perhaps, I could have done a feature and looked for a newspaper to publish it… I could have found out the division where he served, and written a letter to his boss… I should have done something more… And God help me, next time I will.

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  10. We wish we could say things haave improved but sorry nothing is farther from the truth.
    LASTMA have graduated to fulltime bunkering…they evven set people in place to wave you down at wrong ends of the road…if you stop regardless of your motive, you are done for. That’s the fate of many commercial buses.
    Recently, a Cab man shared with me his experience. He was aarrested at a “Busstop”for stopping to pick a passenger, and his offence? Stopping at a “Bus” stop.
    Only God knows if these people have started installed “Taxi-stops”around lagos unknown to us.
    Careful is the word around here.
    PS: Here is wishing you a Happy New Month!

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    1. @Taxi-stops… to avoid LASTMA is understanding 🙂 Indeed careful is the word.

      You know, it’s stories like the ones you share that prompted me to dig this piece from my “redundant” pile. Although we laugh at the stories, we desire to see change. I saw that Fashola read them the riot act, and I hope this will instigate a clean-up of the agency, for when they do well, they do well indeed.
      Happy new month too!

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      1. I think he was begging to be let down from the car.

        There was another time my mum just started crying and she became hysterical and they let her go.

        Another time one of them got into the car and she drove him home/to her office (I can’t remember)

        There are too many lastma stories I have. I should probably do a blog post.

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          1. Lol @Oscar award… it is not easy to “disarm” LASTMA! I’m in stiches too!

            Lade, yes, you should do a blog post; a possible title: How to Deal with LASTMA and Other Related Stories 🙂

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        1. oh my God,..I love your mum,..I just can’t stop laughing Lade,….I’m sure next time they see her from the rare-view or windscreen of the car,..they’ll wave her GO,……..lol……this is trully funny but effective, ur mum must have been tired of their embarrassing acts… OLD MEN fa! It is well…thank you ma for posting this…funny,..true, I believe there is Change on the way, with people like me on board, Its definite.

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