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.
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.
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.
© 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
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.