Saying Yes to Nigeria [4]

Naija in my Blood

Perhaps nothing reveals the spirit of a city like the attitude of its drivers. Do not even speak of the courtesies you possess until you have driven in rush hour on the streets of Lagos, where every hour is rush hour.

“Foolish man, can’t you see I’m indicating?” she cast a sideways glance at the offender. 200 metres later, with one hand on the steering and the other on her temple, she yelled at another offender, “Are you mad?” A minute later, she placed her hands on her horn repeatedly in bursts, peep, peep, peeeeep, “Stay on your lane!” And at the roundabout, looking less confident, she let out, “If you scratch my car, you will pay o!”

I watched her chest heave and dip, heave and dip, as we rode from Victoria Island to Lekki, while she continued her monologue with drivers who couldn’t hear her because we were cocooned in air-conditioned comfort in her car.

“They can’t even hear you,” I said.

“They can,” she insisted, but changed tactics, making me the subject of dialogue. “Timi, see what that driver is doing? That’s the problem with—”

“You’re going to give yourself a heart attack at this rate; can’t you just drive without the commentary?”

“You don’t understand, wait until you start driving.” She was darting in and out of lanes, “You can’t stay on one lane in this Lagos, you’ll never get anywhere . . .”

Famine brings out our worst instincts and the famine in Lagos is severe—lack of good roads, petrol, patience, politeness, empathy, sanity, alternative transportation like trams, trains, or water transport, diligent traffic wardens, and a responsive government.

Driving in Lagos has not changed. But I have. Or do I still have Naija in my Blood 

Read about my former experience, which is still relevant today here.

© Timi Yeseibo 2016

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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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.

Naija in My Blood

naija

A lot has been written about hazards such as driving in Lagos and on Nigerian roads. I do not mean to flog the issue, but it was this very thing that revealed some needed home truths.

You see, I am not one to allow my blood pressure levels rise over a little thing like another driver cutting into my lane without permission. The lack of simple courtesies that supply grease for smooth driving relations leaves me unruffled. Watching other tense drivers gripping their steering wheels for dear life as they struggle not to be outmaneuvered, provides witty relief from the unending traffic.

These hooligans—both the ones in black suits and the ones sooted from the ash heap of life—have shown me that aggression is the normal way of life here. The proximity of Lagos to the serene breeze from the Atlantic has done nothing to cool the pepper that burns in their veins.

On the roads, tempers edge dangerously close to boiling point, so, loud arguments and disputes settled with fistfights are not uncommon. No wonder I gave up eating pepper long ago, cucumber is more my style. But, I was soon to discover that the cherry does not fall far from the tree.

NAIJA

Nigeria, a place we all call home

Anger that constant simmering over decades of rape

Independence, a cherished hope; the impetus to rise again at 4 a.m.

Jaded after half    a century of promises unfulfilled

Affection, a feeling that continually binds us to the Motherland

Two weeks ago, my driver was going nose to nose with another vehicle. Normally, I would have cautioned him and asked him to yield to the yeye driver, but that day was different. Whether it was the roaring inflation or soaring unemployment, I cannot tell. It may have been the cumulative effect of bumping my head against the car window as my driver navigated one pothole-ridden street after another. Perhaps it was the sinking feeling that yet another con artist promising much and delivering little had swindled me. Whatever, I was tired of being a fool. My redundant aggressive genes surfaced. “Do not give him any chance,” I warned.

Both their countenances showed strong determination. A mad rush of blood had made the veins visible on their hands and temples, a sign that neither wanted to lose this race for survival. As my driver and I struggled to gain supremacy, he from behind the wheel, and me a cheerleading accomplice from the owner’s corner, the inevitable happened.

An ugly screeching sound rent the air as metal kissed metal. I had a taste of nauseating reality as the beat of the ancient talking drums in my head ceased. My driver jumped out, his rage fuelled by the sudden remembrance of his N5, 000 accident-free monthly bonus.

As he sparred with the other driver, I realized that their loud voices were a mere whisper in the buzz of a Lagos that never pauses. My car had finally been baptized with the telltale marks around the fender that speaks of a skirmish or two in traffic. After both drivers traded sufficient insults, they unanimously agreed that the scratches were not worth coming to blows over.

Rhetorical questions swirled in my mind as I tried to make sense of what had just happened. What was it that made my blood boil? How could I have Naijanized so fast?

Back home, my resourceful driver applied a little brake fluid to the scratches and the car looked almost as good as new. I guess it was a little insurance to secure his bonus. It reminded me of the shoddy patch jobs on our roads that are exposed by heavy rains. Yes, Lagos is getting greener on the outside, but true redemption must go beyond skin-deep.

As for me, years on foreign soil only camouflaged my leopard’s spots. The power of Naija, as the large billboards scream, can never be underestimated.

Pride Power Naija

Yeye: a derogatory term used for an annoying person, thing, or situation.

© Timi Yeseibo 2013

Photo credit: author- Darwinek
Title: Flag-map of Nigeria
Page URL: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AFlag-map_of_Nigeria.svg
Image design: © Timi Yeseibo 2013

Photo credit: e.r.w.i.n. / Foter / CC BY-NC
Title: PRIDE POWER NAIJA
Original image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/eherrera/4950205845/
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.