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When a dear friend told me many years ago that he felt he might die in an accident in Nigeria, I was horrified, and he was not even Nigerian. He was British with a Nigerian wife.
Dr Arnot, head of an international organisation, who at that time had lived in Nigeria for 10 years. We were having lunch and as we savoured the delicious displays, we wondered into my writings, particularly this column when he dropped the bomb. I was as petrified as I was curious and requested that he opened a window to his mind.
He lived in highbrow Maitama in Abuja and his office was a mere 5-10 minutes away in the same area but he always had nightmares as he drove to work. “It will seem,” he said to me “that every day as I drive to and from work someone is determined to end my life on the road.” Profound. Have we all not felt that way as we make our way in traffic in most parts of Nigeria and I dare say particularly in Abuja where the roads are smooth as baby’s bottom and driving should be an absolute pleasure. But that pleasure has been turned to terror when you see a car coming straight at you from the corner of your eyes at high speed and the driver just broke the light. Holding on to the fact that you have right of way is no longer tenable in this road rage that has taken over Nigerians and is about to destroy any decent driving culture that we may have had. It is wiser to make for the ditch and hope that you land safely.
Driving on Nigerian roads has become something of a study for how a nation morphed into a collection of persons who are ticking time bombs on our roads. There is a complete lack of empathy even if someone has made a wrong move on the road, we are not patient enough to give him/her time to recover, we are bullish about our rights and would rather hurt that person than wait a bit. We are impatient on the road and no matter how short the distance, we drive as if we will die if we drive slower to allow pedestrians pass. It is sad that zebra crossings are abused daily and where it says STOP just before the traffic lights, to allow pedestrians cross safely, means nothing to us, and we proudly place our cars on the stop sign oblivious to the pedestrian or even the sign.
Only recently my husband who is an anti-road rage campaigner and foremost commentator on bad driving realised quite suddenly that he has been complaining against bad drivers and they are the wrong targets. When I asked how so, he replied that he had been attacking the wrong group of persons. Puzzled, I probed further. Then he spoke softly. I think I may be up against tramadol on the road. Wow! What a perspective. So… it has come to me that a lot of the jay driving, wrong turns, unnecessary high speed driving, road rage and inconsiderate driving going on our roads is not a “clear eye something”. So… a most confusing driving pattern that puts other road users at risk is more often than not a drug induced move.
OMG. You mean in addition to stupidity, lack of kindness, lack of empathy, illiteracy, poor eyesight, receipt of fake driving licences and poorly trained drivers, we also have to deal with Tramadol. It became clearer to me that most of our driving is either drug induced or rage induced or drug related rage induced driving. So what shall we do with a climbing population of drivers, bad cars and road rage.
Let us turn our searchlight a little bit to children driving on Abuja roads, 16-year-old whose reflexes are not yet there and who have no business driving because they are not of the statutory age are busy driving. Let us also look at how badly behaved most of our taxi drivers are as they compete to pick up a passenger, cutting you off so sharply with no warning and no sign to say they are stopping… Let us look at how bad the eyesight of most of our taxi drivers are and they have never had an eye test or had the last one fifteen years ago.
When several taxi drivers target a possible client, they all rush towards that client and care very little if you are on your rightful lane driving through town. They swoop on the possible client and bring you to near disaster by literally sweeping you off the road.
I have often pondered what can be done to our road rage challenge, to our jay driving by young persons, to our anger on the roads, to our impatience on the roads, intimidation of visitors and members of the international community and other citizens on Nigerian roads. Every country has a group of persons with road rage but there are traffic bodies to put them in place, breathalysers to check their drug or alcohol use and laws to straighten them out. Here we have multiple traffic bodies in competition, while some are doing their best, others lay ambush in difficult turns to catch traffic offenders for petty misdemeanours while looking the other way with big offenders and deep pockets.
Then taxi drivers escaping the traffic regulatory organisations in these cul- de sacs reverse into law abiding citizens killing some and maiming others. Add this to the mayhem when traffic lights are not working and stick- carrying traffic wardens who can only point a stick to traffic offenders are all we have got. There must be a new way to deal with our road rage. This is a newly minted democratic journey. Our traffic agencies and the Nigerian people should address this before we all die by bad driving. Any suggestions?