Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Naija - Majoring the Minor - 2

A few days ago I wrote about our tendency to do the Nigerian thing - the "Naija way", instead of following well laid down blueprints, guides, accepted standards. For instance in language, we coin our own English words, ones that make no meaning outside Nigeria. In politics (for obvious reasons), we have refused to deploy IT to solve the lingering rigging problems - hiding under the guise that a Nigeria Centric voters system needs to be evolved, etc... I called that piece Naija - Majoring in Minor (many thanks to Nsuki for the title). Today I want to talk about the first of these standards - focusing on the roads.

Road Traffic Code.

There are many factors that affect the way one values or rates a society. The first and perhaps tPDP Posters will not let us see these road signs. As soon as one is put up, one politician posts his poster over themhe most important is the economic climate. I read somewhere that one can easily tell how robust an economy is by counting the number of cranes in the skyline. And as a project manager, I know this to be true – the more strategic projects in a society, the better its economic situation. Another index is the political climate. This factor, though exact, cannot be readily seen by looking at the people or their representatives. Nonetheless, one social phenomenon easily lends itself to measuring this problem.

On arrival at any destination, It is one of the first things anyone notices. It goes a long way to tell one how things run... how effective law enforcement is, how the health system functions, and most importantly, it shows how the people of that society think. Your thoughts might be running in tangents trying to process what this social phenomenon is, No! It is not one serious political platform, but the simple art of driving.

Down town New York traffic, London West-end congestion and Boston traffic are good examples of gridlock due to construction or city congestion. But Nigerians will agree that Manhattan traffic jams are nothing compared to a typical Lagos or Port Harcourt “Holdup”. Many questions come to mind, I still wonder why they are called holdups (means rubbery in session to the rest of the world), could it be because they rob you of your time? Why is it that traffic flow in every Nigerian city crawls? Why?

Ask any Lagosian one thing they would love to change about the city, and the traffic situation should be amongst the top 3. But why the solution has eluded us for years remains to be seen. This driver is reading a newspaper, parked on a Zebra crossingNigerians have tried several failed experiments - I recall that odd and even number vehicles alternated in Lagos in the 70's (all households duly registered both odd and even numbers to have access to the road each day). But its not rocket science. Things would be a lot better if the average road user knew the basic road traffic code and obeyed them.

Foreigners are scared to drive in Nigeria because not only does everyone drive like a maniac, they seem to be an unwritten Nigerian Traffic Code. Who on earth started these “Naija” Driving Rules?
  1. Rule 1. If you know the road traffic code, leave it at home because its is useless in Nigeria
  2. Quick flash of your lights mean different things depending on who is seeing the light and their relationship with the driver... “Hello” if they know the driver or “See me here o!” if you don’t.
  3. Sounding of the horn – same as above (except for taxi drivers who toot their horn every 6 seconds to remind themselves to exhale).
  4. Put your hazard lights on to signify you have switched to tunnel-vision mode (can only see your destination), and your inability to see things happening around you.
  5. Forget the taillights (they probably don’t work anyway) you have to look out for hand signals, and hope to God the driver warns you before he turns right.
  6. The average Naija driver would rather start his own lane than wait behind the person in front of him (Just like he would in any other queue).
  7. They will hug the speed lane, and crawl at 30mph.
  8. If that is not enough, they trafficate left to tell you “I want to stay here”.
  9. The only way you can over take them is to pass from the right hand side, the wrong side.
  10. Nobody has the right of way – the rule of thumb is, he who dares wins
  11. Don’t yield to anyone, especially in roundabouts – block the path of oncoming vehicles to ensure that you get to the finish line before them.
  12. Take advantage of the size of your car, force other road users off the road.
  13. If you do a lot of night travel, buy as many fog lamps and blind other road users to submission.
  14. If your car breaks down on the road, park where the darm thing stopped with your wife and kids in the car while you run off to call a mechanic to fix the car on the spot.
  15. Give way to anyone who drives rougher than you, if they are not robbers, they just might be law enforcement
  16. Worst of all, is that all the above can happen right in front of law enforcement.
On a more serious note, lets ask the important questions;

Why are there so many bad drivers on Nigerian roads?
Like many other things in Nigeria - education, law enforcement, judiciary, basic amenities, other infrastructure, etc. standards were ignored and over the years, mediocre administrators busy with their self-servicing policies looked the other way, paving way for all this rubbish. In the absence of credible forms of Identification, banks and other corporate institutions have relied on an international passport, national ID card or drivers license. unwittingly forcing everyone who desires to have a bank account to seek the easiest of the above 3 forms of identification. This ever increasing demand has overwhelmed the authorities. This is further convoluted by the fact that the license expires 3 years after you get it. Compared to my British drivers license which will expire when I am 90 years old or in the event of an accident or illness when my GP write the DVLA - the Nigerian case seems to give police reason to stop and arrest people on the road. Worse still is the lack of a centralized repository of data. For instance, I have a license issued in Nasarawa State (meaning I live there), Trust me I don't even know which part of the map the state is on. While I suffered to get mine, Titi just had to pay her driving instructor to get a license. So in the final analysis, nobody in this country goes through any serious scrutiny (physical or mental) to get a drivers license.

What can we do to reverse the ugly situation?
On the issue of kidnapping in Nigeria - I suggested to a friend over 19 months ago that the only way out was to register all mobile phone users. This will not only reduce the incident of kidnapping put also curb the activities of 419ers. He told me it was impossible. Almost 2 years on, I hear it is now a new NCC policy and soon all unregistered lines will be barred. Back to this problem at hand. the only way to stop this ugly situation on our roads will be to train law enforcement and then phase out all existing licenses. Let go back to the basics, follow the standards. not do it the Nigerian way, but the only way, a way acceptable to all.


  1. Eme, good piece, if only the national assemby guys realised that they are not there forever, they could be elected out or the inevitable could happen.

  2. Eme, this is a master-piece. Naija defies all logic

  3. Chimene, nice one! I still remember my dad insisting I take a driving test (theory) on Moscow Road, Port Harcourt in the late 80s or early 90s - a time when no one I knew had done any such thing; I remember the smirk on my 'examiner's' face... as he read out 5 questions to me. I got 3 right out of 5 and passed!

    In the UK 10 years ago, everyone was required to get at least 30 questions right out of 35 to pass the theory test; I was lucky to pass in my first sitting: most people don't! That's probably why UK drivers are one of the safest in the world.

    The attitude of my so-called examiner is similar to that exhibited by the vast majority of Nigerians today in every facet of life; we want to get everything now: we do not have the patience to do things properly. We admire the 'oyibo' man when we see how organised his society is but fail to realise that this was achieved by hard graft. They had to be very strict with themselves, very disciplined to get to where they are today.

    If Nigeria is ever going to join the comity of progressive nations, we all have to go back to the 'drawing board'; only then will we begin to prosper as a nation. We have to accept that it will take years and years of h.a.r.d work!

    One thing so-called 'high achievers' have in common is discipline: it may sound old-fashioned, but it works.

    If we can only get organized as a nation, we can rule the world. The British did, the Greeks, Romans, Persians and Egyptians all did. They were disciplined; they were organised and this translated to immense power which still resonates into our modern world today.

    Very inspiring article Chimene!

  4. Thanks Henry, Just like Sotonye's eloquent take on issue - nothing will change until we go back to the drawing board and chart a course that seeks only to archive one objective - To put us (at least) where the rest are, only then can we to look beyond that.

    For me, the revolution we so much desire is at hand. The critical mass of people required is fast growing. and before long the inevitable that Grace is talking about will happen.

  5. I witnessed all these things during my visit to nigerian from 2007 till 2009. It is a shame that the nigerian system of things thrive of chaos as opposed to order. It makes me wonder as to why so many visit their preferred religious center every week and claim they worship a God of Order. It's either He has left the building or He never was there. The chaos and corruption must stop!

  6. It's so true Anonymous, He IS a God of order; hopefully, He's not left the building...yet :)

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