Monday, November 21, 2011


Hell, a place of torment!

That is what Nigeria seems to have become, at least our roads!
I have not traveled to the Southern part of Nigeria, in the last one year! 

Before this hiatus, I had made an average of two trips a month, between Lagos, and Abuja, by road! And it was fun then! I prefer road trips, more than the cursory flyover, simply because I get to see so many visually stimulating subjects I can photograph!

My latest trip to Ondo town to deliver a wedding cake, is in danger of changing my preferred mode of travel! 

I left Abuja at mid-day, knowing that the trip to Ondo town, would not be more than five hours! I was so sure I would get to there before seven pm that day!

The usual traffic jam, at Gwagwalada, in the Federal Capital Territory,FCT, was there, but bearable! 

The town usually sees high, and intense, traffic jams on Mondays, Fridays, and Sundays! All other days, are better!

From Gwagwalada, the trip proceeded as planned, until a few kilometers to Abaji, the last town on the way out of Abuja!

It was a perfect recipe for disaster! A twelve-wheeled truck, locally known as 911, loaded with onions, fell on its's side! That is normal on our roads! 

What was not normal, however, was the geography of the place! It fell just before a bridge across a river, and at peak period! There was no way out, we could not leave the road, and divert through the bush, so we all waited for the valiant men of the Federal Road Safety Corps!

The Abuja-Lokoja road, has been under construction for the past six, or so years! It is meant to be a dual carriage way, and some sections of the dual carriage are already in place: this was the next factor in our hellish trip! Vehicles approaching from the FCT, not only clogged up the old road, but spilled into the new too, thereby creating a bottleneck!

Those coming into Abuja could not, and neither were we able to go as well!

I have noticed that, wherever there is a flat surface, and a car can be placed on it, Nigerians would drive there! It does not matter if it is the side walk, a football pitch, or someone's compound, or back! Our people would gladly drive on it, without thinking! 

We all stopped, at first, not knowing the exact nature of the accident, and pined away in the wilting heat of a scorching mid-day sun! 

If hell was hotter than this, then it surely was a bad place to end up!

At one point, I heard a commotion in a bus beside my car: a child was convulsing! Apparently, a sick child was in transit with his parents! The poorly-looking, gaunt,and  feeble creature, succumbed to the heat!

In the bedlam, people shouted instructions to the confused, hapless, helpless, hopelessly-looking, and clueless, parents! Some screamed, "make the mama piss for him mouth (let the mother pee in his mouth)! You could tell, I was shocked by my reaction to that one! Others said, "put  a spoon in his mouth! "Pour water for him body!

A smart fellow, picked up an onion, the source of our becalment! I suspect, he was trying to use it like smelling salts! And he seemed to be succeeding! I moved close to see what they were doing to the boy! I was again amazed at the level of lack of care! He was hanging in the air, between four adults! One held him by the head alone, another by his feet, and two others held each hand!

I was afraid the overzealous treatment would kill the boy, so I told the idiot holding him by the head, that he was in danger of strangling him! He then proceeded to hold the shoulders! The father was running around like the infamous headless chicken, making phone calls to helpers unseen!

Eventually, the boy, I guess afraid that they would treat him to death, opened his eyes! The parents, who had no water of their own, had to get some from a co-traveler, to pour on him!

We spent two, and half hours, waiting for the fallen truck to be removed! And the journey continued!

I did not get to Akure till nine pm that night!

My return leg of the journey, was uneventful, until I got to Okene! I always tell my friends that, despite my being a model road user, I am more careful anytime I am driving through Okene! Some of the young men in that town, have such short fuses, and would gladly burn one's car for a trifle!

I was waiting in line behind a truck, wondering why we had not moved, when some government fat cats, sirens blaring, and with full bravado, ignored the line of waiting cars, and took the liberty of the "free" lane meant for traffic coming from the opposite direction! 

As soon as they offered this great leadership, all manner of similar social misfits,joined the trailing train!

And as simple logic dictates, the rightful user of that lane was bound to show up: and he did!

A very big truck! 

One of those juggernauts, laden with goods!

Under normal circumstances, they treat other road users with disdain, and in this case, he was not willing to share his rightful lane!

All the errant drivers started squeezing into any available space to make way for him! In the process, one fellow, smashed my side mirror, and the left front fender! Here I was keeping the law, and suffering from another fellow's recklessness!

Our mirrors locked in a deadly embrace! One can see the
 truck in the background, applying pressure on the Toyota Camry
The Camry, now entering the lane he should have been on.
I took a photograph of the two mirrors locked in the deadly embrace, and his license plate, to ensure I could trace him, if he were to escape! But he did not! So we parked a few kilometers from the madding crowd!

He came down, begging that it was an accident! 

I, as is to be expected, was adamant! I told him he had no business being where he was in the first place! 

His lack of care had become my own loss!

I told him calmly, that he was going to replace the mirror, the scratch on the fender, I would sort out! The fellow volunteered that he was coming from the East, and was broke! He said if I did not mind, we could exchange phone numbers that he would fix the car in Abuja! Then he shocked me: he told me he was a pastor! 

More traffic at Okene, on a single lane road.
Pastor? If pastors are breaking the laws of the land with impunity, what would the congregation do? I did not tell him I was a christian, I intend to have him fix it, so that he would remember to behave in future! And it seemed to work too, because a few minutes after, we encountered some more traffic, and when others were facing oncoming traffic to escape, he stayed put!

Gwagwalada was the last point of extreme road rage! Traffic has to converge on a narrow bridge, within the vicinity of a motor park, and a market! I suddenly found myself waiting again, this time for more than thirty minutes! As I waited, I watched as my temperature gauge kept rising, and I kept praying, silently! 

At Gwagwalada, people formed seven extra lanes on the right shoulder of the road! They raised so much dust, and made so much noise! In addition, others used the shoulder across the road, to form two extra lanes! 
If the other side of the road looked like this, one can only
wonder what the right side would have looked like!

The most culpable people I discovered, were government registered vehicles, and very rich-looking vehicles!  

I kept wondering to myself, if being a government operative, exempted one from obeying the law? 

When I got to where the helpless, overwhelmed, road safety marshals were, I asked them, why they seemed to favour those who were on the shoulder of the road, breaking the law, more than those of us, who were law-abiding? 

They informed me that the government vehicles, including police men, were the cause of the confusion! 

Some policemen, had come to threaten them with guns, to allow them go through an unlawful route!

My experience on this trip, has left me wondering:if I were to be a tourist visiting Nigeria for the first time, and had encountered this traffic nightmare, would I want to come back next time, or recommend the place to others?

Secondly, if there is a medical emergency, like a woman in labour, or a sick child, and they have no access to an ambulance with a siren, would they survive what is gradually becoming a routine for us?

It is obvious that soldiers do not make good policemen, they are not trained to! A situation where military checkpoints, force five lanes of traffic into a single file, and end up, not doing more than look at the occupants of the vehicle, and collect bribes from transporters, leaves a whale lot to be desired!

I am wondering what would happen on the road, when the annual mass migration induced by the yuletide season sets in! With the bad roads, checkpoints, and bad road culture, our people are bound to experience hell on our roads in a season meant to celebrate the coming of heaven to earth! 


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