It’s impossible to write about Nigeria without mentioning the driving – it’s contradictory, chaotic, confusing and downright dangerous. It’s also very funny, although you tend to see the humour only after you are out of harm’s way and downing a cold beer to forget your journey.
Every time I think I’ve seen the worst stunt possible, I end up seeing something even more unbelievable a few days later. Yesterday, we were speeding along a packed 8-lane highway during rush hour, when we had to dodge a car reversing towards us. I guess he missed his exit.
Luckily, almost everyone drives defensively, blowing their horns incessantly, ready to dodge random swerves from other vehicles. The reason for all of this is that to get a driver’s license, all you have to do is pay for one – you don’t even need to take lessons. ‘Learning to drive’ in Nigeria means learning how to operate a car; it doesn’t involve studying the road code, understanding the signs and road markings, or observing courtesy to other drivers.
In order to experience true Nigerian driving, it’s not enough to be driven – you need to drive. So, relax, take a deep breath and let’s go for a ride.
If you’re in Lagos, you’re in luck. Lagos drivers are extremely aggressive, giving no quarter on the congested streets, but they understand the rules even as they bend or break them. In Calabar, things move a lot slower and there’s less traffic; but rules? What rules? Just point your vehicle in the general direction of your destination and drive. If there’s a shortcut down a one-way street or on the wrong side of a dual carriageway, just go ahead – everyone will move out of the way when they see you coming. If you take the wrong exit at a roundabout, no problem; just reverse along the highway, back to the roundabout, and try again.
Here are a few more tips that will guarantee your attempt to blend in and drive like a true Nigerian:
- Remember to drive on the right – it may look like it’s optional but it’s worth remembering when things get confusing.
- Any vehicle will do, regardless of its age, state of repair or the amount of exhaust fumes it produces. However, it’s best to drive a large black SUV with tinted windows, such as a Range Rover, Pajero or G-Wagon. This guarantees maximum respect from other drivers and ensures that no security guard will question your right to enter any premises.
- If you decide to go with the low-maintenance option favoured by the masses, you may regret it. However, if you happen to break down, don’t panic; just abandon your vehicle carefully in the middle of the road. In a couple of days, after you’ve raised enough money for a tow truck and repairs, it will probably still be there.
- Always remember to replace headlight bulbs – you need to see ahead – but don’t worry too much about all those red and yellow ones at the back. If they want to see you, they should have headlights too.
- Ignore the annoying white lines dividing the highway into lanes – it’s just a suggestion but not compulsory. If possible, straddle the line and occupy half of each lane – this doubles your options and makes it easy to swerve left or right suddenly without obstruction.
- When overtaking, always sound your horn loudly to notify your fellow swervers that you are passing alongside them.You can overtake in any lane, left or right, as long as there’s a car-sized gap to squeeze into.
- On highways with at least four lanes in each direction – Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos is the perfect example – remember to use the slow (right) lane if you’re in a hurry. It’s much faster and saves you the frustration of contending with the buses, trucks and other slow vehicles hogging the faster lanes on the left.
- Never use your indicators to signal your intention to change lanes, otherwise the other drivers will move quickly to close any gaps you may have been considering. Instead, just swerve into place before anyone has time to react.
- Alternatively, use one of our many multi-lane highways that has no lines at all. Enjoy the freedom and fluidity of carefree driving at its best, with no guidelines or restrictions, as you move effortlessly between obstacles. Bliss.
- On approaching a roundabout, ignore any oncoming traffic and just plunge in, forcing the other drivers to brake sharply and make way for you. Why should you wait?
- If you are turning left into a side street, ensure that you cut the corner and enter the street on the left, effectively blocking any vehicles trying to get out. You can cross over to the right later, after you’ve caused maximum mayhem.
- If you have young children, driving can be a lot of fun. Standing in front, next to you, is a special treat for those who can see over the dashboard. For toddlers, it’s better to sit in your lap and pretend they are driving too – car seats are too expensive. Besides, if there’s an accident, no one will blame you; they will assume it’s witchcraft.
- If you come across motorcyclists on your journey, it’s best to blow your horn loudly and force them into the gutter. The same for anyone crazy enough to ride a bicycle – they are a complete nuisance and only get in the way of proper vehicles. If you happen to knock one of them over, get out and slap him senseless for scratching your car.
- Ignore pedestrians completely – it’s not your fault that there are no sidewalks or safe places to cross. Anyway, why can’t they save up and buy a car?
- If you can afford it, hire a police escort – your pilot vehicle will clear the way with its siren and flashing lights. For more resistant traffic jams, the officers with assault rifles are like gods – they always manage to ‘make a way when there’s no way’. Perfect if you’re short, got bullied at school or have self-esteem issues.
- Finally, remember to use your mirrors – not early enough to avoid other vehicles, but later – so you can look back and see all the chaos you caused.
- If you can’t remember all of the above, just do the opposite of whatever you were taught in driving school – and try not to hit anything or be hit.
If you’ve managed to follow my guidelines without flinching, gasping or apologising – congratulations, you are now a fully-qualified Nigerian driver. If you drive in Nigeria already, I’m sorry for wasting your time with such basic information.
On a more serious note, every single one of these tips was inspired by real-life incidents in Calabar and Lagos and most are routine occurrences that you will experience during any 15-minute journey in Nigeria.
Sometimes people ask me about the accident rate but there are no statistics, even though there are police, road safety and a plethora of other state and federal agencies. Their main job seems to be manning traffic stops and roadblocks, looking for minor infringements and collecting bribes from desperate motorists trying to avoid the penalties.
In six years, I have never seen or heard of anyone being fined for speeding, running a red light, driving on the wrong side of the road or endangering the lives of small children. However, if your fire extinguisher is out of date or you forgot your license at home, you will pay.
Anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac. ~ Author Unknown
Michael D. Williams is the author of number one bestselling book, The More3 Formula, a practical guide for entrepreneurs to create exponential profits through superior customer service. He is an international marketing consultant and senior manager with extensive experience of creating successful marketing campaigns, developing organisations and building partnerships. To book Michael Williams as a speaker or consultant, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or +234 703 335 7123. The More3 Formula is available on Amazon.com