Adventures on a Sunday morning road journey in Lagos
By Femi Olugbile
You had accepted an invitation to serve on the Electoral Committee of a sporting association in elections scheduled to take place on Monday morning in Benin city.
The Arik air flight that was scheduled to depart Lagos for the ancient city shortly after three pm would leave time for you to settle in and catch the two quarter final matches at the African Cup of Nations football tournament scheduled for later that evening.
The Uber app informed you that your designated driver, Maxwell, was experienced and competent. Maxwell was polite, and his car looked neat. The journey started on a pleasant note. His car radio was tuned to Lagos Talk 91.3FM. The discussion was about Fuel Subsidy. The phone-in discussants were generally cynical and distrustful of government statements on the issue.
The traffic on the Lekki-Epe expressway was nowhere near the workday volume you were used to in the ‘Roundabout 10’ and VGC axis. The Uber app was showing a projected travel time of one hour fifteen minutes.
Sizing up the experience after a few minutes of riding, you concluded that your driver was probably a University graduate with upwardly mobile aspirations, and the prototypical Lagos driver, warts and all. He drove faster than he needed to, was aggressive in cutting into other people’s lanes and refusing them entry into his own, and he changed lanes at will, without bothering with direction indicators. He overtook as freely on the right as on the left. You settled back in your seat, if not to enjoy the ride, at least to get through it. There was a book in your hand, and there was the usual backlog of hundreds of WhatsApp messages, mostly unsolicited, and all too often of little value, to be ploughed through.
When the car stopped behind a long queue of others at the red light at the Chevron junction, Maxwell beckoned to a hawker, bought a drink, and collected his change with a grunt of satisfaction. He opened the cap with his teeth and tipped it up. It was ‘Fearless’, an energy drink. You wondered whether the caffeine-loaded drink helped to energise him through long hours on an empty stomach, or whether it was meant to stoke up his aggression so he could compete with danfo drivers.
‘Easy!’ you cautioned, half-heartedly, as Maxwell aggressively contested a lane beyond the traffic lights at Circle Mall with a Dangote truck.
You began to think of Benin and how some day you would go and see the famous Benin wall, which has been compared to the Great Wall of China.
Suddenly there was a loud bang. A violent shove from behind, a push back with a loud clatter in front. The Uber came to a shuddering halt. You felt the jarring of motion and countermotion in all your body and wondered fleetingly if, and where, you were injured. For some reason, the word ‘whiplash’ came to your mind, and you reached for the back of your neck tentatively.
People in the traffic both ways were stopping to gawk at the spectacle.
Maxwell had been driving close behind a speeding decrepit minibus. In true Lagos fashion, a Nissan SUV, driven by a lady, was driving bumper-to-bumper behind the Uber as they approached the Freedom Way turning. Disaster struck when the minibus driver applied his brakes suddenly to avoid running into the car before him. Maxwell rammed into the minibus, and the lady rammed her SUV into Maxwell’s Uber. Maxwell was on the tarmac in a flash, and soon the danfo man, the Uber man, and the SUV lady were bawling at each other.
’You rammed into me…You’ll repair my car…’
The door on your side was jammed from the impact. You made your way gingerly down from the other side, clutching your grip. You had no intention to miss your flight.
Maxwell tried to recruit you to bat for him.
‘Sir – didn’t she run into me?’
’You have smashed my bumper’ protested the dank man, waving his fist at Maxwell.
You ventured no sympathy, only a diagnosis.
’You’re all wrong. You must always leave braking space between you and the car in front when you’re moving at speed. I know nobody does that in Lagos – but that’s what the Highway Code prescribes.’
Maxwell found no joy in your preachment.
In a few minutes, you found a sympathetic danfo driver who was taking his family to Church. His children were raising a riot at the back, while their mother vainly tried to keep them quiet. He dropped you off at Falomo. He declined your offer of payment.
On the app, you discovered that Maxwell had not ended your trip, so you could not hail another Uber.
Under the Falomo bridge was an old man with Ogbomosho tribal marks washing an ancient-looking yellow taxi.
‘Where are you going sir?’
You looked at him uncertainly.
’I’ll take you.’
The cab, and the man, had obviously seen their best days, and their lives were mutually interdependent. You climbed in, and the man cranked the engine fitfully to life.
You had a good conversation along the way. The man showed you a spot near Onigbongbo where LASTMA had just dragged out a car that sped off the road during the night. ‘Those young boys.’ He shrugged his shoulders, as if to lament the changing world that has now put him and his yellow cab on the trajectory to certain extinction.
You arrived on time, to discover the flight was going to be almost two hours late and you needn’t have gone into all that hurry.
You sat down and brought out your book. The Uber app showed that Maxwell had finally closed the trip and you were free to hail another Uber, if you needed one.
For Dr Olufemi Adegoke (6.11.1949- 28.1.2022) Chairman, VOR
‘Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee’
– John Donne