I don’t often not drive, but when I do, I do not drive in Lagos, Nigeria. Stay sane my friends.
How I Got Here
I returned to my ancestral home for the first time in a long time. How long? Three passports long. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but a visit was long overdue.
Flying into Lagos, Nigeria’s, largest trafficked airport, Murtala Muhammed (a.k.a. LOS) is how I came in. Lagos is a city of 16 million people that was considered crowded, back when it was four million people strong at my last visit.
Uber is your friend, a relative told me. I understood, but I was yet to really appreciate the advice. As soon I made my way out of the international arrivals terminal and into the night I found out.
I could already see the mob of vehicle traffic on the road above me to the arrivals terminal. I was walking faster than traffic was moving. Mind you, I had a reasonably weighty suitcase I was hauling. Those cars weren’t getting anywhere fast. Luckily, being Lagos in autumn, the weather wasn’t as brutally humid as it would have been just a couple of months earlier.
Getting Reacquainted With The Roads
Lagos, like Nigeria, is full of contradictions. So are the roads. There are good road, and not so good road. In the shot above are some of the better ones. I was being driven through a reasonable amount of traffic from the local area of Ikoyi into Victoria Island next door to it, both east of Lagos Island. They are all connected by bridges. What I had forgotten was the ubiquitous zebra painted culverts (or curbs). All I could think about was racing.
Battle of The Rickshaws
What had proliferated in Lagos since my last visit were rickshaws, locally called maruwas. The tricycles in the middle of a box, mini-taxis, are the best combination of car and motorcycle. They’re pretty zippy and maneuverable, and can carry anywhere from one to four passengers, comfortably. It’s a great alternatively price-wise to Uber for locals, or for tourists going a shorter distance of a few blocks.
But don’t mess with the maruwa drivers. They’re young, fit, and have little to lose. On the way to Nike Art Gallery in Lekki, My better-to-do, Uber drive got into what started as a misunderstanding with two maruwa drivers. I could tell he wasn’t very aware, because he was bluffing getting out of the car to take them on. I told him as politely as possible, stay in the car because you’re partly to blame, for escalating the situation, plus these guys will be looking for me, after they wipe the floor with you, and I’m on holiday.
Driving Out To The Beach (Well, Almost)
The last time I was in Nigeria, the picture above didn’t look like that. The last time I was in Lekki, it was but a dream at the end of a single road bordered by sand and beaches, and erosion.
Needless to say, things have changed. I barely recognized the area, that has since been land-reclaimed, and commercially and residentially built out past the Lekki Beach that I knew as a youth. It’s now a mega-extension of the hustle-and-bustle of (what I’m calling) east Victoria Island.
In the center of Nigeria lies Abuja, the planned city and federal center of government that became (after Lagos) the capital of Nigeria, in 1991.
Being a planned city, Abuja is more much palatable to be driven in than Lagos. It’s the difference between driving in Boston during a Red Sox versus Yankees game, and driving in Phoenix on some Tuesday afternoon, and then some. More space, less people, and more planing, all equal better traffic patterns.
It was usually easy and straight forward to get from one place to another, with little traffic. Of course, being the center of federal government, once closing time hit, the roads were bumper to bumper. At one point there was so much traffic to the street my hotel was on. I told the Uber driver to just let me off at the head of the street, and I would walk the rest of the way to my destination. He was grateful.
Smart City Driving
One thing that I noticed is that there were a spectacular amount of Toyotas and Hondas on the road. Specifically, Toyota Corollas. It makes sense. We have one in the family about to hit 180,000 miles and still running well after nine years. It’s a car that’s very reliable, relatively cheap to maintain, and can take a beating.
There’s a part of me that looks back and wishes I had bought a Corolla back in my 20s or even 30s. But cars weren’t a rational pursuit for me then. I’m not sure if they’re a rational pursuit for me now. I try, but still have the occasional fail on car selection.
I was also encouraged to get my driver’s license while in Nigeria. Maybe, I thought to myself, maybe. Then I experienced, second-hand, the awesome traffic on the ride to the airport to depart Nigeria. Not be me and you o! As we say in pidgin English.