How God has blessed you since you came to Nigeria! You have settled in, you know the local joints, which bars sell point-and-kill catfish and which bars don’t. Even though you swore you were a vegetarian, you have tasted the goat head meal we call ‘Isi Ewu’ - that messy mound of smashed goat skull, flesh and eyes. It was more spicy than you ever imagined, but you endured it, even took a photo for your friends back home and put it on your Facebook profile to prove you were blending with the Africans. This place is growing on you. Now you need to buy a car and drive it yourself, to know the city better. You have driven in the worst parts of New York, so Abuja can’t be that bad.
First thing you need is a licence. Don’t sweat. It is not that hard. All you need is money. Don’t be prudish and insist on following the normal process of a driving test to make sure you can actually drive, vision test- to make sure those blue or green eyes of yours actually work, and all the other formalities. Believe me, no Nigerian has ever done a driver’s test. So listen.
There will be that guy who will be smiling at you more than necessary, hanging around like your owe him something when you get to the licence office. He is the guy that can get you the licence. Just a few thousand on top of the five thousand regular fee, will do the magic. He will even bring the forms to your office if you want, for your finger prints. Then he will tell you to follow him for the photo capture. Don’t mind if it is after office hours. Your licence will be genuine. You can get it in a few days if you ‘mobilise’ the guy enough.
Now you have hit the road. If you think all the traffic lights are working then you have not been in Nigeria long enough. Our traffic lights come on only on two occasions: when they are brand new and on special occasions, like when the President is visiting with some foreign dignitary. So watch to see if it’s on or off.
At intersections where there are no traffic lights, no one has the right of way- the rule is ‘first come, first pass’. Honk wildly just in case some drunk or blind fellow is speeding past. In fact honk wildly always, we have no laws against honking. Honk when you are overtaking, or even when you are just tired or irritated. It has been proven to relieve Nigerian stress.
You will see the roads sometimes painted with white lines to signify lanes. They mean nothing in this country. They are cosmetic, to make the roads look beautiful like the ones in foreign movies. Swerve from lane to lane as you please especially when the guy ahead of you is driving like a snail. Sometimes you can create your own lane especially when there is a lot of traffic. The side walk is not for walking, you can drive on it to beat traffic. Just don’t be the first to do it. There will always be that first guy who goes off the road because he is just too cool to wait. Follow that guy. Now that you have passed the 10 or so cars in front of you, you need to get back on the road. Wind your glass down and put your hand out and look in the eye of the guy on the road where you want to enter. Raise your hand and implore with your eyes for him to let you enter in front of him. He will look at you. You are white. He will pity you and let you get back on the road. Don’t despair though if there is that stubborn fellow who will ignore you. There will be that woman behind him who will let you pass. Honk and wave in the air when you enter. That is how to show gratitude.
There are no speed limits in Nigeria. The rule is drive but don’t bash anyone. Learn to scream at other drivers. Learn to use your open five fingers in someone’s direction, to say ‘Your father!’ when someone has just tried to run you off the road. It will make you feel better. Learn road cuss words like, ‘Yeye’, ‘Oloshi’, ‘Ewu’ or the very efficient ‘God punish you.’ You will need it.
Now, in your country you have rubbish like breathalyser tests for driving under the influence of alcohol. That is strange to us. No policeman has heard of that here. Our culture permits drinking and driving. You can drink all you want as long as you reach home in one piece. If a policeman stops you, be afraid only if you do not have change to give him. When you actually beat the traffic lights and you are stopped by those guys in dreary orange uniforms, they will ask you to park and let them in. Don’t let them into your car, they will only waste your time. This is where some spare change and Nigerian pidgin will save you. Call him, ‘Officer’, in the most Nigerian accent you can manage. Smile. Don’t appear afraid- like dogs they can sense fear. Greet him. Ask him how work is, they family. Ignore the huge frown on his face, it is for show. He will talk big about arresting you and all that. Don’t give in immediately. Tell him, ‘Bros, make we settle now.’ He might be stubborn at first but it will work wonders. His heart will soften at the prospect of some extra money to augment his miserable salary.
Most people have no proper vehicle insurance in Nigeria, so if someone bashes your car, insist on cash or if you have the time, that they take you to their mechanic. Otherwise just go fix your car by yourself. Never, I repeat, Never allow the police to get involved. They will complicate matters and you will only waste your time and lose money in the process.
At night, nobody is arrested for traffic violations. The only cops on the road are patrol cops. They don’t care about your driving.
You can park by the side of the road without consequence. Nobody cares.
Your choice of a country without speeding tickets or DUI charges is wise. God be with you as you discover the hidden wisdom on our roads.