Thriv­ing Mad In The Go-slow

The Guardian (Nigeria) - - OPINION - Sinem Bilen-on­a­banjo @son­a­banjo @son­a­banjo

IT is a given that La­gos go-slow is not for the faint-hearted. I have seen many a strong-spir­ited driver re­duced to tear­ful tantrums be­hind the wheel, sit­ting in a grid­locked junc­tion in Ikeja or try­ing to ma­noeu­vre one of the many Lekki round­abouts where you will of­ten find a car or three tak­ing on the round­about in the wrong di­rec­tion. Enough to drive any­one mad (See what I did there?) with its sheer chaos, let alone the daily road rage in­ci­dents and ac­ci­dents that beg­gar be­lief leav­ing over half of the cars in the sprawl­ing me­trop­o­lis bumper cars with an ar­ray of bangs, dents and bro­ken head­lamps.

I have had the mis­for­tune of driv­ing in a few coun­tries. In France, we were ad­vised nu­mer­ous times to drive as close to the curb as pos­si­ble to avoid driv­ers who had no spa­tial aware­ness and in­sisted on driv­ing in the mid­dle of the road down the tini­est back roads. In Bel­gium, it was the same story. On the Ger­man Au­to­bahns, it was a white-knuckle ride, with half-hearted speed lim­its and dare­devil driv­ers in fast cars. In Turkey, right af­ter I got my driver’s li­cense, a fresh-faced young driver, I stalled the car in the mid­dle of a busy main artery, and frus­trated by my mum’s back­seat driv­ing, nag­ging and pan­ick­ing, promptly left the car chuck­ing the key at her, never find­ing the courage to get be­hind the wheel in Is­tan­bul af­ter.

It came as no sur­prise this week when Forbes pub­lished the list of the world’s best and worst cities for driv­ers and both Is­tan­bul and La­gos fea­tured on the lat­ter. The study, con­ducted by the Ger­man auto parts re­tailer kfzteile24, based on an anal­y­sis of lo­cal con­ges­tion lev­els, av­er­age cost of park­ing and fuel, av­er­age road­way speeds, air pol­lu­tion lev­els, num­ber of traf­fic in­juries, and road qual­ity as well as the fre­quency and per­cep­tion of road rage.

Top­ping the list of best cities to drive in is Dus­sel­dorf be­cause, among other fac­tors, its high­ways are con­gested a mere 20% of the time, whereas in Kolkata, the world’s worst city for driv­ers, the roads are 69% traf­fic-jammed – the high­est level among all 100 rated global cities. Com­ing in at num­ber three be­hind Kolkata in In­dia and Karachi in Pak­istan is La­gos, Nige­ria’s com­mer­cial hub, with 60% con­ges­tion, 10.70 mph av­er­age speed. Just scrap­ing in at num­ber 10 is my home­town, Is­tan­bul, with 49% con­ges­tion, 11.80 mph av­er­age speed.

Hav­ing spent a Sun­day af­ter­noon in traf­fic try­ing to make it from the in­ter­na­tional air­port on the Euro­pean side of the city to my mum’s house on the Asian side in a lit­tle over four hours – the same amount of time spent fly­ing from Lon­don to Is­tan­bul, I am some­how sur­prised Is­tan­bul didn’t score higher.

These days of course, most of my driv­ing hap­pens in the civilised, fairly un­con­gested roads of East Anglia. The La­gos traf­fic a dis­tant dream, ex­cept on the odd day when there is an ac­ci­dent or a break­down on the mo­tor­way and you sit in traf­fic for a mere 40 min­utes telling your­self, it could be much worse, you could be in La­gos.

Last week the traf­fic on the M1 came to a stand­still as a sus­pi­cious pack­age was found on the north­bound side. As the mo­tor­way was promptly shut north­bound, the mo­torists on the south bound side of the af­fected area were stuck in their cars for eight hours be­fore the traf­fic could be di­verted. Within the first two hours, news re­ports be­gan trick­ling in, show­ing driv­ers play­ing foot­ball, skate­board­ing and danc­ing on the empty stretch of the north­bound car­riage. While that does say a lot about the Bri­tish stiff up­per lip and ‘keep calm and carry on’ ethics, I thought of the end­less op­por­tu­ni­ties the La­gos goslow pro­vides daily.

Peo­ple watch­ing – Re­gard­less of whether you are the one be­hind the wheel or not, there are such long ex­panses of time at stand­still that if you, like me, en­joy peo­ple watch­ing, La­gos go-slow is your play­ground

Hav­ing a meal – In Is­tan­bul you’ve got the odd wa­ter or Turk­ish bagel seller, while in La­gos it is pos­si­ble to en­joy a full meal on wheels.

Widen­ing your hori­zons – You can find a wide ar­ray of read­ing ma­te­rial in the La­gos traf­fic, any­thing from En­comium mag­a­zine to The Guardian to Forbes

Africa mag­a­zines to

books

such as What they don’ t teach you at har­vard Busi­nesss­chool.

It’s a mat­ter of time be­fore you can ob­tain a univer­sity de­gree just buy sit­ting in traf­fic.

Dec­o­rat­ing your house – I was so amazed, dur­ing my first trip to La­gos, by the sheer va­ri­ety of para­pher­na­lia you could find on the road. Toi­let seats, shower cur­tains, hot wa­ter bot­tles (in one of the hottest places in the world?), kitsch ‘70s dec­o­ra­tions, pup­pies and chick­ens… Con­sid­er­ing many Lagosians spend more than half their day in the La­gos go-slow, it is pos­si­ble to shop from the com­fort of one’s car seat with­out ever stepping into a shop.

En­cour­ag­ing the en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit – Not that there is any need to en­cour­age the av­er­age Nige­rian’s en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­deav­ours, which can be seen in full flow in the La­gos go-slow. If you’ve ever seen a plan­tain chip seller give Usain Bolt a run for his money with his sprint af­ter his 200 naira in the mov­ing traf­fic, you will know what I mean.

While La­gos in­fra­struc­ture is a ma­jor is­sue which needs ad­dress­ing, and once ad­dressed, can do won­ders for the city’s progress, let’s also recog­nise its chaotic en­ergy and thriv­ing spirit and the daily amuse­ment it pro­vides along­side the ex­as­per­a­tion.

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