Saturday, October 17, 2009

The 187th good thing about Lagos: Traffic lights are here -- and drivers are starting to observe them

When I first came to Lagos over 3 years ago, there wasn't a single working street light in the areas where we are allowed to drive. Where intersections were monitored at all, there were traffic police directing traffic. Intersections were usually a free-for-all that favored very aggressive drivers. That is still often the case, but in the past year, all of a sudden, traffic lights were put up in many intersections. It's been interesting to see the level of non-compliance with the lights. Cars often seem to consider the traffic light a suggestion rather than a strict rule, and motorcycle taxis, okadas, always go through a red light if there is no traffic coming from the other way. It seems that someone has decided that there needs to be enforcement of the traffic signals. The other night we were going to a business dinner and were driving over the bridge to Ikoyi, when all of a sudden a police van labeled "enforcement vehicle" came up beside us, lights blaring and horn honking, pulled in front of us, and several machine gun-toting policemen jumped out. Our driver got out to talk with them. After a heated discussion he got back into the car and, despite our protests, unlocked the front passenger door to talk to a policeman, who quickly jumped into the car. The policeman said that our driver had gone through a light and we needed to follow the enforcement vehicle to the station where our driver would be charged. Our driver started driving and Brent called our company security peope. After getting off the bridge, we directed our driver to pull over to a safe place to stop, announced that we were not allowed to drive with any policeman in the car and we would wait until our security people arrived and they would handle this. After they got on the scene, we waited in the back seat of our car while a major wahala ensued outside with police shouting at our driver and security people, and even the growing crowd of bystanders joined in the shouting match. The police brought a large tow truck, which they backed up to our car, and threatened to tow us away. We left the chaos after a co-worker, on his way to the party, stopped to pick us up. We took our personal belongings out of the car (in case it was towed away) and left our driver and others to sort it out. Although we had angry policemen with machine guns crowding around us, we never felt personally threatened at all and, surprisingly, we were never asked if we wanted to "make the trouble go away," as often seems to happen when police suggest a bribe. Our driver was able to make it to the party later to drive us home. He said that at first they said his "fine" would be 50,000 naira -- $335, but in the end, he got off paying 5,000 naira ($33). He did admit that when he was going through the light it turned red and his mistake was not noticing that the enforcement vehicle was there watching him. The next day, we sat at a red light while others sailed through it without a problem.

No comments: