It started out as normal, moved quickly into scary and ended with the most curious insight into Nigerian society I have witnessed since arriving in Lagos a month ago. This was, of course, my car ride home from work last Monday. I think I have mentioned in previous blogs that the traffic in Lagos is horrendous. Waiting hours to go a few miles is not uncommon and people often resort to desperate measures to gain a few inches, including driving the wrong way down highways and the occasional bump or sideswipe of a nearby car is no real cause for alarm. It is all part of the process of getting home at night and usually an apologetic wave is all one can expect in the way of compensation for any damage caused to their vehicle during a hectic drive through Lagos.
So, when our friend hit the bumper of a small red car in front of us on our way home from work last Monday it seemed normal. It happens all the time. We were surprised when the man got out of his car and started yelling, but our friend gave him the obligatory wave and even threw in an apology before maneuvering around him and resuming our tedious ride home.
It wasn’t until about five minutes later when we realized that the red car was now behind us and it only took another few minutes to realize he was following us. Nervous giggles swept the car and our friend took a quick right off the road to try to lose him. We all agreed he was crazy, and thought it would be best to just get away from him. But he had other plans and for the next thirty minutes the man proceeded to chase us down the road, cutting us off and swerving in front of us, not allowing us to get away from him.
Scared now, we all wondered how we could possibly get away from this man. Finally, he cut us off completely and blocked us into the side of the road. Onlookers, who thought the man might be an armed robber, quickly rushed over to our car. The man in the red car jumped out and there was a lot of yelling on all sides. The man was very upset because he is a driver for the local bank and feared he would loose his job because of the dent in his bumper. Our friend was understandably upset as well, as this man had just chased us down the road for a half hour, trying to drive us off the road.
This is when the situation truly became interesting. At this point there were about ten people milling about. They didn’t know each other, some had come to see if they could help and others had just wandered over to see what all the commotion was about.
The newly appointed judge, along with the other members of the “jury,” calmly asked both sides to explain their version of the story. They then convened to discuss the situation and periodically returned to each party to ask clarifying questions. Next, they looked at the evidence. First they looked at the damage our friend had caused to the man’s bumper and next they looked at scrapes on her car from when he had tried to cut us off. Then they deliberated. After a few minutes the judge told our friend that she must apologize to the man for initially hitting his car, however, she did not have to pay any money for fixing the car because of the man’s reckless behavior following the initial accident. Amazingly, and despite flaring tempers only moments before, both sides agreed. Our friend apologized, an escalating situation was defused and moments later we were on our way home as if nothing ever happened.
As scary as the initial situation was, it was amazing to see the manner in which the community, all strangers only moments before, pulled together to resolve what could have been a very ugly and perhaps even violent situation. I have never seen anything like it in my life. I respected it and despite a nagging feeling that we should have at least called the police, I even envied it a bit, wondering if such a thing would ever happen on the streets on New York City.
Posted By Laura Cardinal (Nigeria)
Posted Jul 5th, 2006