Having only 3 full days in Lagos under my belt I haven’t had a chance to fully explore the city. What I can say is that the infamous traffic congestion that I heard so much about from my Nigerian friends in New York City as well as the ramped police corruption that is so common that people are no longer even outraged by it, both seem to be true.
Lagos is divided between the mainland where most people live and Victoria Island where most people work. With a city boasting 15 million people by some estimates and only one road connecting the island and the mainland, you can imagine the chaos that ensures trying to get from one place to another. Every hour of the day seems to be rush hour, and car wait hours to get home at night from work.
Compounding the problem is the various forms of transportation in Lagos, all which follow an individual set of traffic laws seemingly unknown to anyone else on the road. There are regular privately owned cars, public buses which scream out their destination and slow to about five miles an hour for passengers to jump in or out and small motorcycles that ferry people to their destinations on the back of their bikes. The latter of which is defiantly the fastest mode of transportation, mostly because they drive whichever direction they feel like with no regard for traffic lanes or in many cases oncoming traffic.
Commuters create lanes and jockey for position on the road using whatever small opening they can find, which explains why most cars look as though they’ve beaten with a baseball bat and why when our car bumped into a person on a motorbike neither the driver nor the person they hit seemed phased by the incident.
Police presence is highly visible in Lagos, and their duties on the roadways are supposedly to help move traffic along and check cars for illegal weapons. However, they seem to do little more than stop your car, ask for a bribe and then more you along once an agreed upon sum is paid.
Our own experience with this corruption happened yesterday when our car was stopped for going the wrong way down a one way street. I should mention there were about 5 cars in front of us and a few behind us as well. The police jumped in front and then into our car, demanding that we pull over and then that we give them money. Though I don’t think they meant us any harm they certainly meant to intimidate us by surrounding our car with five policemen and shouting over the top of us every time we tried to speak. Detained for about twenty minutes we were finally let go after negotiating an outrageous fine and the driver agreeing to give the ringleader her phone number!
Though I was warned this would happen, the sense of outrage that corruption could be so blatant, and that normative rule of law and order, not to mention personal space could be so easily violated left me frustrated for the people who live with this on a daily basis. When I asked people why police corruption was so prevalent in Lagos the universal reply was that the police are vastly underpaid and use these pay offs to supplement their income. There seems to be an overall lack of confidence in the police’s ability or desire to protect and serve the citizens of Lagos and most people I talked to laughed when I asked if they would call the police if faced with some kind of danger or were in trouble.
After all this ranting I feel like I should now be offering a suggestion on what can be done to improve this situation. But for now I have no answers. Overhauling the police system and then somehow convincing the people of Lagos to trust in this new system seems a daunting task at best and an oppressively overwhelming one at worst. Though despite my current lack of ideas sheer instinct tells me it can’t be impossible.
Posted By Laura Cardinal (Nigeria)
Posted Jun 5th, 2006