Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Nigeria Tragedy and Traffic

Bomb Falls at Refugee Camp

The New York Times had a story yesterday about a bombing at a Nigerian refugee camp that killed dozens of people, including aid workers. Tragic! Click on the picture to read the story.

President Buhari has apologized. He said it was an error. But how terrible for the families who had already been displaced from their homes, now to lose loved ones in a military event meant to defeat Boko Haram.

Lagos Traffic

You wouldn’t believe the traffic in Nigeria. People insist that their drivers act like they own the road.

Even on the expressways! I remember being excited when the first expressway, between Lagos and Ibadan, opened years ago. It was a joy to drive on the first couple of times. Then many of us drove ourselves, instead of relying on drivers as we do now. It was somewhat orderly.

Benin-Ore-Lagos Road, From Investigative Centre for International Reporting

Benin-Ore-Lagos Road, From Investigative Centre for International Reporting

Today drivers do not stay in lanes. They weave in and out looking for the best way to get ahead. Occasionally cars or buses are stopped, even on expressways, to pick up or discharge passengers.

But the most challenging is on the expressways where the road is damaged with massive potholes. Or the road may be torn up for construction, or there has been an accident that blocks the road. Then the drivers all go to the other side, into oncoming traffic.

Once in a while there will be a sign for a diversion, but often there is no sign. And you often find vehicles coming at you on your own side.

Tanker on Fire

We were returning from Nanka on Jan. 6. We were on the Benin bye-pass to avoid going through the city. Cars were coming at us. A passing driver told us that the road was blocked by an accident and we should divert. So we turned around and followed the traffic through Benin.

Tanker on fire, being directed by self-appointed traffic director

Tanker on fire. We were being directed by self-appointed traffic director

This allowed us to pass the University of Benin, our older son’s Alma Mater, which I always love to see.

We finally got back on the expressway. Twenty minutes later I saw a column of black smoke a couple of miles ahead. There was a dense line of cars, so we went to the other side as others were doing. Again there was a line of traffic stretching in front of us for at least half a mile. Soon we could see a blazing tanker in the southbound lane where we should have been.

Drivers were trying to pass the standing vehicles, so instead of just one lane, we took up all the space. There were at least five lanes in what should be two, although they weren’t actually lanes, just masses of vehicles. Oncoming traffic could not get through.

Fortunately we were a three-car convoy. Chinaku had hired a security firm to give us protection on the road. Clem and I were in their car, driven by Bode and piloted by Emmanuel. Hyacinth and John, Chinaku’s drivers, were in our own car with our nephew Edozie and our cook Nathaniel. We were led by a police vehicle, part of the security detail, with flashing lights.

Our convoy negotiated our way toward the front of the line, cutting in between the other vehicles. A couple of self-appointed traffic directors waved us forward. They cleared a path. Then they told us to get back on our own southbound side where the burning vehicle was. “Don’t stop. Go fast!” they said. We didn’t hesitate!

I searched Google for a report on the tanker fire. But there are so many tanker fires and other accidents that this one didn’t even make the Nigerian news.

To the Airport

Two days later Clem and I went with both drivers, John who was driving, and Hyacinth, to Murtalla Muhammed Airport. We had hoped to leave at 7:15 pm for my midnight flight. But it was nearly 8 when we departed.

Clem told the driver to pick up speed as we were leaving Victoria Island. John wove in and out of lanes on the approach roads and on the expressway to the airport. We turned off onto the airport road. Five minutes later we hit the airport traffic jam.

The two lanes became 3, then 4, then 5. We were driving on the shoulder bumping through gullies and ruts. When we reached an obstacle blocking the shoulder John nosed into lane 4, then back onto the shoulder, even going around other cars also on the shoulder.

Clem on right with our driver Hyacinth at Shoprite Mall in Lagos

Clem on right with our driver Hyacinth at Shoprite Mall in Lagos, before Christmas

From 1/2 mile out, we began seeing the ‘helpers’ who appear with trolleys, ready to help passengers get to their flights. I resisted hiring one. So did Hyacinth, who said it was “too far for Madam to trek.” We kept inching forward with John doing an excellent job of changing lanes for any advantage.

We passed an airport parking lot. A few cars were entering, whether to try and park or to find an exit further ahead, I couldn’t tell. But soon after that the road narrowed. The traffic got into one lane, then quickly expanded again into two. We were 500 yards from the airport entrance and at a standstill. It was nearly 9 pm.

Hyacinth called to a trolley operator who was passing, looking for customers. We got my luggage out and loaded on his trolley. He started off with Hyacinth, Clem and me following. I asked his name. “Frank,” he said. “I will take you in at the Arrivals entrance. Departures is too crowded.”

There was a guard at the Arrivals entrance. His job was to keep people from entering. But he waved us thru after Frank gave him a small gift. Inside Frank led us to the elevator. After another small gift to the elevator guard, we were whisked up to the Departures Hall. I was early for my flight!

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

One Comment

  1. That is sad news about the bomb.