March 25, 2019

Driving in Lagos is war – Peju Akande

Driving in Lagos is war – Peju Akande

I remember when I started learning to drive; I had just given birth to my second child and not having a car meant if I needed to go out, I’d be running after a danfo or taxi just to move from point to point. The thought was depressing.

At that time, I skipped going out with my kids to family functions and visiting friends because even when I had money for taxi, I still had to wait for hours in the sun with my kid before an empty cab cruised by.

In those days, there was no Uber, no BRT, no red cab or grey cab or rent a whatever, there were yellow Lagos cabs, crazy danfo drivers and the very scarce Lagos taxis.

I wanted my own car, I had worked for 5 years post graduation and I felt I was owed a car. I was not going to keep running after buses and taxis which most times left you stranded.

I didn’t want to do that with my babies, so I applied for that car loan and while my loan was being processed, I decided to learn to drive.

I learned with a manual vehicle, automatic gear wasn’t common in those days. Most vehicles in Nigeria were manual: clutch down, engage gear and move.

It was hard.

The learning process was in itself a disaster. I had hired a young boy in the neighbourhood. He was a truck driver for one of the distributing companies in Ikeja and was on leave. So I got him to teach me. I figured I’d only need to be taught a few days and bam! I’d be cruising town with one hand on the wheel, the other hanging lazily out.

I found out how hard after my instructor drove me round a field three times and asked that we switch seats so I could put all he had shown me  to practice!

I jumped behind the wheel, certain I had got the general idea.

Put gear in neutral: check

Key in the ignition, turn: check

Left leg press down the clutch: check

Right leg easing gently on the accelerator…ccchhheeeccckkk

Eyes on the road!!!!

Ha! I forgot that: check

and then nothing.

I tried this four to five times and the engine kept quitting on me. The stupid instructor boy just sat quietly and watched me.

‘Try it again,’ he said, gently.

I felt like a spoilt child being cajoled not to throw a tantrum.

Then I began to sweat. The car would start, lurch in between me clutching down and accelerating and I’d have to start again. At some point I imagined the key would snap, half in half out.

Thankfully, none of that happened.

Finally, I got a hang of it…by the second day….after several trials.

I was ashamed and petrified I would kill someone as I was required to change gear as the car gained speed otherwise, it would rev, cough, lurch and die… several times.

By the third day, I began to hate the idea of driving; the car simply morphed into a beast that had a mind of its own. I would grip the steering hard, blink several times and clench my teeth as I crawled on the less busy road my instructor insisted I was ready for.

My pits would drip sweat profusely, my eyes would blur and my fingers would ache from the hard grip. I realised that when I clutched down hard, it was more from fear than doing the right thing. I would hold my stomach in…this wasn’t even deliberately, o. Then , I would gently lift my left leg off the clutch while urging the right leg to cooperate and step on the accelerator, of course, many times, due to anxiety, I’d often step too hard on the accelerator, causing the car to rev, then lurch forward and quit the engine… on the so called less busy road.

Many passers-by would stop and stare and sneer. They were without pity.

One thing galled me, Lagosians lackadaisical attitude to vehicles boldly marked L.

I was a learner for goodness sakes, they should literally be flying off the road as soon as a vehicle marked L is sighted but no, they’d wait until I got close and dash across the streets! Okada riders have been mad for a long time o.

They’ll sight me cautiously approaching and turn right in front of my rickety- learning –to- drive-Volkswagen beetle and laugh with their heads thrown back.

I learned to curse, right there, like a real street kid. I cursed them without shame! more question, why do drive instructors use old beat up beetles to teach driving?

Anyway, after about 10days…yes, it took that long for me to muster the courage. I had got my own car – a beautiful Mitsubishi Gallant in bright yellow green…only a woman can get away with such brightness and I hit the Lagos roads. It was a Sunday when the roads are usually not busy so I left the house early.

I did good that day, I came back home feeling great and ready to take on the Monday morning rush hour to the office. I lived in Ikeja and my office was at Opebi…child’s play.

Nothing prepared me for the traffic I met on the road that day; the type of traffic that opens up briefly and you see cars scrambling to fill up the space and it closes up again; all the danfo drivers were twice as mad, private car owners were twice as impatient, traffic wardens on the road were twice as hard on drivers and pedestrians just took it for granted that no car can ‘jam’ them.

I began to sweat…(the car ac was working fine)

To make matters worse, some dignitary or maybe even a bank chief was coming from wherever and the siren blasting hilux van that usually accompanies such people came bearing down on me. The excited mobile policèmen were banging on the sides of vehicles along the road commanding them to clear out, so his oga in the black shiny Prado, could pass.

I panicked.

Move toward the median like everyone was doing? I hadn’t learned to move towards any median, I had just learned to stay off the white lines that divided the road. By now, I had worked enough sweat to the point that my palms were slippery on the steering wheel, my makeup was washed down, I could feel the mascara stinging my eyes. I didn’t even have the mind to search for a tissue to wipe my face, the fear of losing a moment’s concentration could mean me ramming into another car or a pedestrian lazily crossing right in front of me.

In my panic, the car lurched and died as I struggled to remember all I had been taught just days back.

Drivers hooted past me calling me names.

Danfo drivers banged on the roof of my car and shouted, ‘I must drive!’ Alluding to the fact that I could have got a driver instead of making a fool of myself on the road.

O je lo you glass oju’ e’ meaning go remove your glasses so you can see the road well

I cried inwardly. But I learned not to cower. I sat in the car, put it off and restarted again. I must have done this like three time before I finally crawled to the office, a 15 minutes ride took me about 1.20mins but I made it!

Today, I can drive with one hand, with the other hanging lazily…


Read more from Peju

Beware, con artists are on the prowl – Peju Akande

Future daughter-in-law, beware! – Peju Akande

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