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In Lagos, one man’s accident is another’s go slow

May 23, 2009

Assuming it was a dream I would have woken up and breathed sighs of relief; regrettably it wasn’t. I imagine the events below (from the archives) could only have occurred in Lagos, Naija’s mega city also known as Eko, notorious for heaping life’s vagaries on you when you’re least prepared.

I had stayed back at the office to conclude some work; consoled that it was worth it – traffic ought to be lighter, I thought. Unknowingly, a different kettle of fish awaited me at the Lekki roundabout close to Chicken Republic, Mobil and SPG filling station. After a quarter of an hour in traffic – caused by potholes, rather craters, on the stretch after Chevron’s corporate headquarters, we approached the roundabout.

A Mercedes Benz slowed to a halt to engage the Lekki roundabout, I followed suit. Earlier, I had overtaken a red Daewoo Racer and assumed that the driver would take a cue from my brake lights and slow down as well. How wrong I was. In a flash, I saw in the rear view mirror a metallic red box gain momentum, dash forward and smother the back of the Picanto with a kiss.

I cursed between breaths and said a prayer of thanksgiving to God for sparing my head from ricocheting off the windscreen. Instinctively, I drove a few meters to park in front of Chicken Republic. Surprisingly, the driver of the Daewoo did same. Momentarily, I assumed he would pounce on me to gain a psychological edge but to my surprise he and his two passengers (his friend and mother) came out of the car looking askance.

My own passenger, a colleague at work, after assessing the extent of the damage demanded that the bumper be replaced. But he was interjected by the prayers of the offender’s mother. Nonetheless, I couldn’t disagree less with his demand. I braced myself to talk tough and chorused his request. I also prepared my mind for a long discourse of what the way forward would be. As expected tempers began to rise as the offended party sensed that the offender, though apologetic, looked like someone incapable of footing the roughly estimated price of a new bumper.

Several attempts were made at toeing the line of forgive and forget. A similar occurrence a month ago had been resolved by letting the culprit go without parting with money. It seemed like one good turn too many. Certainly that wasn’t going to happen again. For crying out loud, the tag line of the Picanto advert “Baby got back” is no reason for every Lagos motorist to practice their bumper to bumper clobbering skills on my car.

Gradually, both parties realized that arguing back and forth was not producing any constructive solutions. Innumerable mosquitoes hovering around the area had begun to feast on fresh blood. Nevertheless, numerous alternatives were bandied about: leaving the Daewoo’s particulars, the driver’s license and mobile phone, accompanying the offender to Shomolu where his panel beater could give his opinion on the cost of the damage etc.

As time crawled by, the most attractive option was to impound the car at my house till pay day. Not the brightest of ideas since the guilty party had mentioned in passing how Herculean raising the money would be. He even hinted abandoning the car if unable to scrap the amount together.

So there I was, caught between keeping the trio from completing their trip from Epe to Shomolu via Lagos Island where the driver’s mother lived and wringing part of the cost from him. Eventually, with trepidation, we settled for impounding the car. Why, he could jump into his car and drive off into the darkness that had descended onto Lekki-Epe expressway. As a deterrent, we insisted that either his mother or friend accompany us in the Picanto as he vehemently disagreed to the suggestion that my friend drive the Daewoo.

During the drive home, my initial resolve began to wane; my conscience couldn’t bear the thought of denying the trio a means of transportation just because my bumper was partly wrenched. Besides, it had a comprehensive insurance. But then, aren’t insurance companies renowned for their snail pace and bureaucracy? Increasingly, letting them go began to make sense yet it didn’t synch with the thought of coughing up the cost of repairs.

Once we arrived home I spoke to a friend who concurred with the idea of leniency which elicited countless embarrassing thanks (particularly when the man’s mother knelt down). In retrospect, I feel I had been the victim of a superbly staged tragicomic ruse. As the curtains fell, the actors and actress grinned with delight, resisting the temptation to roll over with laughter. How wrong I was. Later in the evening my friend whose suggestion was the clincher for my decision recounted his own ordeal. It made mine child’s play.

Earlier on in the day, he set out for Obalende unaware of the travails awaiting him. He was heading towards Victoria Island and had just passed the pagoda-roofed multistorey building and one of several billboards mangled by strong winds that accompany the raining season’s downpour. This particular signboard was taking its final bow. So was a tree.

No sooner had rain began to pelt everything and everyone beneath the clouds over Lekki when a tree fell, plop, across Ozumba Mbadiwe (just before Mobil Station bus stop opposite Exxon-Mobil’s head office).  My friend succumbed to fate as he found himself four cars away from the ad hoc toll gate. Within seconds, it triggered a domino effect: traffic snarled-up as far back as Lekki Phase One snaking into the Appian route via new market to Ligali Ayorinde.

Fortunately for the motorists enmeshed within this logjam, a group of good Samaritans unsheathed cutlasses from goodness knows where and began to chop the tree to create a thoroughfare. Of course, the commercial potential of this ingenious philanthropic act was exploited to the max. A collection bag was visibly placed for motorists to show their gratitude, but only after car after car meandered through four cars in front of the tree – cars yet to recover from the shock.

When it was his turn my friend cheerfully parted with the last triple digit naira note in his pocket. The thought of asking for change didn’t cross his mind for a moment. According to him, the cost-benefit analysis was skewed towards the time these noble Nigerians had saved him. Like Nollywood movies, this episode was just a prequel to a trilogy.

Ozumba Mbadiwe, Kingsway Road and Awolowo Road are infamous for the density of cars and okada per kilometer at certain times of the day. People rue the days they are caught up in the gridlock. My proactive friend foresaw this. Except he fell into the temptation of connecting Catholic Mission Street opposite Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS) by passing under the bridge, a practice confirmed by several motorists before him. It turned out his car was either an odd numbered vehicle or probably the local government official and his LASTMA crony exercised their discretion to call his bluff. They stopped him.

An animated dialogue ensued. Attempts to drop names of places and people he was affiliated to, titles etc fell on defiantly deaf ears. Eventually, the protests, honks and shouts of motorists in the opposite direction restored their temporary hearing impairment. The LGA/LASTMA alliance was disrupted and saved the day for my friend. Unfortunately, his initial mission to link the Ozumba/Ahmadu Bello roundabout proved impossible – that axis was inundated by cars. Hence he reverted to the status quo ante: Awolowo Road.

All this while he watched his fuel gauge tilt towards empty and decided to fill his tank. In one of the several fuel stations snuggly located on the street it seemed another fuel shortage panic was in the making. Further convincing was unnecessary. He joined the queue. Alas, just as it was his turn, the attendant informed him that the station had run out of fuel.

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