by Tolu Ogunlesi
Raise a hand if you are a Nigerian below 30 – make that 35 – and have EVER taken a driving test.
For many years now (have things really changed, as the FRSC would have us believe?) Nigerian drivers’ licenses have been available for purchase over-the-counter, like pain-killers: “Er, oga give me two licenses, and bring two hundred naira change. Wait, make it three…”
There are people whose first licenses expired unused, because their owners hadn’t yet made up their minds to learn to drive. My first drivers’ license even came with “Class E” status, which qualified me to drive articulated vehicles, aka ‘trailers’. Maybe I was lucky – at least they spelled my name correctly. My friend S can’t say the same about his current license.
Here sits a generation blissfully unaccustomed to the workings of a proper and efficient society. We “learnt” to drive without as much as flipping open the “Highway Code.” We (im)perfected our driving skills without learning anything about the basics of navigating roads – reading signs, handling road-rage, or understanding the whys behind the many rules and regulations supposed to guide life behind the wheels.
Today, on the streets of Fashola’s Lagos, there’s a surfeit of road signs accompanying the ongoing revamp of the city’s road network. Many roads have become ‘shopping malls’ of road-signs: “Exits” and “Do Nots” of all shapes and hues. Directional signs – overseeing the many diversions and complicated systems of entries and exits – are the new garbage heaps in Lagos.
Alas for most motorists in Lagos, these signs might as well be Chinese-language billboards.
How does a Nigerian see a road-sign proclaiming “Offside Rule”, without instinctively succumbing to a flight of fancy that takes him or her to Anfield, Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford? A country whose roads are filled with drivers who can reel off a dozen instances of the flouting of the Offside Rule in the English Premiership, but remain clueless as to what that rule means on a local highway, is a country in deep trouble.
Most of it is not our fault. What is the point in learning Highway Code in a country where driving lessons are supposed to be less about proper driving habits than about dodging okadas, avoiding swimming-pool-sized potholes, and anticipating the certain follies of trafficator-challenged taxis?
Where does the reorientation start? For many of us, what we need is nothing short of a return to Driving Kindergarten. My suggestion is for the government to launch an amnesty program for all ‘militant’ drivers – everyone who has no idea what the Highway Code looks like, or who has never been subjected to an authorised driving test.
Under the terms of the amnesty we will surrender our driving licenses and car keys – temporarily. We will be kept in a rehabilitation camp, and fed at the government’s expense. We will wear uniforms emblazoned with road signs and their meanings. Slowly our minds will be wiped clean of all we know about sitting behind the wheels.
Then the proper lessons can start. Lesson one: “This, students, is what the Highway Code looks like.”