Lagos is almost paralysed by a continuous traffic grid lock. So, the government decides that today, only license plates with even numbers may be on the road and uneven numbers tomorrow. And so on. That works. That is to say, it works for a few days. Then we are back to square one. Everyone has bought an extra license plate.
People are inventive and effective. When the Head of State is on his way to the airport, the main street is cleared in a jiffy. Cars which do not climb onto the high sidewalks instantly are fitted with a series of grooves in the roof by rubber baton wielding, hardhitting, motorcyclists in the cortege. Insiders wait for a chance to join the tail of the motorcade, just behind the airconditioned Landrover with British bodyguards. In case of success, they will be in the airport in half an hour instead of the usual two.
At times, there is no petrol for days. Long lines of waiting cars at the filling stations, where one can also see pedestrians, armed with buckets. I see two men having what seems to be an enormous row, next to a pump. When I get of my car and walk towards them with the most effective weapon in this country, a big smile, the row is over at once. “Don’t worry, aïbo”, they say and we enquire mutually about our fa-mi-ly and the wife and the children. Aïbo means ‘white-skin’.
Next Sunday will be ‘Execution day.’ Armed robbers will be shot on the beach of Victoria island. Masses of spectators dressed in their Sunday best will fill the roads to the beach, the small children in festive dresses. One can expect loud cheers before and after the gun vollies. “Serves you right!”
To my horror, some expats who have been here for years have become accustomed to this sort of thing. An American colleague from whose roof terrace one has a good view of the road to the beach, invites his friends for an Execution Lunch. One will also be able to hear the shots and the roar of the crowd. Not for me.
The people are warm-hearted and incredibly optimistic and cheerful even in great adversity. Every morning, in a very crowded elevator, I hear their very humourous comments on the situation. Nigeria has been one of my happiest postings. The people made me feel at ease.