Risking Life and Limb

At virtually every stop along the Oshodi-Agege-New Town Road, in Lagos, Nigeria, I was among the many young men from other West African countries who besieged road motorists in order to sell newspapers. Among us were secondary school graduates and former teachers. We used to gaze through the car windows at passing motorists, our eyes pleading for a token purchase of The Daily Times, Tribune, Concord, Punch, the Guardian or the “Weekend”. Some of us, risking life and limb, would run across the dangerous Oshodi Highway, aiming for a car whose occupant had signaled buying interest. At Oshodi, any opportunity to sell a newspaper was not to be missed, as it could make a significant difference in our meager daily takings.

Every morning, at about 7.a.m., I take my position in the middle of the Oshodi Highway starring at five rows of cars, trucks and buses squeezing into three lanes of traffic—a scene intimidating in sight and sound. A safety precaution was making sure the vehicles actually stop at some red light before taking position amongst them. At Oshodi, red light, green light were all the same. The traffic at Oshodi, and the army of police officers who tried to manage it, told much about Lagos and other African cities in ways big and small. It seemed to be that, no matter how crowded—and it was always beyond crowded, no matter how chaotic—and it was always beyond chaotic, Lagos functioned. In fact, it was such a miracle that someone could get from Ikoyi to Agege at certain times of the day that some said it could be the result of divine intervention.

No one was saying the traffic in Lagos was responsible for the military coups in Nigeria. But some people said the burden of the roads, like the struggle of daily life, corruption, reinforced the conviction that both motorist and commuters in Lagos, needed some sort of discipline—a War Against Indiscipline or WAI—initiated by General Muhammadu Buhari and the late Brigadier-General Tunde Idiagdon. It was amazing how newspaper vendors like us survived and how Lagos continued to remain standing, and how Lagosians could still, if they were patient enough, sometimes get to their destinations—even if not on time. The solution, I always thought, was in the hands of some invisible force. It was like, everyone for him self and God for us all. Looking at both the commuters and motorists, one could realize that they were overwhelmed with pressure.

To be continued…