African viewpoint: Christmas in Lagos

Lagos traffic (Archive shot)

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Nigerian writer Sola Odunfa takes a drive in Lagos and nearly misses Christmas.

My plan for this Christmas was to begin the merriment last Tuesday at a luncheon party at the premises of the Vanguard newspaper here in Lagos, but my experience was one I should not wish my enemy in this season of peace and goodwill.

I had assured a senior colleague who passed the invitation on to me that I would join the group at 14:00 (13:00 GMT), which was an hour after the scheduled start.

Anybody who knows anything about Nigeria knows that my timing was right because my people are no slaves to the clock.

The drive from my house to the venue should not take more than 30 minutes.

So I set out for the party at 13:00, wearing one of my favourite colourful printed cotton kaftans to match the mood of the season.

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My well-ironed dress was drenched in sweat. In no time the music I had been enjoying in the car became an irritation”

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Shortly before then I had turned down an offer of home-cooked delicious lunch by my wife in order to have enough free space in my stomach for the anticipated banquet.

The start of the journey was ordinary enough. Because there was no traffic I kept the car speed just below the legal limit.

It was a pleasant drive. I repeatedly checked the time to assure myself that I was within schedule.

Suddenly it occurred to me that I was driving on a road which, even by Lagos standards, was notorious for snarling traffic - the Oshodi to Apapa expressway. My heart skipped a beat.

With hindsight now I should not have stressed my heart - I would need its strength to survive the journey.

Shortly after the junction leading to Festac Town I ran into a traffic hold-up.

By the way, Festac Town was the settlement built in 1977 by Nigeria's then-military ruler, Gen Yakubu Gowon, to accommodate participants in the 2nd World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture - at a time when Nigeria's major problem was not availability of money but how to spend it.

Anyway the "village", as it was originally called, has become one of the major suburbs of Lagos.

Soon what I thought was a minor traffic hold-up became a frightening delay in sweltering, dry harmattan heat.

When I noticed that all others around me had switched off their car engines I did the same.

Drifted into sleep

A slight headache set in. My well-ironed dress was drenched in sweat. In no time the music I had been enjoying in the car became an irritation. I switched the radio off.

Women shop for shoes in Balogun market, in the central business district of Lagos, 22 December 2011 Lagos is busy with Christmas shoppers this week

My legs were also aching. I got out of the car to have a stretch. I couldn't stay long because of the heavy dust from both the harmattan wind and the earth movers being operated by construction workers nearby.

By now I had spent two hours on a journey which should not take more than 30 minutes.

It took me that long to recall all the horrific stories I had been reading in the press about traffic on that road:

  • How one could spend three hours there without motion
  • How impatient drivers would compound the matter by making illegal U-turns and intimidating on-coming motorists to make way for them
  • How policemen would walk away in frustration and watch the chaos in apparent disinterest from a shed in safe distance.

Now it was my turn to be victim and to put into practice all I had been reading about a citizen's civic duty in such circumstances.

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Once in a while I checked my fuel and temperature gauges to ensure the car would not break down like some others I had seen”

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I confess I was lost in my discomfort. Intermittently I drifted into sleep and I had to be brought back to life by the hooting by other motorists when the traffic began to move.

In the ensuing chaos I missed a turn I should have taken to Vanguard Avenue.

That was the end of my dream of a sumptuous lunch and inexhaustible bar loaded with "criminally cold drinks" - Nigerian terminology - to launch the 2011 Christmas festivities!

My sole concern now became how to return home in good health.

I was hungry - very hungry. My headache was increasing. Every muscle in my body was also aching.

I kept myself awake by refusing to acknowledge those responsible for the situation on that road because that would have aroused a high level of anger in me.

Instead I spent time sympathising with those who had to use that major highway daily to and from work and others in similar or worse situations across the country.

Once in a while I checked my fuel and temperature gauges to ensure the car would not break down like some others I had seen.

I arrived home five hours after I left for the party.

The day had been a total waste and one of suffering.

In spite of that I would not allow anyone to take peace and goodwill out of my Christmas.

I re-launched Christmas on Wednesday by listening endlessly to carol CDs by the choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Lagos and Handel's Messiah in the comfort of my home.

Now I'm in the mood of the season and I say to everyone: Merry Christmas.

If you would like to comment on Sola Odunfa's latest column, please use the form below.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    I honestly cant see what is wrong in what uncle uncle sola odunfa wrote about.It was simply an attempt to put our daily experience on Nigerian roads,especially the Apapa Oshodi Expressway in Lagos,in perspectives.This is one road that the Federal Govt. has refused to repair,inspite of the enormous revenue coming to the Federal Govt from the Tin Can/Apapa Ports being serviced by the road.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Unfortunately this is an Afican problem as pointed out by Lugard (no. 13) - short term thinking. Most African leadership is all about what they can do for themselves rather than how to set the county for a prosperous future

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Despite having followed BBC and other sources for some time, I have read very little about Nigeria (or any other place in sub saharan africa) that inspires any kind of positive feeling.

    That is sad to us members of the african diaspora looking for positive news.

    Are things really that altogether HORRIBLE in nigeria?

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    One feels sorry for Mr Odunfa. Christmas & New Year is a season for cheer. Spending time in a nerve wracking traffic jam is extremely frustrating. However, I am sure that readers are glad to know that Mr Odunfa has taken the wastage of time and his inability to attend the lunch in his stride and is enjoying the season.

    S Basu, Delhi

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    BBC quickly ended commentaries (by readers) on Sola's recent article: ''Egos and honours'', just a few hours after the article was published. I am wondering what was the motive? Possibly BBC knows that the article was controversial and Sola did not make any point. Why publish the article if you must control readers' comments and reactions?


Comments 5 of 20


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