I arrived in Lagos in the dark so, apart from what seemed like an hour's worth of flickering lights below as we came in to land, I didn’t see much. At our approach speed, an hour would make the city something like a couple of light years across, which probably explains why the mobile phone network is so poor. I mean, imagine receiving a phone call made yesterday which you will answer tomorrow. The place is BIG.
It also seems to have a few security problems which is why, I suppose, somebody is willing to pay me to come here in the first place. Now I have been to shed loads of places considered dangerous, where all sorts of precautions have to be taken if life expectancy is to exceed the duration of the visit. I have never, though, been driven from an international airport closely followed by a police car, all lights and sirens and filled with coppers armed to the teeth. And what is it about sirens and flashing lights anyway? Or rather the mysterious link between the switches for the blues and twos and the driver’s right foot? OK, usually if there is a need to visibly and audibly advertise your progress, there is likely to be a pressing reason to get from one place to another, like a fire engine responding to a fire, but escort duty? The idea of an escort (at least that’s what I always thought) is to ensure that the client (or ‘Principle’ if you wear dark glasses and Armani suits) gets from one place to another in safety. Not here, evidently. As soon as the driver engages first gear and drops those switches, his foot suddenly weighs a ton and drives the pedal into the bulkhead. If there are any traffic regulations in Nigeria, no one has read them. Even those few rules that everyone anywhere understands, such as red lights generally meaning ‘stop’ and having a useful awareness that a fully laden truck doing a hundred clicks on bald tyres needs as much time and distance to stop as a Liberian registered tanker laden with illegally bunkered fuel seem to go out of the driver’s side window as soon as those bloody lights go on. Try spilling out of the bus on shaky legs and opening the drivers door to get a good look into the maniac’s eyes and, with a voice trembling with shock induced adrenalin pointing out to him that speed does not mean safety and you'll understand. He’ll just look at you with utter incomprehension and mutter something about stupid Oyibos knowing nuthin’ about Nigeria.
Recognising that there is a greater risk of their employees dying in a mangled wreck than being hi-jacked or robbed, most multi-national companies have fitted driver monitoring equipment to their vehicles. Speed limit? Eighty Kilometres per hour maximum. Accelerate or decelerate too harshly and a buzzer warns the driver that he’ll have some explaining to do to the fleet manager. Does it help? Does it hell. Knowing that they’re not allowed to push their aging far east people carrier from 0 – Warp six in milliseconds anymore, the very LAST thing they want to do once they are up to the max is slow down. For anything. Eighty kilometers an hour might not sound fast on an empty Autostrada but it damn well seems fast when you’re slaloming through five lanes of traffic on a three lane highway with a car load of uniformed hooligans pressing from behind. It seems even faster when the nut behind the wheel is pulling maximum G on two wheels as he overtakes the bus in front by dodging up the hard shoulder (or was it a footpath?) at the last second and then cuts across all the lanes to the other side chasing an imaginary bit of daylight. He can do this because even though he dropped out of school aged six, he has a master’s degree in Driveright Monitors and knows that lateral forces are not measured. It gets even scarier when they pull the same stunts on the causeway across Lagos bay. Now, instead of wondering whether it’ll be another vehicle or a shopfront into which you’ll be projected at the safe speed of eighty clicks to be torn apart by a psychopathic mob (you wore your seatbelt and survived the impact, you fool), you can look down into the greasy muddy waters of Lagos Lagoon and wonder if they’d ever find enough of you left to send home for relatives to have their closure. All my best intentions to make a good impression on arrival by laying off the booze followed the driver’s notions of safe driving out of the window and the very first thing I did when I staggered into the guest house, even before saying ‘hello, I’m the new guy’, was to rip open my bag and swig deeply from my Highland first aid kit and take deep breaths until my heart rate fell below 200 beats per minute.
Bloody hell! First thing in the morning, it occurred to me, I had to do it again. I was on the flight to Port Harcourt at seven. I took another long pull at the bottle.