“Traffic light, traffic light! when you see a traffic light, there is something you must know. Red means stop….” I’m sure you’re mouthing the remaining part to that nursery rhyme already. Traffic lights used to fascinate me as a child just because of how a pole with three-colored lights could make a long line of cars grind to a halt and then commence their journey just by flicking different lights at intervals. Moreso, there were only a few of them on Lagos streets at that time and at strategic locations which made seeing them for me experiences to look forward to.
Fast forward to many years down the line, I begin to wonder why I was always that ecstatic about those things that have proven to be major time wasters, most especially when you are trying to commute long distances within a very short time. They just seem to be everywhere especially since the Fashola government planted a lot of them while performing its radical road rehabilitation and reconstruction project. Maybe that’s why most drivers especially the Danfo ones won’t respect the light on a regular. And then several road officials like LASTMA will have to stand closely by the poles to watch for and catch perpetrators who major in running red lights. Sometimes, you don’t even know they are around.
As a person who is always leaving my house late for any event I have to attend whether serious or not I was usually appreciative of the Danfo drivers who dared to run red lights as far as it would take me to my destination in the little time I had left and they were not being caught by the sneaky traffic officials who were always waiting for the perfect opportunity to issue tickets to offenders or collect a ‘settlement’ fee while keeping the matter underboard. ‘A bad thing to encourage’ is probably what the thought in your mind will be now especially if you come from the part of the world where all traffic and road signs are observed to the latter.
I learned how bad it was when the bus I was in one morning put all of our lives in danger and almost landed us in police trouble. It was the wee hours of that morning, day, month and year. It was first of January and I boarded a public bus in return from church still mouthing my new year resolutions and praying fervently that it would be the year that will bring all my dreams to manifestations. Everyone in the bus were in high spirits as a result of the positivity a new year brings and were waving to and hugging strangers while chanting the usual ‘happy new year’ greeting that accompanies such a day. Next thing I saw was a LASTMA bike with two officers riding close by ordering my bus driver to park the vehicle immediately. Apparently, he had run a red light and thought that because it was that early and a new year morning, no one would be on ground to catch him.
Acting like he was going to park amidst the murmurs of the other passengers who were already blaming him for not stopping by the traffic light, he immediately stepped on the gas and moved away from the LASTMA guys with the highest speed I had ever experienced. Trust the officials to give a chase. The hot chase that ensued started from the Agidingbi traffic light up until Jibowu bus stop in Yaba. I kid you not. Looking back now, it seemed like a replica of the police chase behind O.J Simpson when he was to be arrested in 1994 only that this one was shorter but faster and more life endangering. You could hear the bus passengers already saying things like ‘God, if you were going to kill me, why did you let me see a new year at all’, while hurling insults at the seemingly deaf driver and some already resorted to begging him with their dead ancestor’s names. Finally, the LASTMA bike was able to get ahead and park in front of the Danfo forcefully pulling him over. Dragging, the driver down, one official was already delivering blows before they realised that the man was drunk from downing too many bottles of beer probably in celebration of the new year before coming to load his bus with passengers. Two wrong acts now, one driver. The other official started breaking the car glasses with his baton not minding if it would injure the passengers. While at it, they threatened all the passengers with a police cell saying we should have called our driver to order or not board a drunk man’s bus in the beginning. Like we knew he was drunk or it was in our place to control a man who clearly did not have control over himself.
My business at that time was to just leave the scene. It was already clear daybreak so all passersby could witness the scenario. I did not know when I started crying. My driver ran a red light and bailed afterwards. Why should I sleep in a cell for his offence and on new year’s day too. My phone rang and it was my mum calling. Relaying the story to her, my tears started flowing uncontrollably. It was at that moment one of the LASTMA officials walked up to me and said, ‘small girl, where you dey come from at this time? See as you dey cry’. I explained that I was coming from church and even lied that I had not seen my dad in 10 years and he was in the house at the moment which explains the call I got from my mum. Looking innocent, teary eyed and having my small stature as an advantage for the first time in forever, he pitied me. He put 10 Naira in my hand, acted like he was sending me on an errand and whispered to my ears that I should flee the scene and go home to my long lost dad.
I broke into a race immediately I reached a place where the other people could not see me, thanking God for my first new year miracle. It was there and then I made up mind to shout at the to top of my voice whenever any vehicle I’m in makes an attempt to run a red light. My traffic light ordeal definitely changed my perspective.