So I have been driving in Port Harcourt now for almost 4 years and I still can’t get used to the trauma that driving in this town inflicts. I know that one day, while driving in the country roads of Arizona, I will suffer a flashback and experience a seizure/hallucination of my driving days in PH and have to park my car for a few minutes to recompose myself.
After 3 brushes in the last 2 weeks I decided to tell a story of some of the battle scars on my car.
The first thing you notice when you come to PH for the first time is how battered and bruised all the cars look. There are no sleek Corollas, one or two clean Venzas – I have sighted a Crosstaur before – quite a few Ford Explorers and about ten Mercedes-Benz cars in this town younger than 2012. The rest? Straight out of a scene in Mad Max Fury Road but without the face paint on the drivers faces. My car has had 3 paint jobs in 4 years and I am hard pressed to go for the 4th one right now.
The cars in PH hardly have side mirrors. Almost all of them are off, broken and patched up and as you can expect, that is the most hard hit place in my car. I have flexible mirrors but they have been hit from the front and the back by kekes (rickshaws) and the side mirrors of so many taxis that even with all their yoga bending and stretching and flexing the scratches are evident like the tribal marks on an ancient son of Oduduwa. Whenever I think of replacing the cracked indicator lights perched on these mirrors, my heart fails me because it is only a matter of time before they are hit again.
Closely linked to this, no one in PH drives using their side mirrors anymore. Why? Because they simply do not exist, haven’t you been listening in class this morning? So when you want to change lanes, you indicate without looking, telling the driver behind you to slam on his brakes or sound his horn if he cannot do so. The indicator is a right of way bro and if you like continue speeding and run into me. Ironically this happened to me recently. I was indicating to turn left and this bus driver sought to overtake me before I made the turn. I had glanced at my side mirror before indicating but not before making the turn. I was focused on placing my tyres such that they would not fall in the gap of broken gutter covers at the entrance of the eatery I was seeking to turn into. And suddenly, screeeeaaaahhhh!!! My front left fender was bruised by this commercial bus. I had just returned the previous day from a patch up job at the painter’s where that very side fender was touched. Sighs.
One day in the rain this okada man fell in front of me. I don’t know what he thought when he saw me but he applied his brakes too suddenly and could not control the skid. I had my hazard lights on in the rain (it was that heavy) and still here was this human of New Port Harcourt on the ground sliding towards my side of the road. I swerved to avoid running over him on the ground but his bike dislocated my bumper and broke my foglight. The bike man was unhurt save for the scratches on his arm. I was so thankful he was OK and I was too. His bike was unharmed but my car repairs cost 50k. Still on my insurance company to refund me.
The last one I want to talk about today was my first real accident. I was entering a main road (with the road divider and all) from a side road and so was looking to my left for oncoming vehicles. I had no idea that there was someone coming from my right (going in the forbidden one way direction) with his white police hilux with sirens at the top and koboko on the dash. He didn’t see me. He brushed my bumper and all my parking sensors in one clean move. He parked and I walked over to him. I asked him what company he was attached to and he tried explaining and pleading that he was not attached to any company. I thought he was lying to avoid retribution at the office (I don’t know where the boldness to confront a seeming police van came upon me from but I was ready to lead him to the nearest police station by his beard if necessary).
He finally gave me his car papers and driving license to prove that it was just a private vehicle. I was astounded. So private individuals in Nigeria are allowed to buy white hilux vans, put police siren lights on them and carry whips to flog other road users into line? The car would not be stopped at any checkpoint or traffic light, and was quite convenient for transporting guns, illegal/stolen equipment and kidnap victims. In this instance, he was taking the mother of the owner of the car for evening service. I felt like telling the driver, “Soooo… it has come to this?”
I was irritated and dumbfounded. I seized his car papers and driver’s license to take them to my insurance company. He didn’t resist. He collected my phone number to retrieve his papers after I was done with them and I drove off, shaking my head.