Rules for Driving in Nigeria

When we first arrived in Nigeria, driving seemed like an unconquerable feat.  My apprehensions about driving weren’t eased any, either, when the well-intentioned Nigerian husband of someone we know compared driving in the States with driving in Nigeria: “Driving in the States is boring compared to driving here.  In the States, everyone follows the same rules.  Here, everyone makes up their own rules – and then they don’t even follow those!  It’s exciting.”  I told him it wasn’t really fair to draw that conclusion about the U.S. based on driving in the Midwest, where his wife is from; of course it’s boring driving there, where the highways stretch for miles with no sight of anything but flat land and an occasional farm.

Still, his assessment of driving in Nigeria didn’t sound exciting to me; it sounded chaotic and terrifying.  Being a passenger was bad enough, and I couldn’t imagine actually getting behind the wheel here.

I finally bravely attempted it, despite my sheer terror at the thought, and after many months of driving, I’ve concluded that there are, in fact, some unspoken Road Rules that, if recognized, can ease one’s fears – and hopefully decrease the chances of getting in an accident (an all too common occurrence here)!

This is a scrapbooking page I did about driving in Nigeria (for a contest, actually, though I was planning to do one anyway — the contest just motivated me to do it sooner rather than later!) (Oh, and I advanced to the next stage with this layout, but alas, only made it to round 3 before I was ousted. Darn.).

Close up of the left page (Click image for larger, less blurred view. 🙂 )

Close up of the right page

1.  Lanes are discretionary, and surely one more car can fit – even if yours is going the opposite direction.  After all, every Nigerian driver knows to expect traffic from any direction at any given time.  If there happen to be lines in the road, feel free to disregard them to turn, avoid potholes or get to your destination sooner.

2.  Speed limits, when actually posted, should be considered mere suggestions.

3.  Use the horn liberally to let other drivers that you’re there (since people don’t seem to look otherwise), that you’re passing or that you’re being passed.  The horn is also used when coming up a hill, down a hill, around a corner, turning, approaching an intersection, upon seeing someone you know, and if others are honking.  Expect to be violently honked at if you take more than 3 milliseconds to accelerate when a light turns green or if you don’t burst through that 5 centimeter opening that the person behind you vehemently believes you should take advantage of.

4.  Pass as needed, regardless of oncoming traffic, curves in the road or other traditional cautions.

5.  Be prepared to brake or swerve at any moment, since A) every spot is a potential pick-up or drop-off spot for taxis  B) a herd of cows or stray goat could suddenly wander into the road  C) large potholes the approximate size of swimming pools are strategically placed throughout the nation to test your driving skills and your car’s shocks AND D) a driver who clearly believes he’s immortal will likely come barreling behind you at extreme velocities (But hey, he honked, so you were warned! (See Rule #4.))
     Note: This is not the time to communicate to said delusional driver that he’s not immortal.  Just move.

6.  Those guys in orange vests are traffic cops, not actors or dancers tactically stationed at major intersections (despite their animated antics), and you are supposed to obey their hand signals – if you can figure out what they are, since  one man’s “stop” is another man’s “go”… and actually one man’s “stop” is also often his “go.”

7.  Bigger vehicles have the right of way (mainly because the bigger the vehicle, the less inclined the driver is to adhere to the few rules that do exist).  Beware of semi-trucks that disregard oncoming traffic and blow through intersections, often because of size or faulty brakes.  Beware also of motorcycles and taxis, which think they have the right of way and dodge in and out of traffic, regardless of how little space there is for them to fit.  Motorcycle drivers also regularly drive in your blind spots, surround your vehicle at any stopping point (bearing much resemblance to roaches congregating around food), and pass on both the left and the right in tight spaces, never mind that turn signal you have on.  Not coincidentally, there is an entire hospital wing dedicated to motorcycle accidents.

8.  Yield to pedestrians?  What?  Cars are WAY bigger than pedestrians!  (See Rule #7.)

9.  The number of seats in a vehicle is not indicative of how many people can actually sit in it (or on it).  Incidentally, don’t feel limited to transporting just humans: Cattle, sheep and tonight’s (live-but-not-for-long) chicken dinner have to get there, too.  (And the other taxi passengers don’t even seem to mind.)  Remember that if you can balance it, you can transport it.  Mattresses, animals, plywood and long metal poles, even on motorcycles, are no exception.
    Note: Cattle horns make great balancing tools, especially when precariously sitting on top of an oversized truck.

10.  Rules are subject to personal interpretation and desire to follow.

…And this is why we pray for safety before driving!  🙂  (And why we shouldn’t have posted these driving rules until AFTER Chris’s parents came to visit us!!)

Navigating the roads,
Christie (hoping Chris’s parents still come)
Chris (hoping my parents don’t make us take them back to the airport after an hour in the car)
Judah (“Ooh, another sheep!”)

p.s.  By the way, if you’re into digital scrapbooking (like my secretly scrapbooking best friend  😉 — ha!) and want to know the credits for the page, most of the kit is from Road Work by The Scrappy Kat; road and one way sign from Robin Pali Designs, Road Trip; cars (some recolored), truck and keys from Everyday Mom Ideas Design, Road Trip; doodle line from  Little Dreamer Designs, Journal Highlights; title font Schilderwald; road sign font Roadgeek.


36 thoughts on “Rules for Driving in Nigeria

  1. Best laugh of the day! It’s the same here (Ethiopia), too. New driving laws (western style) were enacted last December, but it will take a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnng time to change the cultural norms. Personally, I too find driving inthe States a bit boring now and appreciate that I can pretty much do what I want (within the unspoken), however, i do miss being able to drink a cup of coffee whil driving which is highly ill-advised … and of course, mascara is impossible 🙂

  2. Wow! I remember some crazy driving like that in Uganda! LOVE the photo of the pig!! Great looking pages Christie!! 🙂

  3. I can so hear Christie saying rule number 8. Like duh? Don’t you know logic…didn’t you read #7??? Gosh.

    I heard the same disruptions of driving from my friend Tia who is a missionary in Mozambique (sp?)…I think I would fit in there quite nicely 🙂

  4. How come you people have all the fun?
    Nothing that exiciting ever happens around here.
    We only have one rule in Orlando that people seem to follow:
    3 cars can turn on a green arrow,
    5 more go through the yellow light
    and 4 more go through the red light.

  5. Ha hah – sounds a lot like Cambodia. Basic rules seem to be the same. i.e. The bigger you are the more right of way you have, animals in the street, a 1989 Toyota Camry that had 8 “seats” for passengers (4 in back, 3 in front which meant someone got to sit on the driver’s lap!), driving on any side of the road you want, etc. Have fun and be safe!!!

  6. HAHAHA Awesome pages Christie! Was that really digital scrapbooking? Praying for safety on the roads for you! (And that you don’t get jumped for only having three passengers in your obviously 15 passenger car! lol)

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    • Lord you have got to be the most observant person i have encountered. am from Nigeria and you summed up driving in Nigeria perfectly. Thumbs up. Driving in this country is crazy. it tests not only your skill as a driver but also your mental state when one encounters situations as you kindly mentioned above.

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  9. This is not true , pls dont post the experience that u had in a village in Nigeria as if it happened in a city – Am sure these didnt happen in Lagos or Abuja or Ibadan or any of the state capital .
    Go try all you are saying in Lagos and see if you wont spend same days behind the bars or pay through your nose.
    I consider this as a cheap blackmail and poor judgement of Nigeria as a country . . too bad.

    • James, you are certainly right that most of these rules would not hold true in at least the city of Abuja, or probably Lagos, either (which, though quite congested doesn’t negate different rules), but we live in Jos – which is a capital and hardly a village! – and these are drawn largely from our experiences here. Certainly, though, our experiences haven’t been limited to Jos, as these are things we’ve observed in many other places – some villages, yes, and cities as well. Of course these are generalizations, and generalizations almost always have exceptions to them – in this case, driving in Abuja or Lagos and perhaps other places. But generalizations are just that: GENERALLY true, and we have certainly found these observations to be generally true, as have many other people we know (both Nigerian and ex-pat alike).

      I’m sorry, though, that you consider this blackmail; we certainly don’t intend it to be, nor do I see how it could even be interpreted as such. They are merely our observations of the unspoken rules and nuances of driving here and nothing more. There is no underlying judgment on the country of Nigeria as a whole; we love living here and love the people here – though in all honesty, the driving is quite nerve racking.

    • Oh please, what she said is true and is probably worse in lagos, Abuja is a little better. It’s only when there are LASTMA officerofficers they people obey the little rules and when there’s no officer you can just do anything. It rained Friday night in lagos and motorists were taking one way. Dear fellow Nigerian leave sentiments and acknowledge the truth.

    • Thanks, Bernard! I don’t know the expression “bending corner.” I’m intrigued, though – what does it mean? 🙂 I love the differences in language and discovering that different words and phrases can have different meanings in different places, so would be interested to learn what that one means. Will have to add it to our collection of Nigerian phrases!

  10. Am a nigerian. All u said here is true, even though it doesnt happen in all the states in Nigeria. Sometimes its fun and sometimes its annoying. God bless Nigeria.
    Nice piece

  11. And James oosten, there’s no talk or issue of blackmail here, even if you stay in the big cities, you cant tell me you dont know whats going on in other parts of Nigeria. This are facts and truths as a nigerian and also a driver i see and know all these things. Soo just…….
    Way to go christy!

  12. A priceless post………. A first hand and well written account of what happens on Nigerian roads. I’ve been driving in Nigeria for the last 15 years and this sums up my experience on the road…. Hilarious

  13. Hey Christiy “Bending corner” is as the name implies a sharp bend or pronouced curve on the road. Have you heard “roudabot? “Fourcorner” They are all description of the road!

  14. Rampant reckless deriving, overloade and violation of traffic rules is almost everywhere in Nigeria. people prefer to learn deriving on the public roade to undergoing official training. I dont mean to embrass Nigeria but rather to tell the fact. Call a spade a spade.

  15. This is all so hilarious and embarrassing all at once! But here’s the bummer: I just bought a car, (it’s my first by the way) it’s arriving from Lagos tomorrow and I plan to start driving it to work on Monday. I already have a license which is actually my second and I can’t in all honesty confirm that I am a certified competent driver. I learnt how to drive at some point but have not driven since then over 5 years ago.

    • @James Oosten, you need some coaching to help you decipher plain objectivity as portrayed in the piece. I am a PROUD Nigeria but that doesn’t make me blind to our general approach to rules. In my opinion, you need to apologise to Christie for deliberately twisting the writeup out of context. I was even amazed that she dared to delight and adapt so quickly, all she has listed has cost people a whole lot ranging from delays which coul have been avoided, bashing of newly bought cars due to someone elses neglect and in some cases you maybe unlucky to hit the other car from behind then you take the blame while in actual sense he was the cause probably passing when like 3 other cars from his side has stopped and motioned “go” to you. Atleast one of all she listed happen even in the big cities you listed. I have had to wait for fulani herdsmen and their cows take the right of way in Abuja(Apo specifically). Just which part is wrong in its entirety(tell me about it). When I see a blackmail on Nigeria’s image, believe me I won’t voice against it. Sadly, a beloved son of the soil who schooled abroad lost his life on the first week of visit home after graduation(No thanks! To poor adherence to driving rules). Long Live Nigeria! As God helps us to keep refining in patience, empathy and most of all take views from standpoint of improvement and not as opportunity to claim its sabotage. With these, we can truly identify extreme cases of image dent/hurt not take all cases to be so.

      • When I see a blackmail on Nigeria’s image, believe me I will voice against it.(That I meant to write)

      • Aw, thanks, Ella. Sorry, I am for some reason only now seeing your reply, but I appreciate your encouragement. I’m sorry about the loss of your friend, too; so very heartbreaking.

      • a POINT of correction. Patience was beyond help. We tried refining her for six years without success. Please don’t suggest refining her anymore. Goodluck to her, she is back in her village. The ERECTION has come and gone.

    • @Erdoo Shidoon Aker-kpev – Sorry this reply is so late in coming, so I don’t even know if you’ll see it – but I hope you turned out to be a certified competent driver after all! 😉 Ha ha. Really, though, I hope the driving went well! Thanks for taking the time to comment. 🙂

    • Dear you need to go to driving school for at least two weeks. It will help you understand few things as well .Dear honestly i am driving but since i enrolled in driving school,i have seen different things of which if go ahead driving till the next 80yrs i will not know it. I wish you good luck in Jesus name amen.

  16. East, West, South or North, driving in Nigeria can be described as “physically challenging” and “mentally sapping”. Christie ain’t blackmailing nobody here.

    This is so damn funny!! I am Nigerian. I live in Lagos. I assure you this happens in most places in Lagos. Lagos driving is insane. You have to be a superman to survive. My uncle from the United states gave up and moved to Abuja.

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