'Of all of my memories of ... Nigeria the most lasting is that of the endless roads' (Robert Collis 1970)

I stumbled across this book with a wonderful chapter on roads and driving in Nigeria, Robert Collis' (1970) Nigeria in Conflict.[1] Collis worked as Head of the Paediatric Department at the Medical School in Ibadan and Professor of Paediatrics in Lagos. In many ways it is just another account of Nigeria by an expatriate working there in the late 1950s. However, it is well written. – There is for example a rather incriminating account of a conversation he had with an English businessman operating in Nigeria in the chapter on corruption:

'One simply can't get anywhere … without bribing one's way right down the line. These Nigerians are sharks!'

'Isn't it worse for you who imagine yourself a Christian gentleman … to be giving bribes than it is for these dishonest chaps to accept them?' I asked.

'Look,' he said angrily, ' if I didn't the Americans would.'

(Collis 1970: 184)

But given my current interests, it was the chapter of roads and driving that interested me the most. Let me give you a taste.

Of all of my memories of my surveys in Nigeria the most lasting is that of the endless roads and the heat of the cruel sun. …. These roads must be the most dangerous in the world. I cannot say that the drivers of any one tribe are the worst offenders for in every part of the country one continually sees wrecks piled up on and off the roads and the injured lying about. Every driver always finds the offending driver a member of 'the other' tribe!

Drivers in Nigeria, and this applies also to expatriates, seem to become maddened by the long distances and the general difficulties, so that they continually break the rules. … The drivers more than those anywhere else seem to carry an inborn certainty that 'it can't happen to me' or a blind recklessness. So you must always expect the worst. At any corner you may be faced with a group of cars coming in the opposite direction, all trying to pass each other on the corner and blocking the entire road ahead. or on coming to a rise a car may come hurtling over the top on the wrong side. Your only hope of survival on these occasions is to drive off the road into the bush and hope for luck.

(Collis 1970: 78-79)

Collis worked as medical doctor and therefore probably noticed accidents and the injured and dead that they produced more than somebody else may have. In his short chapter on the roads in Nigeria he describes several occasions on which his professional consciousness required him to stop, take control of the scene of the accident and organise the transport of the injured to the next hospital

Anyway, this is his assessment of lorry drivers – the bit that I'll probably at some point include in my writing.

Among the Nigerian population one comes to recognise some particularly dangerous driving types. First there are the taximen. … They are responsible for a lot of accident but at least most of them are good drivers in control of their cars. This cannot be said of most of the lorry-drivers from those of the single truck to those who drive immense Mercedes lorries with trailers.

These often come from long distances loaded up with merchandise and all sorts of official and unofficial passengers. Their drivers become so tired after driving all day that they tend to fall asleep at the wheel, or to take to drugs. On one occasion one of them pushed into the back of my stationary car. When I got out I found the driver was hardly able to stand. He had been driving for ten hours. He said he had three hours more before he reached his destination. His employer was the Minister of Transport.

Perhaps the worst of the lot are the mammy-wagon drivers. … They kill and maim more people than anybody else. 

(Collis 1970: 79-80)

Robert Collis (1970): Nigeria in Conflict. London: Secker & Warburg. [SBN 436 10560 8, Snippet View available at Google Books, Goodreads Review to be found here]

[1] The conflict in question is the Nigerian civil war/Biafra war to which the author dedicates three chapters, on its outbreak, Gowon and Ojukwu, and propaganda respectively.


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