It’s amazing what two hours in Abuja can do to you…

If you are casual reader of my blog, then you know how I feel about Nigeria. But on Saturday morning, life was looking up. Maybe it was because we have hit a stride in the office and really producing good results or maybe it was because I am getting married in less than five months and excited to spend the rest of my life with Sheila. On Saturday morning, I had just finished a good workout playing tennis with my coach Davou and was enjoying a lovely brunch with my friend Kury.  It was truly turning out to be a good day!

It was such a good day that without thinking, I told Kury that I was starting to “like” living in Abuja. She was in shock! She couldn’t believe that I had uttered those words. She quickly reminded me of my past statements about Abuja and living in Nigeria. I told her that when you compare Abuja to Juba, South Sudan (where I was living before moving to Abuja), it was worlds apart. (Some context – I met Kury while living in South Sudan. We both lived on the same compound in Juba. She is here in Nigeria on a short-term consultancy. Sadly, she leaves next week).

But less than two hours after making that statement, I was back to my old sentiments. Kury and I decided to venture to the outdoor market (Wuse Market) to purchase fabric. She was looking for fabric to take back to the U.S. and I was looking for items to compliment the wedding. As usually, I approached an intersection in Abuja, stopped to check traffic and made a right turn. Just as I did, I was flagged down by the Nigerian Police Force. I was completely confused on why I was being stopped. I rolled down the passenger window and was informed that I had ‘beaten’ the traffic light (Nigerians say ‘beaten’ as we Americans say ‘ran’.) I politely informed the police official that the light was not working when I came through the intersection. We went back and forth about whether the traffic signal was working or was not working. I was trying to stay calm because I knew that if I became combative and disrespectful, he would make the situation worse. Finally he said, usually, we impound the car and fine you N15,000 (about $75.00) for violating the traffic signal. Again, in a polite manner I told him that I always stop at traffic signals, even when the cars behind me “frustrates” me with their horns. Traffic signals in Abuja are a relatively new addition to crowded intersection. When I arrived in 2014, most of the major intersections had traffic signals but it wasn’t until after the presidential election that traffic signals began to appear all around town. And sadly, 60 percent of the population don’t respect the traffic signals and often continues through the intersection without stopping.

STOP

A stop-sign at an intersection in Abuja. You can also see a traffic signal in the background that is not working. Stop signs are often used as bulletin boards in Abuja.

I was completely surprised that police had stopped me (of all people). Kury, who is never shy at letting you know how she feels was as quiet as a mouse. I imagine she was trying not to show her displeasure at our unfortunate incident. The police officer continued on his “soap box” about the importance of following the traffic code before handing me my license. He asked me several times, “what do we do now?” before eventually saying, “What do you have for me and my friends.” At this time, Kury spoke up and asked, “What does that mean?” We both knew what he was asking. I was incensed that he was trying to use my situation to extort a bribe. He again made the request and reminded me that he could just take me down to the station. I relented and gave him N1000 ($5.00). I rolled up the window and slowly pulled away. Kury then asked, “How do you feel about being in Nigeria now?” My response – “I get so frustrated being in this country.” It’s amazing what two hours can do to you in Abuja…

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