Nigeria – “RHD Gate”
Above: Drive like hell if these guys try and stop you in a RHD!
About 40km outside of Abuja, we encountered a situation whereby we were stopped on the motorway by a vehicle carrying 4 road safety traffic officers.
One of these beige coloured uniformed officers then took his time to come to the vehicle and you could immediately sense that he was not here to say ‘welcome’.
On seeing that the Maggie was a right hand drive (RHD) he immediately told us that is illegal to drive a RHD in Nigeria and quoted some law from the 70’s.
We told him that we are tourists travelling with a 30 day visa and so surely there is an exception to that rule for non residents travelling through their country, his answer was:
‘follow me as you are to be impounded!’
He had taken Reka’s fake plastic drivers license (we have a few for incidents like this), and asked us to follow his vehicle back to their office which sadly for us was not towards Abuja but going back on ourselves.
As I explained above, Nigerians are unable to drive slowly so after a few Km, they had driven off into the distance still expecting us to follow them, the only problem was that Maggie was unwell, the drive to Abuja over hundreds of km of bad roads had knocked her silly and the clunking and lack of speed indicated we had a problem again with the front axle and bearings again.
So as our top speed was 15-20mph it would have been stupid to try and escape as a) we do not blend into the traffic and b) our top speed was slower than what we could walk! Eventually the road safety vehicle had turned around and again began to lead us to their office.
By the time we got to their building, the officer in charge had mentioned to us that not only must we:
A) Pay a fine determined by the offence we had committed but
B) also convert Maggie (the Landy) from a RHD to LHD in order for us to leave their premises.
I felt like kicking his arse there and then but apart from the initial satisfaction, where would that have got us?
Being led into their office I then met their chief who very calmly started to write out the offence on their stationery, all the questions such as ‘Why were we allowed to enter the country at the border?’ and ‘why would all other road safety officers along the way not stopping us for an illegal vehicle?’ the chief was not able to offer any answers to.
The situation I felt was becoming more serious, the fine firstly was 8000 Naira (£40-50) plus the conversion itself was not something I would ever let anyone touch without losing my life for so I mentioned to the Chief that not only will I get the British Embassy involved but I will contact the BBC news who are keen to publicise any for of corruption that is currently occurring within Nigeria.
The Chief raised his eyebrow and started to realise that extracting my money would not be a walk in the park. He called my bluff by giving me the incident report and giving us 24 hours to pay for the ‘offence’.
Reka meanwhile wanted to see the specifics of the offence in their Road and safety law books but they could not provide anything there and then but told her that they will have it for by tomorrow. After spending the next few hours trying to obtain the British embassy’s phone number (lonely planet had incorrect numbers), Amie in the UK managed to sort me out with the correct number (Thanks Amie!), and after getting through to the consular the advice I was given by the embassy was as follows:
‘it is advised that everyone drives a LHD in Nigeria’
That advice was as useful as a chocolate teapot to me.
Then a light bulb moment occurred, the day when leaving Ibadan we met a Baba (Pronounced Ba’bi) a Romanian Teacher of Law in the middle of a roundabout (as you do) as we asked her for directions to get out of the city. She fortunately for us gave us her number and after calling her she told us that it sounded ridiculous that this department was telling us we had committed a crime.
As with most things in Africa you need a lot of patience, within 4 hours of the first phone call with Babe, we realised her connections were very good, while in the office I heard the Chief commander of the police force tell the Road safety officers that he would be dealing with their bosses. Eventually the officers came out and handed over Reka’s fake driver license and the fake keys we gave them for Maggie and we were back on the road again!