How to handle traffic in Lagos

If I really knew how to handle traffic in Lagos, I would be a millionaire by now from all the books sold and workshops held.  I know the basics about staying sane in Lagos traffic but the truth is by writing this article, I am hoping to help myself while helping you. 

 I often read on Penelope’s blog that most people think they are the exception to the rule when actually, they are the rule not the exception.  In fact, one of the examples Penelope gave was that research found that most people think they are better drivers than average but when given tests, those same people turn out to be average drivers.  This little anecdote applies to Lagos in two ways:  first, I feel like the traffic in Lagos is unique.  Most cities of the world are plagued by traffic but even the average person from New York, London or some other major city would have to say Lagos takes the cake.  That’s what I think anyway.  I feel the traffic in Lagos is different but maybe it’s not so different after all.  Maybe it is the same in its awfulness as traffic in other parts of the world. 

Secondly, I think most people who drive in Lagos think they are better-than-average drivers.  That much is clear from the insults you see exchanged in traffic everyday – every incident is always the other person’s fault.  But like Penelope said, I suspect most drivers in Lagos aren’t as good as they think they are.  I suspect most drivers in Lagos are average.

 Following the above, I have a few tips about driving in Lagos without driving yourself crazy.

  • First of all, assume the other driver is mad.  When I first started driving, that’s the advice my father gave me and I have found it useful.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve turned into a one-way road to find an ‘okada’ or another car going the wrong way.  Clearly, the person didn’t agree that the road should be one-way.  It makes you understand why the Government insists that anyone caught taking one-way takes a psychiatric test.


  • In Lagos, there is serious rush-hour traffic going from the Mainland to the Island from about 6am till about 9am and going from the Island to the Mainland from about 4pm till about 9pm.  Avoid going in those directions at those times.  This is a basic tip but I realised recently that not that many people know it.  I have a friend who grew up in Lagos then moved abroad a few years ago.  When she came to Lagos on holiday, she got caught in rush-hour traffic and I was shocked because I thought everyone knew about it.  I was wrong.


  • Don’t under-estimate the power of a simple apology.  Sometimes, when a minor accident happens, all the yelling can be prevented by the wrong party simply saying ‘Sorry’.


  • There was a time when every time someone cut-me off or committed some traffic offense against me, I would trade insults heartily with them.  I felt that that was what was expected of me, the Lagos thing to do.  After a while though, I realised that I was getting to my destination upset all the time.  These days, when someone does something wrong to me in traffic, I may insult them (I am still human 😉 ) usually just under my breath but most of the time, I just ignore them and go on my merry way.  Usually, the person is disappointed at not being able to annoy me and I arrive at my destination happy.


  • Never buy anything in traffic.  This is against the law now anyway but really, it’s the safer way to go.  There have been many stories of people buying something from a street hawker in traffic and being robbed by them or by someone else who saw an opportunity and took it.


  • Always keep your doors locked and your windows wound up.  A woman I know didn’t wind up completely thinking that was okay.  And it was.  Until a man slipped his hand through the gap at the top, opened the car door, got into her car and robbed her.  Don’t take chances.


  • If someone (it doesn’t matter if they are male or female) taps on your window and you don’t know them, don’t wind down under any circumstances.  People have been robbed that way.


  • A big part of my staying calm while driving comes from listening to music.  I’ve found that a lot of the time, the chat on the radio just irritates me so I listen to music I’ve chosen.  Sometimes, I’m bobbing my head to music and I think to myself “Wow!  I really like the music this station is playing.” Then I check and see that it’s my mp3 player I’m listening to and not radio.  That always makes me smile.


Do you drive in Lagos?  What are your tips for staying calm in traffic?


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