Why zebra crossings are useless in Nigeria [Pulse Feature]
Everyone knows what should happen at a zebra crossing, but the law is treated as a mere suggestion.
The rules at a zebra crossing are simple.
Pedestrians have the right of way the minute they set foot on the broad white and black stripes painted on the road.
If there are traffic light signals in the same area, then those will dictate when pedestrians can use the zebra crossing and when they cannot.
And since pedestrians are protected by the sovereignty of the zebra crossing, motorists should wait while they exercise this right to walk carefully from one side of the road to the other.
Really simple rules, unless the two parties involved happen to live in Nigeria, and then all bets are potentially off.
What's immediately clear from the over a dozen pedestrians and motorists that Pulse spoke to recently about zebra crossings is everyone knows what the rules are.
Obedience is just the problem.
For example, Olayiwola Abbas, a danfo bus driver in Lagos, understands zebra crossing laws and obeys them (or so he said), but he doesn't think pedestrians should rely on the security they provide.
"A lot of other drivers can be impatient," he told Pulse.
Victor, a private car owner who admitted that he respects the zebra crossing code also said pedestrians should never feel at ease.
"Either the vehicle waits for you or not, you have to run for your dear life.
"We have mad drivers on the highway, including myself," he said.
This was a common conclusion with a majority of the drivers that Pulse spoke to about this.
They personally obey the laws, but other maniacal drivers on the roads of Lagos, and Nigeria in general, are not as nice.
The abuse of zebra crossings by motorists in Nigeria is so notorious that anyone asked about it is more likely to burst into laughter first because of how ineffective it is in practice.
But it shouldn't be a joke.
The consistent failure of motorists to yield the right of way to pedestrians at zebra crossings is one that creates an unnecessary feeling of dread for millions of Nigerians navigating roads across the country.
"It's not that safe. Some of them (motorists) are in a hurry.
"Like if I want to cross, I'd rather use my hand to do a signal for them to stop," said Deborah, a pedestrian that spoke to Pulse.
She said even whenever she successfully negotiates a car to a halt, she still has to run fast across the road because she can't be completely confident that some other motorist won't come out of nowhere.
The violation of zebra crossings is only a subset of the general culture of disregard for traffic codes in the country.
"I will attribute it to indiscipline, use of road abuse, impatience, and illiteracy," Olusegun Ogungbemide, the Lagos Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), told Pulse.
He pointed out, just like many others Pulse spoke to, that there are many drivers on the road who got their licenses without going through a driving school where you're likely to be taught to recognise and obey traffic codes.
One of such people is Yaya Ahmed, a danfo bus driver who told Pulse he learnt driving by first being a conductor before getting behind the wheels to ply the roads of Lagos without ever going through a driving school.
However, he also said he's a strict adherent for zebra crossings, a lesson he learnt after a fellow driver was arrested years ago for stopping right on top of the markings during a red light stop.
As part of efforts to curb the widespread violation of the zebra crossings and other traffic codes, Ogungbemide said the FRSC is implementing stronger regulations regarding the acquisition of drivers' licenses.
He said, "The requirement for getting drivers' licenses is more stringent now unlike what we had in the past where people were parading fake driver's license all over, where people sit down at home and submit their passport to a tout who comes later to give them a driver's license."
Many people Pulse spoke to suggested that the best way to push back against violations such as this is for the government to embark on an effective enlightenment campaign championed by the National Orientation Agency (NOA).
But since it's well known that everyone knows the basics of zebra crossings already, it's doubtful how effective that could be.
Linda, another pedestrian that spoke to Pulse, is not optimistic that an awareness campaign by the government would change anything.
"In this country, people don't abide by laws," she said.
However, Ogungbemide's message is simple: all road users should have mutual respect for one another.
Or the long arms of the law will be there to make sure that happens.
Violating the use of a zebra crossing amounts to dangerous driving that endangers the lives of the public, and could attract a fine as much as N50,000 ($100).