Lagos Jam is the refrain of a song by the reggae group THIRD WORLD, and it is an apt, if not sly description of Lagos. In pidgin English, the verb "to jam someone" is to have a collision with that person, often violently, as in a car accident. But "to jam" in musical terms can also mean to have a free-wheeling but intricately complex and beguiling collision of musical notes, as one would have in an extended improvisational jazz piece. And of course there is the that delicious fruity confection that goes, oh so well with toast or a muffin or bagel. Well, I think Lagos is all of those; infinitely adapting and dancing to the musical complexity and rhythms of its own making, sweet and yet tart, with the inevitability of someone or something jamming you when you least expect it.
It is into this controlled chaos that I returned last week. Each time I re-enter the Nigerian orbit, I am immediately sucked in by its gravitational pull through its own unique reality distortion field. You disembark from the plane and what you see, is well, what you see. I have learnt to peer through the glass darkly at the always fascinating theatrical production that seems staged just for your benefit. From the unruliness at the baggage collection point, through the ornery customs check and out into the bubbling sea of people, all ostensibly there for a reason, Lagos welcomes you with into its hot, humid and frenzied embrace.
The drive from the airport is always predictably fraught with the periodic traffic bottle necks and just a whiff of impending danger. Lagos is a city where anything can happen, and usually does.
But this time the city seemed a little different. There was a sense of it becoming cleaner and just a tad more orderly. There are clear signs that the Lagos State government is clawing back control of the public spaces; Lagos is becoming greener, cleaner and "leaner?" Nah... way too many people for that. I have heard estimates of Lagos fluctuate between 14 million people on a good day, and 25 million on a really bad day. It is truly a mega city in heft, if not amenities.
In subsequent days, my daily runs through the city revealed that Lagos is really changing for the better. The traffic is predicable slow at certain periods, but the uniformed army of Lagos State's auxiliary forces ensues that traffic is kept flowing, there is tepid enforcement on the ban on street trading, and wonders of wonders, all the one million plus Okadas and their hardy passengers are all wearing motorcycle helmets. OK, I use the term "helmets" loosely, much in the same way the helmets are jauntily perched on the heads of both riders and passengers, with the securing straps flapping loosely in the wind.
In taking a closer look at the quality of the helmets, I surmise that they in the main, are mostly cheap plastic bowls with straps attached, and offer no real head protection to the wearer if the Okada should "jam" someone or something. But hey, the larger point here, is that contrary to popular perceptions, Lagosians are law abiding and can be compelled to obey the law, with certain slight adjustments. The other thing that crossed my mind would fall under the law of unintended consequences. Head lice and other health related concerns. I wonder if there will be a spike in the number of cases of skin diseases as a consequence of sharing your headwear with so many other people. But trust Lagosians, I have already seen several types of what might be described as "head condoms" being used to prevent such intimacies. I suppose it gives a new twist to the expression "ride safely."