Memoirs Of An Immigrant: My Nigerian Driving Test
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It was dark when we arrived, but the light from the full-moon did little to conceal the faces of nervousness that stood in line that morning. In the cold December morning we all stood together in a line that must have wrapped around the entire building. We waited for what seemed like an eternity, and finally the doors opened, we all shuffled in and were instantly handed out individual numbers. Numbers that would be used to control and direct the crowd of people already forming in the building. I waited for what seemed another eternity till my number was called out, all my documents were intact and I could start the test…I cranked the ignition of the car and it rattled gently, enough proof that it was time. I pulled the car to the back side of the building into a tunnel with a score of other cars and their equally nervous drivers. In the distance I could spot two poles, the “parallels of disaster” disguised subtly by their resplendent yet cautionary yellow color. The poles were the true test of any driver, I was ready, the engine was revving, everything was steady. But I never drove; instead I froze, stopped in my tracks by a system…
I was frustrated and annoyed. I had woken up as early as 5 am in the morning to make it to the DPS office in time for my driving test. But I was prevented from driving, because my car lacked the necessary documents needed to take the driving test. A simple paper that showed auto insurance coverage on my car was what stood before me and my driver’s license. I went home understandably frustrated; I had been counting down the days towards my driver’s license and did not anticipate this roadblock. I was tired of using the public transportation system, but more tired of having to call friends for a ride into town. I had to find a friend with a car that had proper documents. After more than 4 hours of calling and pleading I found a car, a silver Mazda. It was perfect, it had all the insurance papers and the handling was pristine…
It was time again, another round of “get up,” “line up,” “drive up” and like that I was where I was just 2 days ago. But this time I had all the necessary documents even my Exxon Mobil gas receipt, I passed the document check test, I was ready to hit the road. But there was one more test, the car check test. A test to ensure that my car was fully equipped for a drivers test. Everything was checked, the wipers, the trafficator, the steering and finally the horn. I pressed the horn hard but it didn’t make a sound, it was silent. Silence that was only pierced by the stern words of the Test Officer informing me that my car did not pass the “car check test.”
If I was in Nigeria this would have made sense, I could not go anywhere in Lagos without a horn. But this was America and I could not recall the last time I actually used a horn while driving. But that was the rule and thus it was another wasted morning. My new mission was to find a fully functional car with proper documentation and horn. I called around and was able to get my hands on pristine Luxury Toyota Camry equipped with sunroof and fully leather enclosed working horn, perfect…Everything checked out, the documents, the horn and even the luxury sunroof. Finally I was cleared to drive. My first task was to move my car into a space, aptly distinguished by two yellow poles, the dreaded “parallels of disaster.” I started slowly as I had practiced, edged the car a few feet ahead of the primary pole, flicked the traficator light, checked my mirrors and slowly started my motion between the poles…I don’t know if it was the excitement, or the sunroof, but I heard the sound of metal grazing concrete. The passenger side of the car jacked up a few extra inches in the air as if powered by hydraulics straight out of a hip-hop video. I had committed the divine car-test sin “I climbed the curb.” The look of shock and awe on the Testing Officer’s face was enough to confirm my biggest fears…
The fourth time around I made it past the “parallels of disaster” and onto the streets, everything went well. I honked when necessary and inspected my rear view mirror even when it was not necessary. This was too easy, the smile on the Testing Officer’s face was enough to boost my confidence to the next level, unfortunately the next level was not very accommodating…it was the last turn and I could have sworn the road was free. However, the screeching brake from the Ford Focus skidding past us was enough evidence to argue otherwise. The result was all but predictable and was reinforced by the words printed my test document dangerous driving…
After more than 100 miles of test driving, I finally received my American driver’s license. As I slipped the card into my wallet I came to the realization that I had not just received a permit to drive, but rather a validation from the state government that affirmed my understanding of the American driving system. A system that told me that without proper documents or a fully functional albeit inconsequential horn, I could not legitimately drive in the US. This was a sharp contrast to my Nigerian driver’s license experience. Unlike America I did not have to wake up at 5 am in the morning to line up, I simply walked into the Nigerian licensing office sometime around noon. When I arrived I was greeted by a host of people crammed into a small tiny room, a number of people were fully asleep on the floor of the office. I was shocked and confused. In less than 10 minutes, I walked out of the office with a promise to have a Nigerian license delivered to my front door in less than a week. No tests, no verification of driving ability just a mysterious fee to the only guy wide awake. I could have been a wanted criminal for all I knew and still I would have qualified for a license.
My license finally arrived 6 months after I had departed from Nigeria. As I slipped the card into my wallet I came to the realization of what was inherently wrong with the Nigerian system. Simply put we had no system; we simply operated on a system where the loudest and most powerful at any given moment in time defined the system. My uncle a longtime resident of both countries realized this salient fact all too well. He made this known to me on my first day in the America. On that day he did not talk about the large malls, or the fancy cars, or the permanent electric supply, rather he talked about the STOP sign. A simple hexagonal sheet of metal with the words STOP was the object of his fascination. A simple metallic inanimate object controlled million of cars at road-junctions across America, but it was never really about the sign, but rather about the system. Because in reality the system is what gave power to the sign, power that caused cars from all corners to stop and give the right of way to the cars that arrived before them. In Nigeria inanimate objects are powerless because systems are extinct. This system extinction is the catalyst behind the numerous traffic jams in Nigeria, where devoid of a human figure traffic almost always comes to a stand still, turning a seemingly simple street congestion into a massive statewide traffic jam.
But our problem is bigger than the traffic congestions that plague our streets; it lies instead in the congestion that blocks our nation’s advancement. A congestion that occurs at junctions where our nation’s talents and resources should advance, but they collide and freeze. Fortunately this situation can be avoided and the solution like every other is simple, “create a transparent and practical system.” But who creates the system? The government. And who selects the government? The people. We can redefine the Nigerian system.
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