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December 12, 2001

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We've sat in traffic jams before but we had to sit in a Nigerian one to see a man step from his car, pull out an assault rifle, and fire it in the air to keep other drivers from pulling ahead. No one returned fire, though there were many people who could have; armed men crowd the road. They guard public buses or sit along the road in trucks marked 'anti-robbery patrol.' Drivers feel under siege. Highway robbery in Nigeria became commonplace after years of political turmoil. A few years ago bandits robbed and killed a former president's wife when she didn't leave her Peugot 505 quickly enough during a car jacking. We aren't robbed at gunpoint but we pay money at tollbooths (the first we've seen in West Africa) and at police checkpoints. Rather than ask directly for bribes, highway police demand permits for everything on your vehicle. When stopped, our driver produced licenses that covered the vehicle registration, passenger registration, and driver registration. We still had to pay 40 dollars US for not having a permit for our car radio.
Driving is serious business around here.
These kids were shy until our cameras came out.