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Lagos traffic gridlock: A blessing in disguise

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TrafficRISING from the 21st Nigerian Economic summit which had the theme “Tough Choices: Achieving Competitiveness, Inclusive growth and sustainability” there can never be a time so auspicious to put paid to the Lagos State chronic traffic gridlock than now.

There’s no gainsaying the fact that Lagos is the commercial nerve center of Nigeria; infact it’s already a trite expression on the lips of every Nigerian and indeed every keen visitor to this country. The geographical location of Lagos coupled with the management prowess of the State’s successive leaders, has put the state at this enviable status.

Without any suicidal attempt into articulating the history of Lagos State, suffice it to mention that Lagos State, which is the largest city on the African continent, owes its economic status to the fact that it is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, which provides a coastline to it on the south. This coastal location gave the state some sort of privilege of having foremost contact with the European colonialists and merchants. This contact spiced up in no small measure the already existing economic activities in Lagos, first in form of slave trading and subsequently as an industrial hub.

The fact that Lagos State was the capital of Nigeria up till 1991 also gave it the prominence, politically and socio-economically, that usually goes with such status. That period not only saw to the massive foundational economic and infrastructural development of Lagos, but also the unprecedented attention and migration of people and businesses (citizens and foreigners alike) to this paradise. An event akin to the movement of the biblical Jacob and family to Egypt during the long years of famine.

Quite unfortunately, the aggregate failure of other state governors to sincerely utilize the resources at their disposal to develop their various states has encouraged what has now become a continuous horrific and unsustainable drift of persons and businesses towards Lagos. It might be stunning to know that Lagos State ranks among the states in the country with the least number of natural resources; playing host to uncompetitive resources as glass-sand, clay and bitumen. Surprisingly, according to the Nigeria Contacts Database of Companies and Businesses, Lagos, has over 5,578, registered companies. No wonder, almost every Nigerian dreams of living in Lagos in search of greener pasture.

The reality however, is that Lagos State can no longer accommodate this increasing population, to the point of, at least, catering for their overall comfort and welfare. Lagos State ranking as the smallest Nigerian state in terms of landmass with a paltry 3,345km2 is the second largest populated Nigerian state after Kano State, with a whopping 9,013,534 occupants according to the National Population Commission (NPC) report of 2006. The World Bank report in 2009, has it that an estimated eight million people travel to work via public transportation each day on the 9,100 roads and expressways available in Lagos.

From this, it is crystal clear that Lagos is over-populated and the fact that an independent researcher asserts that Lagosians collectively lose 3 billion man-hours to traffic congestion yearly and that if that time were reduced by 20 per cent, it would save the state at least, $1 billion yearly, underscores the seriousness of the issue of traffic congestion in Lagos and the impetus for a reasoned and thorough response towards improving the transportation system there.

Economic growth brings with it some congestion during peak periods no doubt, but beyond a certain level of congestion, the attendant costs—costs that arise from delays, diminishes productivity, results in wasted energy, environmental degradation and a diminished standard of living. All this surpasses the benefits and is capable of threatening the state’s viability as a decent place to live, visit and conduct business.

Traffic congestion affects both car and public transport users and produces losses in terms of economic efficiency and other negative social effects like road accidents and traffic induced robbery. The recurring accidents involving the fall of trailers and heavy vehicles in the recent times bears witness to this.

Businesses just like most individuals are fed up with existing in Lagos State. Imagine a supplier who is supposed to deliver lunch packs to a company by 12.00 noon at Victoria Island still getting stuck in a traffic jam on the Third Mainland Bridge by 2.30pm. For each situation, not only is he going to lose a lot of money that day, what’s more? He’s more likely to lose the trust of the company.

Lagos State is treading the dangerous path of unsustainability as the quality of life, competitiveness of the industrial base and the ability to attract and sustain business and tourism, all hinge on the provision of safe, fast, reliable and convenient roads, including access through public transit.

Successive Lagos State governments have not slept with their two eyes closed. I want to believe that they have been on their toes to provide a lasting solution to this menace. In the early 1980s, the state government embarked on the issuance of ’odd’ and ‘even’ numbers, which allowed motorists ply certain routes within specified periods. The success of this approach may not have been visible and adequate for Lagos of today.

Moreover, people who could afford it just bought new cars and had odd and even plated cars. More recently, the state government explored some other solution options which include establishing Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Scheme, Traffic Radio (96.1FM), Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) and the newest in the pipeline, the cable car system designed by Ropesway Transport Ltd. Sincerely, these efforts instead of saving the situation, have only succeeded in postponing the evil day. These are only patchy solution. As Albert Einstein rightly puts it “we cannot solve our problems with the same mindset we had when we created them.”

We need solutions akin to the one-child policy of China. Yes! Tough choices that are sustainable and made in Nigeria and not just recycled solutions that are not compatible with our peculiarities. Though for personal reasons I never supported the China one child’s policy especially the questionable morality with which it was implemented, yet it paid off.

Thank God for this perennial Lagos traffic if only we adopt this policy, which I have decided to couch in this term ‘Devtransfernomics’. This is a sustainable economic postulation, which proposes a consciously articulated and systematic transfer of some dispensable developmental structures from a developed and saturated area to a less developed or developing area for the purpose of restructuring the developed and saturated area so as to meet her ever-growing demands. It is a form of a development holding system, where the transferor (the saturated area) through moral suasion, legal mechanism, trade policies, infrastructural development embargo or restrictions and compulsion, stimulate the re-location of industries from her region to other regions so as to enable the transferor effect a holistic sustainable socio-environmental re-creation of her society.

In this system, the transferor state signs an MOU with the transferee states that will enable the transferor state to receive at an agreed rate the personal income tax remittances of the employees of the relocated companies and some other palliative payments. This agreement is witnessed by the Federal Government who would serve as an umpire in the whole process. The relocated companies on their part should be entitled to tax rebates and holidays and possibly other incentives to enable them effect a smooth transition.

They should be given the right to choose their desired relocation destinations provided those chosen states are within the national even development framework. Advisably, they can upgrade one of her branches in any of the states to the status of a headquarters. This system should involve the Federal Government, the Lagos State Government, the affected companies and other stakeholders. For a seamless transition, it may take some years, say four to eight years, depending on the strategic approach and operational capacities of the various companies.

The transferee states, preferably neighbouring states, are expected to utilize the opportunity to create and develop an economic and infrastructural master plan that will stimulate the even development of other sectors in the state occasioned by the presence of these new and massive employment creating companies. No doubt, there will be a concomitant offshoot of companies along the value chain of the products/services offered by these new arrivals.

For the transferor state (Lagos as a case study), this is no doubt not going to be without some initial revenue losses. But then, with the support of the Federal Government and resilience of the state government, a process to a new dawn and a sustainable Lagos will just have been initiated. The state government now embarks on developing and amending industrial and environmental laws, rolling out ecological reclamation policies, sprouting sustainable and eco-friendly housing schemes and infrastructures which involves rehabilitation, improvement, construction and reconstruction of roads and transportation schemes. With all these in place, Lagos will sooner become the darling investment and tourist destinations of companies and individuals—now on a better platform. Don’t worry about the overpopulation; as these businesses move the overpopulated elements move with them.

The issue, however, is not whether this is a sustainable concept, rather how strategic and posterity-concerned the state government will be to forsake these dysfunctional benefits it derives from the current status quo is the question. Bitter as it may sound, companies are tired of the inefficiency and sub-optimality bounds created by the Lagos traffic gridlock and they are making strategic plans to leave Lagos. The Lagos residents are tired of paying huge money to live in slums in the name of Lagos houses. With the average life expectancy of Nigeria being 54 years, they can no longer sacrifice their comfort and life just because of Lagos. All they are waiting for is for these greener pastures (companies) that have kept them in dilemma to grow somewhere else. And once these decisions are taken, which will eventually be in the long run, Lagos must have become penny wise and pound-foolish. The earlier the state government initiates this, the better for it.

For other states however, just as traffic gridlock was the yellow light for Lagos State, indices as urban population and immigration index, company per land mass, environmental degradation alert, high incidents of social crimes, attainment of a set long term vision for this purpose and other factors, could be indicators to embark on this process.

Once this system is transparently and fairly executed, the solution to rural-urban migration, uneven development, unaffordable housing, social crimes, environmental pollution and unemployment are almost guaranteed.
It sounds lofty and impossible, but that is why it is a tough choice that achieves competitiveness, inclusive growth and sustainability. If shifting cultivation and bush fallowing can be beneficially practiced in Agriculture, why not ‘Devtransfernomics’?

Nwofia Peter is a staff @ Obi Okechukwu & co (chartered accountants), Awka. Email: peternwofia@gmail.com
Tel: 07032573914


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