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Lagos traffic overwhelms my officers, says LASTMA boss

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The Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) was 20 years ago established to ease traffic gridlock that has become the second nature of Lagos metropolis. The LASTMA General Manager, Olajide Oduyoye, explains why the authority still has a long way to go in achieving its mandate and the imperative of quality education for road users and younger ones, among other sundry issues. He spoke with WOLE OYEBADE. Excerpts:

You have been in the saddle of Lagos traffic management for close to a year now. Tell us about the experience vis-à-vis your main plan for LASTMA.
My plan for LASTMA culminates from my background as a traffic and highway engineer from England, and I have been involved for the past 26 years. I’m involved in safety and highway engineering; specialising in traffic management processing and systems. That is, how to be safe on the road and improve mobility for road users in totality.

The personal goal that I have, based on other countries that I have been passed of, is to bring our road users to that level where we do things in a safe, cordial, courteous and standardised manner. Why is it that in other countries people used the road in a safe manner but we here do the opposite of that? I want to make it known that the road is for all, any day and anytime. My personal goal especially is for Lagos to get to a level where we use our roads as they do in Dubai, London and other places.

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What had been your experience in achieving this?
The experience is mixed, difficult and challenging. I’m in an organisation that has been in existence for nearly 20 years. There are certain situations already in place that I just have to change overnight. First of that will be the recruitment process. All LASTMA officers are civil servants and they were recruited through the Civil Service Commission. You have to manage the people there. We are over 3000 officers and in an environment like ours, just dealing with the human factor is a big one. That needs to be sorted out. We need to change the orientation of the people outside too; it’s very paramount that the orientation of the officers is at par with what goes on in other places.

I have in my humble opinion achieved driving it into the minds of officers that this job is one that requires passion, responsibility, having a personal goal to be the change than just be a LASTMA officer out there. So, talking and educating is something I have managed to do to a certain degree. It is always going to be difficult to say if it is successful or not. When it comes to traffic, it is always fluid. Everyone will think the officers are doing a fantastic job if he or she is not stuck in traffic. Then the next day, there are loads of roadblocks going on, bad roads visible, and suddenly, you are stuck in traffic, then you change your mind that LASTMA is not doing well.

And I can’t blame them because when you see a LASTMA officer that is standing on the road perplexed, not even sure of what he could do but trying, all the same, a driver that has been in traffic for two hours will not understand that. That is the fluidity you get every day. So, we cannot claim success in LASTMA for a year until the people say everything is okay.

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You seem to reckon that the officers are perplexed more often than not.
It is not more than they are perplexed. It is just the situation in front of them that will decide if they should be perplexed or not. If an officer is being abused and harassed by the public, the next day he comes to work, he is more likely to feel perplexed because nothing has happened to deal with the situation that might have occurred to him. They are human beings whose thinking faculty is based on their experience.

Do you think they are overwhelmed?
I think, with Lagos traffic, everyone is overwhelmed. I’m overwhelmed, and if I am overwhelmed, I don’t see why any LASTMA officer will not be overwhelmed. The job is big because of the factors that I raised. You can only be at a particular spot at a time, and the LASTMA officers cannot be everywhere in the sense that we have more intersections than the number of LASTMA officers.

So, until we signalise every intersection, control every junction until there is electronic control than just rely on officers, they are going to be overwhelmed. It is the reality on ground because if I put officers at every intersection, assuming I have the workforce, that officer will also need to use the toilet and bathroom occasionally. That officer may not feel well because of the harsh condition in which they work. So, that intersection will also suffer. Just remove the LASTMA officer from an intersection and see within seconds the chaos that will ensue. These will be the same commuters that operate the junction and know that it is turn-by-turn. But no, the moment no one is there to control, everyone wants to go at the same time.

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There was a fear factor among Lagos motorists just before you came on board last October. That seemed to have petered out. Is it a change in policy?
No, it wasn’t that. From history, certain things changed from the last government. The agency was put on the backburner and not the darling of the day for the last administration. But like we have with everything else, if you do not maintain the officers that will work or give them the tools, there will be deterioration. I can say that because in eight months now, I have seen the things that had happened.

The true situation now is that enforcement is higher. The court proceedings are still ongoing, fines are issued, we dole out the numbers of arrested vehicles, the ones that have paid fines, we have figures of those that had to see the judge because it is an option and right, or you could waive the right, and pay the fine as stipulated in the 2018 traffic law. What happens is that a lot of noise is not been made about the efforts we are putting in.

The governor has been very kind to us; he has provided us with funding to buy two trucks to enhance our evacuation work. He has approved technology to make our job easier, which eventually will reduce physical interaction between LASTMA officers and offenders. He has improved funding for us to have a better network. I have some drones to use to cover a wider area and the effects of traffic. There are a lot of things going on in the background.

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How can the state improve compliance with the traffic and safety rules?
There are factors called the three-Es: Engineering, Education and Enforcement, to achieve compliance. Under ‘Engineering’ are the ways we build our roads, their signalisation, coupled with equipment like electronic cameras to capture people because the fear of being caught will change attitude. We must start educating the children from schools. The attitude they grow with is what they have seen. Everything the children of nowadays will do in the next 10 or 15 years is what their parents are doing now. If people have been well educated in terms of road use, then LASTMA would not be a darling boy. There is no big deal to LASTMA. In fact, we should be ashamed parading LASTMA officers for traffic management. But we will get there. Lagos is always the one to push for that, but education is very important.

In any society, if there is no enforcement or one that is not effective, human beings will start to behave like animals because there is no control. They will break all speed rules. Somebody must pay a price for the decision that they make for themselves to stop somebody else from making the same
a decision that feels that they can get away with it because there is no enforcement.

The challenges are indeed enormous, do you think we can get it right?
Yes. I feel we can get it right with all the necessary support that I have mentioned. It is an ongoing process. Life is about measuring yourself against what others are doing. The governor has been nice with gadgets. We are going forward slowly. Getting it right is always in front of me, otherwise, I would not be here.

How far do you think LASTMA could go in the next three or seven years?
At the pace at which we are going, I see this authority as one which the public will respect and the public will see it as a necessary and viable agency to control things that may go wrong when they go wrong. In the next three years, I see officers realising that the old ways of doing things that people are not happy with will not be acceptable. For the public, and just like in other places, if you offend, you put your hands up and deal with it. Your first instinct is not to fight, to argue or abuse. And that way, LASTMA officers will feel respected because there is less interaction on personal abuse. A stage where the average Nigerian does not mind his son or daughter working for LASTMA, that is where I want to see the authority.

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