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Lagos traffic gridlock and Murtala’s promise

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[FILE PHOTO] Traffic gridlock. Photo Guardian Nigeria

The economic capital of Nigeria, Lagos, has turned into a virtual car park, as vehicles pile up on the major roads in the metropolis at all hours of the day.

Regrettably, the Lagos traffic gridlock is a microcosm of the condition of roads nationwide, as travellers suffer untold hardship and are exposed to the danger of highway marauders.

The inhabitants of Apapa stepped out the other day to give government a 21-day ultimatum to clear trucks from all bridges leading to the area.

Also included are roads in the commercial section of Apapa and the streets in the low density and high-density residential parts.

The justified angst of the Residents Association portends a potential remedy to the agony of Nigerians who must now begin to rise and say “enough is enough” to those they have elected to ensure their welfare and security.

These strange representatives hardly pay attention to this transportation menace that has become part of Nigeria’s character.

In protesting their plight, the residents of Apapa will yet learn the implications of the interplay of the three tiers of government on the issue.

The Bridge from Ijora to Point Road, Wharf Road, Creek Road and the Bridge into Tin Can Island are federal roads.

Liverpool Road, Commercial Avenue and Marine Road are state roads.

All the streets are the responsibility of the local government and with its bifurcation into Local Council Development Areas.

The Apapa scenario reveals the lack of clearly defined responsibility for roads and a general deficiency in road administration in the country.

All the major arteries in Lagos metropolis are federal roads, consisting mainly of bridges over land and water. The greater proportion of vehicular movement is on the federal roads at rush hours and throughout the day.

With a population of over 22 million, Lagos has more inhabitants than many countries.

Given such a high density of vehicles on roads, any hitch in the free flow instantly generates a traffic jam.

These hitches arise from the condition of the road, the indiscipline of road users and frequent break down of vehicles that are not roadworthy.

Road engineers tell us that every pothole begins as the size of an orange. If it is not promptly repaired, it will expand to a crater; especially in a flat terrain with poor drainage.

Our road maintenance culture is not geared to prompt response to small potholes. That doesn’t provide justification for awarding a contract to a road construction company.

Despite having a Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) and four federal works controllers in Lagos State, the engineers on ground have to pass their requests through zonal offices to the Head Office in Abuja. This is a complicated bureaucracy.

What is more, many states have set up agencies for routine maintenance. Lagos State went further to equip a Works Management Corporation.

This has become a road construction company that also is called upon to repair streets that are the responsibility of the local government.

How much can it handle? Nationwide, whenever the state governor is under pressure and wishes to repair a failed portion of a federal highway, this cannot be done without the approval of the minister charged with responsibility for roads.

This too compounds the stress level and compromises maintenance culture.

Lagos State has constructed lay-bys for bus stops, albeit on the corridors of federal highways.

However, while the BRT buses keep to their designated lanes, the small commercial yellow buses stop on the speed lanes of highways.

The traffic officers assigned to enforce regulations are overstretched and once they close in the early evening, these commercial drivers stop on the highways to discharge and pick up passengers.

Add to this frequent breakdown of rickety vehicles, and the result is a metropolis that is ever in traffic jams that degenerate to gridlocks.

Besides, there are the broader issues of planning in the nation and the component parts. Plans are long-term, based on population projection for a minimum of 25 years.

Nigeria started with National Plan Period of five years, ostensibly because of the need for reconstruction after the 1970-1973 Civil War. The policy was jettisoned in 1980, for what was termed “rolling plans.”

As the population increased, there was no visionary planning for the necessary infrastructure. Roads have suffered most.

With the volume of traffic between the southeast and southwest, why has it taken so long to construct a second Niger bridge, after the Asaba-Onitsha bailey bridge of 1965 replaced the ferry crossing?

What studies were done to determine the location of the bridge now under construction? What projections are being considered for other bridges at various locations?

In this era of citizen journalism and action, the citizens of Apapa Port Town have come out publicly to express their agony. The details are horrendous.

Unmoving traffic places motorists at risk, as sitting ducks for assailants who are so brazen in their attacks even in daylight.

Their experiences are the common reports in other parts of Lagos as well as on interstate highways all over the country.

The residents of Ajao Estate too on the mainland, have followed suit to lodge complaints about bad roads.

This newspaper has repeatedly drawn attention to the causative factors of the Apapa situation, which is unique in many aspects.

There is a failure in the NNPC distribution network. The nation’s refineries are not producing. The nation imports a great deal of fuel.

In the Apapa area, there are jetties for off-loading petroleum products. In Apapa and environs, there are 36 tank loading petrol tankers from all over the country.

Safety experts have sounded alarm about the high risk of inferno that could wipe out most of Lagos.

With no parking facilities while waiting for their turn to load, the fuel tanker drivers park on bridges and roads.

It is, in this regard, curious why non-utilization of Calabar and Port Harcourt ports have resulted in Apapa and Tin Can Island handling a high percentage of imports for goods carried by road to every part of the country.

When the Tin Can Island Port was opened, it had a well-constructed Apapa-Oshodi-Oworonshoki ten-lane expressway for evacuation of goods.

Lack of maintenance over the years resulted in the collapse of the road network.

Having failed to set up a Highways Authority with the Road Fund that would have harnessed road-user contributions, the Federal Government has been unable to fund roads in the country.

The minister responsible for federal roads the other day announced approval for Dangote Group to reconstruct the stretch from Tin Can Island to Oshodi, in a novel financial arrangement based on projected future taxes.

This construction work, using cement instead of asphalt, would link with the on-going reconstruction of the Oshodi-Lagos Airport road by the Lagos State Government.

These major projects would take months and years during which there must be proper management of traffic to reduce the inconvenience to the public. Otherwise, this would compound the present crisis.

There is also the announcement by the Minister of Transport, to revive the rail services routes to the Apapa Port area.

This is a welcome development and reiterates the need for complementing transport modes that will include waterways of Lagos.

Also the state has reportedly planned to construct the 4th Mainland Bridge leading to Epe.

However, the experience with Lagos Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority’s exclusive Bus Rapid Transit corridors enjoins the need to include Mass Transit in the new bridge.

The traffic gridlock in Lagos is the tragic consequence of failure in the entire country. Which is why the stepping out by Apapa residents marks the advent of citizens protesting their unmitigated hardship.

Led by a retired Army General, the community has threatened to mobilize for shutting down the area.

This threat may not be taken lightly, while the entire nation waits with baited breath to know what would happen at the end of the notice period.

Aggrieved men and women across the land are being aroused to join the citizen’s action protests.

In the main, while the Lagos government intensifies efforts to deal with the Apapa and Lagos metropolis traffic gridlock, the federal authorities should not forget their responsibility to the economic capital of Nigeria.

After all, General Murtala Muhammed while proclaiming Abuja as the new nation’s capital 42 years had a covenant with the people that federal authorities would continue to fund Lagos as a ‘Special Area’ in terms of critical infrastructure in the state generally and Apapa specifically. When will the promise be fulfilled?


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