Saturday, 3rd December 2022
<To guardian.ng
Search
Breaking News:

Long Bridge and commuters

By AbduRafiu
06 October 2022   |   3:30 am
There is a bridge on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway that is called Long Bridge. It has rudely burst into the consciousness of commuters plying the expressway and the residents of the area.

PHOTO: BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA

There is a bridge on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway that is called Long Bridge. It has rudely burst into the consciousness of commuters plying the expressway and the residents of the area. Commuters and once-in-a-while users of the expressway ask themselves how far they still are from the Long Bridge. Passengers in commercial buses who slept off in the accustomed enervating traffic standstill on awakening ask fellow passengers: “Where are we? Have we passed the Long Bridge? How close or far are we from it?”

Once you pass Sagamu Inter-change heading for Lagos, the heart begins to beat fast. The palpitation is triggered by the consciousness that the dreaded bridge lays ahead. Hey Long Bridge!! Long Bridge has become a metaphor for long suffering. It is not the bridge itself that is the cause of the anxieties and the pains people daily go through on the road; it only symbolises the peak of it—the peak of congestion and lawlessness. The bridge is a two-lane part of the Expressway. Apart from driving chaos and confusion, resulting in a standstill that last hours, miscreants, indeed, robbers help themselves to hapless commuters’ goods routinely. The commuters throwing up their arms in resignation cry out: From whence cometh helps even for the people of Macedonia? Congregants coming from the Redeemed Christian City, from Deeper Life and Mountain of Fire churches which line the route are regular victims of the agonising, indeed, hellish conditions on the road.

Residents of communities by the road leave home as early as 5.30 a.m. to beat the traffic snarl, some even earlier—by 4.30 a.m. They frequently do not get to their destinations until about five hours later. Heavy duty vehicles—fuel tankers and trailers break down regularly owing to prolonged standstill, and worsen the traffic chaos. There was a report of a sickle cell boy who had crisis at home and almost lost his life in the confusion that ensued on how his parents were to ferry him to Lagos University Teaching Hospital where he had his doctors.

BiCourtney Highway Services Ltd was granted concession to fix the expressway in 2009. The concession was terminated in 2012 and the contract was re-awarded, split between Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) and Julius Berger. RCC is handling the Ibadan end of the road and Julius Berger the Lagos end. The reconstruction has dragged for about 10 years with all the untold hardships it has foisted at the Lagos end in particular on commuters and on residents in the Long Bridge axis. There was a story of a retired school principal over whose foot a vehicle ran. He and his wife were returning to Lagos after attending a religious fellowship programme at Ibadan. After sitting in their vehicle that had been on the same spot for two hours, he decided to come down and stretch his legs. He was walking in the expectation that his vehicle would catch up with him in front whenever it moved. He had gone fairly far, indeed, out of sight of his driver, and his wife. Suddenly, as it is customary with Nigerian lawless drivers, a commercial mini-bus driving on the side bush path came behind him, pushed him down and ran over his foot. The driver in question and some other vehicles tore off from the jam to create their own route outside of the main road, thereby setting off a bedlam. The culprit did not stop to help his victim in agony.

This is just one example of what commuters and communities by the road go through. My mailbox has been inundated with stories lifted from the platform of one of the communities in the axis and posted to my box. It was a platform residents use to share their experiences and those of others. Because of the importance of the road to the economy and social wellbeing of Nigerians who ply the road, I have decided to highlight some of the bitter experiences they go through today. Interestingly, for three weeks that I have taken more than passing interest in the mails flooding my box on the experiences, it was yesterday the commuters had some semblance of relief. The cause? Truck drivers withdrew their vehicles from the road in protest against what they call extortion mostly by non-state actors on their way to Tin Can and Apapa Wharf ports. Security agents have not been of much help to protect them. They embarked on a three-day warning strike which began on Tuesday and ends today, Thursday. Following are the exchanges only minimally edited:

1). “Julius Berger and the Federal Government should have pity on us living in this axis na; going to work every day now is not yielding nothing, children get to school late no matter how early they leave home. This is our daily bread we are talking about and the future of these innocent children. Does JB want us all dead before the completion of the road? Do we really mean anything to this government? I bet nope! What can we call all these trash? Our silence is killing us, truth be told.”

2). “The road is something horrible; imagine at 4.20 a.m. the traffic has gotten to Magboro inward Lagos—standstill. Kudos to Warewa police, they’re doing a very serious job by stopping those who take one way and thanks to Road Safety for conveying us help to OPIC with their towing vehicle. Safe trip to you all.”

3). “Why are we throwing blames to JBN and FG all the time. Let’s find out the stupidity in us before throwing blames. A truck broke down and was to be towed away from the road as early as 2 a.m. The driver in an attempt not to allow the truck to be towed went under it, saying that his vehicle cannot be towed until he was overpowered and arrested by the police. What has the FG and JBN done in such a case? May we be delivered from notorious drivers.

“Another set of articulated vehicles driven by impatient drivers had crashed that same place, spilling their contents.

4). “Those blaming JBN and their collaborators are right. We are talking about the remote cause. The truck incidents are corollaries of immediate cause—however, it’s unfortunate. The massive traffic jam of yesterday was not the making of anybody.”

5). “I spent 5 hours from Arepo to secretariat yesterday. My daughter got to school at 11. 30 a.m. This is bondage.”

6). “While I sympathize with your effort at enforcing sanity on this road, I humbly disagree that a singular event is the cause of the harrowing traffic we have been going through for over a month now. Please, take JBN off the road and rearward the road reconstruction contract to …another company that is ready to work at night or provide an alternative route. If JBN (Julius Berger) continues this way, it will become clear that part of their contract is the slow assassination of Nigerians that ply this route on a daily basis. Test results of my last hospital visit shocked me. I have turned back from the expressway and I am on my way to the hospital again.”

7). “So trailer breakdown has been the cause of this painful experience since Monday? This is the same blame game our leaders usually use to hide their incompetence. Simple solution is for JBN to grade that part of the road open to commuters and this problem will be history. I don’t even know how they feel seeing people going through this pain every day. I left Arepo since 4 a.m. Got to Berger at 7 a.m.

8). “I had to keep my car at home. If not that I had something important to do in the office, I would have stayed back. But as it is, I am still staying back until tomorrow because I am still working. The cause of the traffic is actually at Fagbemi/Kara area. Free till Garage. If you can take alternative route from there, please, do.”

9). “I have never been hypertensive or on medication. I was feeling funny and went to check my BP, it was at the borderline. This is certainly not how to rehabilitate a major road. This is slow assassination of residents of this area. My earnest prayer is that we should not have a case of someone that will collapse behind the wheels.

10). “Blaming JBN, drivers, security operatives cannot solve the traffic issue on this road. Now what is the way forward? Honestly, it’s getting out of hand.”

11). “It is already out of hand. I have been home for the past two days. I lost a contract because I couldn’t attend the presentation despite leaving home at 4.30 a.m. They had concluded the process before my arrival.”

12). “Why has there been pin drop silence on the part of those expected to supervise the project. What has been the role of Ogun State Government in whose jurisdiction the road is? What has been the support of Ogun State Government and state park managers who collect money from buses at every bus-stop? I have not seen just one towing vehicle of Ogun State government on that road. What is the place of law enforcement agencies in moving failed trucks off the road? Can we have a word from their association to encourage inclusiveness and return a semblance of sanity on this road before this abnormality becomes the norm?”

13). “I am just arriving Ikeja at 9 a.m. from 5 a.m.

14). “The Anthony/ Gbagada section of the Oworonsoki Expressway was rehabilitated, the stress wasn’t as much as this, and it is equally a built up area. What are we saying?”

15). “Serious gbossa on Long Bridge outward Lagos, some vehicles passed one-way from Mawa and officers were turning them back from the middle of the bridge; the motorists refused to turn back. Hope this will not cause traffic build-up on our way coming back home today.”

16). “I think it was Dangote that played a crucial role in delivering that road seamlessly. That was the power of private-public partnership. I don’t know the exact details, but tax waiving could have been on the cards.”

17). “Yes, Dangote played a pivotal role in that project. That model and choice of contractor could have saved us from this experience.”

18). “You are right, Sir; that is the model in vogue in other orbits—from Singapore to France, U.K. etc, government has no business building infrastructures like this. Projects delivery is undertaken by private interests through concessions.”

19). “Will JBN attempt this in Germany or anywhere in Europe under the guise of road construction or rehabilitation? Those in leadership position never empathize with the citizenry because they are enclosed in their comfort zone. Guess, that’s why Blackman dey suffer today.”

20). I left Magboro 5 a.m. and arrived at VI by 11 a.m. I will work for 2hrs. and take 1hr. break. Then I will leave the office by 5 p.m. to arrive home at about 8 p.m. At this rate , the likelihood that my grey hairs will spring out fast is very high while my productivity at work will obviously decline due to increased stress level. These concerns are minor compared to many who have been attacked, lost valuables, missed opportunities and escalated health issues as a result of grid lock. The lack of adequate planning and efficient time management on the road construction project by JBN is the primary cause of the traffic grid lock.

“It’s baffling that despite the hardship, sufferings, robbery attacks, loss of lives occasioned by the project, JBN has not considered working in the night to speed up work along the Kara corridor. More worrisome is the attitude of the supervising authorities who only make statements and sit back in their comforts while we continue to suffer. All stakeholders’ engagement is required at this time to find lasting solutions to this menace. I will encourage everyone concerned to push for this. We really need to act now or get stuck in this suffering for as long as it takes JBN to complete that section of the road.

21).”My son, a Sickle Cell patient, has a routine appointment at LUTH since July; I cannot put him on this road for the check-up. He is supposed to be undergoing Industrial Training at the Lagos State Secretariat. I have asked him to stay at home whilst I try to either get placement for him between Olowotedo and Ibafo, or just look for someone to endorse his logbook. Kilode, because of road rehabilitation!! The same son was saved by the Grace of God. JBN was rehabilitating Ibafo axis then; he had crisis and was on oxygen in the ambulance belonging to redeem Hospital, it was a Good Samaritan that came to our rescue.”

These are troubling experiences, indeed. My take is that from withdrawal of trucks by drivers on warning strike the lesson is that the trucks constitute the bulk of the problem of congestion. If that is the case, all the authorities need do is to regulate the movements of heavy duty vehicles on that road. Such regulation would not be new. In 1975 the then Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed ban day movements of such vehicle. At the time traffic logjam was almost intractable between the ports and Ikorodu Road. Until work on the road is completed, they should be restricted to moving in the night between 12 midnight and 5 a.m. The tankers and trailers, too, will be able to move freely more so that they are more prone to breaking down when they are trapped in a congestion than when the road is free of traffic. It should be borne in mind that when traffic moves, noise and environmental pollution is reduced with correspondent improvement on health of the people in general as a result of rarified air in circulation for inhalation on that corridor. Lagos–Ibadan Expressway is reputed to have the highest volume of traffic in the country sharing in the burden of Lagos congestion with about 8 million commuters and 5million vehicles on the road every day.

To fix that kind of road in other climes, the contractors would be obliged to work in the night using flood lights, with minimal work done in the day and with efficient and precision traffic control using technology. In view of disruption to daily round duties, discomfort and harm to health being experienced on the road at the moment, what remains might warrant a recourse to getting the contractors to work in the night, even if a little extra would be worked out to defray extra costs attendant to the use of flood lights. We cannot be unmindful of the horrors Nigerians go through on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway or the people living close to it. Development is for people; Lives of people are not to be sacrificed on the altar of development no matter the temptation of its eventual glitters.