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Presidential campaigns and Lagos gridlock

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In the preparation for the visit of President Buhari to Lagos the other day, the trailers and tankers that had turned the heart of Lagos metropolis into a parking lot and reduced vehicular movement for weeks were suddenly moved from the roads. It was a magical feat, accomplished to receive the President of Nigeria in the city of the largest seaport in Africa. The Apapa residents who had groaned for months and were pushed to issue a 21-day ultimatum could hardly believe the spectacle. That it took the President’s visit for relevant agencies to remove the nuisance from roads indicated that it was do-able. However, it raises the question that has an obvious answer: do people matter to those they have elected to look after their welfare and security?

The President came to Lagos on a political mission as part of his nationwide campaign for re-election. Prior to arrival, the advance team of security operatives had surveyed the routes of his itinerary from airport to heliport and to venue. Obviously, it was a security risk to have a clog of trailers and petrol tankers along Ikorodu Road and the Funsho Williams Avenue that is contiguous to Teslim Balogun Stadium venue of the rally. Going further, the zones to be secured extended to Ijora Causeway, Eko Bridge and Apapa Wharf Road: the origin of the gridlock. The combined relevant federal and state agencies compelled the drivers to move the articulated vehicles immediately. For the duration of the President’s presence, the entire area was cordoned off.

Where did the trailers move to, at such short notice? The brunt of the suffering fell on residents of adjoining streets. Many complained that they could not drive their vehicles out of their houses. Many trailers moved northwards to the Lagos Ibadan expressway. It was no surprise that the semblance of free highways was a façade, an unforgivable deceit that all was well. Certainly the federal and state officials knew that the task force remedy would not resolve the Lagos Traffic Gridlock, which is a ripple effect from the approaches to the Apapa seaport.

However, the whole nation knows that all is not well. Immediately after the President left Lagos for his next stop, in Ogun State, the nuisance of the trailers returned the very next day. Is the comfort of one citizen (albeit the President) of greater importance than the thousands and millions of “ordinary” fellow countrymen and women who have been suffering for months on end? The retinue of President, Vice President, State Governors, and Party chieftains blared the loud message of insensitivity, apathy and insufferable accusations of deliberate wickedness.

We have drawn attention to the attendant dangers from parking trailers on major roads, which, in Lagos, are all federal highways. In particular, civil and structural engineers have cried out that the bridges are not designed for dead weight. The decks rest atop piles sunk deep into the earth. The weight of stationary heavy rolling stock impairs the required flexibility of the pinions, between the decks and the piles.

A fall out of this incident is the need to develop the Local Government streets and the state roads that feed the major highways. The street is the first road of use by every resident. In our urban areas, a study on the state of our streets would reveal that this primary indicator of good living is absent; except in the Government Reserved Areas; a painful legacy from the segregationist policies of colonial times. However, we have continued this, in the way of estates developed by federal and state governments. Good layouts and roads can facilitate installation of water distribution pipes. The drainage necessary for roads also ensures a clean environment.

The overnight removal of the trailers in Lagos and their immediate resurgence after the President’s visit had been classified in many ways. However, the scepter of misleading and deceiving the citizenry hangs like an albatross on our leaders at all levels of governance. The ultimate result is punishment for the populace. They cannot shake off the guilt of a brazen disregard for the daily suffering of the people who are aghast at the resources deployed for political campaigns.

This newspaper had drawn attention to the other issues surrounding the Apapa Traffic Gridlock. The leadership of the Residents Association is clear about the causes and has cried out that the government knows what to do but has deliberately refused to do the needful. Yes, the roads to Apapa could be free if the government had the will. The security operatives deployed on the access roads to Apapa and Tin Can Island are accused of contributing to the problem. There are more than three checkpoints from Funsho Williams Avenue to Point Road Apapa. From Mile 2 to Tin Can Island there are up to 15 checkpoints. It is alleged that Trailer Drivers are willing to part with as much as 50,000 Naira to fast-track access to the quays. When it is considered that there are up to 3,000 articulated vehicles going to the ports every week, the filthy ochre comes to a staggering figure. The beneficiaries of this cesspool of corruption would not want an end to the gridlock.

At the crux of the Apapa traffic fiasco is the challenge of how the Nigerian Ports Authority would regulate trucks coming to Apapa and Tin Can Island. At present, the manual call-up is being considered. In this age of ICT, however, other parts of the world are using electronic call-up systems. The leadership of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners states that 85 per cent of trucks operating in Apapa have garages and parks where they wait. Many of them moved to these locations when the security operatives forced them to leave the roads for the President’s visit.

The narrative about the suffering citizens is the same everywhere. The people endure hardships in many aspects of daily living. Whenever a new government comes into office at Federal State or Local Government levels, there are great expectation of mitigation to their suffering and an upliftment in standard of living. In a basket of hopes, people expect their streets to be tarred. After one, two, or three years without change, they adjudge the incumbent administration as inflicting punishment on them. Further, they name the President or Governor as the cause of their agony. All our indigenous languages express this experience in concise terms that are not given to literal translation.

Must we wait for the visit of the President or Governor before palliative measures are applied by task forces? It is high time our leaders and those aspiring to serve inculcated the message that the people matter.


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