SUNDAY NARRATIVE: Time To Rework Lagos
LAGOS is working! That was a slogan propounded by people in government of Lagos State (Centre of Excellence), to add verve to the idea of a working government. It was a conviction shared by majority of Lagosians and even others outside the state that Lagos actually appeared to be working. And Governor Babatunde Fashola, now outgoing, seemed then to be at the peak of performance, full of action.
Even in our traditional society, there is room for praise singers, who eulogise hard work in order to get workmen doing more. Fashola was firing from all cylinders and in order to pep him up, the ‘Lagos is Working’ slogan had to be showered on him and his government generously. It was like a deserved encouragement, which many Lagosians were hooked on to, willy-nilly
For those who have been around Lagos for some sixteen years, it is possible to have noticed some transformation in the state of aquatic splendour. Better still, for those who have lived in Lagos before the return to democratic rule in 1999, it is possible to see that some things have indeed changed in the Lagos landscape.
For a recap, there was a period when Lagos was synonymous with filth. Huge refuse dumps littered the major highways and street sweepers could not do anything about it. The stench was horrible and that easily became part of the lifestyle. Moving away from filth, Lagos traffic has always been a problem, even when the population had not exploded to the current figures. Traffic managers had always been at their wits end, trying to configure the best way out. At a point, the option of using odd and even number plates to decide which vehicles entered downtown Lagos was experimented. It has not just been the about volume of traffic per se, but the bad driving habits of most Lagosians, particularly those operators of commercial vehicles.
There was and is still the headache with street traders, who towards nighttime, would take over the highways and inner roads to spread their wares, thus narrowing the lanes which vehicles ply. Not to mention the menace posed by touts, idlers and outright criminals, who flood Lagos, for their share of the proverbial national cake.
Before 1999, military administrators tried to force Lagos to work. There was the War Against Indiscipline (WAI), launched in Lagos in March 1984, during the military administration of Gen Muhammadu Buhari. It was aimed at reshaping citizens’ behavioral pattern that had gone around the bend. It was a martial law, more or less, that had to be physically enforced. It did not permeate down to the subconscious; as soon as soldiers left the scene with their horsewhips, citizens returned to their perverted ways. At a time, refuse bins were planted at strategic points, and plastic bins hung inside commercial vehicles, but in no time, the idea was lost.
But from 1999, there was a deliberate attempt to force Lagos to work. It was a combination of force and persuasion. The force aspect had to do with the laws, which prohibited certain habits and the other, the active participation of citizens to be part owners of the idea. The Lagos State Transport Management laws instill fear in citizens and encouraged them to do the right thing. Those whose driving habits confound commonsense were to be medically examined to be sure that they know the dangers they constitute to others. Waste management procedure was reviewed to bring onboard private participation and relieve government of certain aspects.
In the area of infrastructure, Lagos was to witness the opening up of many highways and inner roads. The cleaning up of bad sports like Oshodi became unprecedented. Other bad spots hitherto inhabited by urchins and evil men were combed. Then trees were planted and gardens sprung up all over, to make Lagos more attractive.
In spite of all the good things being done to make Lagos a befitting place to earn a living, new challenges keep emerging everyday. The major one is the sustainability of the new order. Lagos desires to join the league of world’s mega cities that are well managed, clean and safe. But Lagosians are also human beings who need the constant reminder that mega cities do not drop from heaven. To make Lagos work has to be a partnership between government and the people. But the buck stops at Alausa.
Therefore, the laws that are already in place must be resurrected. The road transport infrastructure should be revived. Presently, LASTMA has gone to sleep and the men who ought to be traffic managers are now bye-standers. They have become clueless and are now worse than the Police in terms of Egunje. The spirit and letters of the law, which forced unruly motorists to learn good habits has taken flight.
At the Abule Egba intersection on the Lagos Abeokuta Expressway, LASTMA officials there have learned to lie in wait for unsuspecting road users. They watch as motorists who have been given the green light from the Sango end struggle to cross over to the Abattoir/Agege end. Since it is a tug of war to get through, the green light that ushered in motorists would have turned red in between, while a number of vehicles remain trapped. LASTMA toll collectors, whose vision has turned from managing traffic to massaging pockets, would pounce on motorists who struggle on their own to break through. You need to experience it to feel it. The bottleneck that causes this trouble is down the road where motorists going towards Fagba often occupy the lane meant for those going straight to Abattoir/Agege, thereby congesting the artery. In addition, there is an illegal bus stop just by the SO filling station at the corner, which compounds the traffic.
These LASTMA men and their traffic warden friends do nothing to clear the route, but prefer to lay siege. It is not all of them anyway, but the point is that, LASTMA needs urgent and serious retooling. This is the typical experience all over Lagos. The traffic managers need a new orientation and their welfare package should be enhanced to make them more dedicated. Today’s LASTMA has lost the old bite and the next government should wake it up. We need a LASTMA that can bite deep.
Another matter that would help to rework Lagos is the spread of infrastructure outside Lagos proper. By that I mean axis that are in the suburbs. There is an old argument that the outgoing government favoured the highbrow areas in the location of infrastructure. That is not my immediate concern. What the next government can do is to spread the Greater Lagos Spirit beyond Surulere, Ikoyi and Ikeja for example. The population of Lagosians coming from border towns near Ogun State has increased far beyond what was contemplated in the 80s and 90s. This is the time to take development to such areas in Alimosho, Ikorodu and Epe. That Abule Egba intersection, for example, is due for a flyover bridge and Lagos can do it.
Elections are over and we must return to the task of making Lagos work. The wonky argument that voters’ sensibilities should be unduly massaged is fraudulent. Street traders are making life hellish for law-abiding and taxpaying Lagosians and that is not the spirit. Traders should be restricted to the markets where they are licensed to operate. Traders who spill over to encroach on roads are a threat to the wellbeing of patriotic citizens. They should be dealt with according to the laws of the state.
To start with, the government of Akinwunmi Akinbode should show courage to deal with the menace of street traders at Ladipo Motor Parts Markets, Mushin, Lagos. This market is an international hub patronized by all Nigerians and some citizens of the ECOWAS sub region. It does not belong to any particular ethnic group and such sentiments as regularly expressed whenever government wants to sanitise the place are a drawback on good governance. The same zeal is required to sanitise the Mile Two axis of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, where petroleum tankers have taken over the road, as well as similar bottleneck.
We also like to see sanity in the management of the resources of the state. The debt burden that will be bequeathed to the next government on May 29 is embarrassingly huge. Reports say about N418. 2bn debt is what the next government will inherit, even though more sources of revenue could be tapped into. That calls for tighter management of the finances of the state, particularly among the political class. The Lagos House of Assembly should rebrand in the spirit of Buhari’s zero tolerance for corruption. Allegations have been peddled and EFCC’s unsteady hands have been unable to pin down slippery politicians in the state. All that must stop because the APC government at the centre has promised heaven on earth and you need resources to deliver at the state level. Lagosians are looking forward to a socially responsible government. We are waiting!