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Why Lagos is choking with traffic gridlock

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A grilling trip I made over the last weekend to the RCCG Redemption Camp in neighbouring Ogun State, once again, exposed what commuters are suffering daily on Lagos roads. What I thought would be a jolly drive turned out to be a nightmare. It was more like hell on earth driving from the head office of The Guardian at Rutam House located at Toyota Bus Stop on the Oshodi-Isolo Expressway.

A journey that would normally take about 30 minutes to the Redemption Camp on the Lagos-Ibadan highway took me a grueling five hours! The experience made me wonder why a problem that has been there since the 1970s has remained unresolved. As a matter of fact, it has even worsened. You then ask what successive governments in the state have done to address this intractable traffic gridlock. Why is it practically the same old roads that have been there for nearly five decades? Why were there no new flyovers to help decongest the roads?

That Lagos, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, is choking with a killer traffic gridlock is no longer news. Residents of the city are groaning. Going from one point to another daily is hellish. The past months of rainy season appeared to have witnessed the worst traffic gridlock ever in the burstling megacity but I can tell you, it was not. Traffic gridlock is what living in Lagos portends. The problem has only worsened. There has been no time in Lagos in the past four decades, at least, that commuting in the metropolis was a pleasure.

It has always been hellish. Lagos traffic gridlock has defied all the measures the authorities have applied over the years. Rather than getting better, it got worse. The authorities are overwhelmed by the intractable traffic situation in Lagos. Daily, travellers and commuters on Lagos highways spend hours on one spot in traffic. Not long ago, I was to deliver a letter at Idowu Taylor in Victoria Island; I left my house in Surulere at 7am, hoping to beat the traffic. But to my chagrin, I got to the office at 1pm to deliver the letter. I spent solid six hours for a shuttle that would normally take about 20 minutes without traffic.

A flight that left Lagos for London at the same time would have arrived before I got to Victoria Island. I lost six hours going and another four hours returning, making 10-manhours. I lost the day’s working hours in traffic. That is how everyone working in Lagos is wasting man-hours daily. When you sum up the man-hours lost by Lagos work force in traffic, it is amazing why productivity is seriously affected. The economy bears the brunt. The whole experience is like madness. The stress is a public health issue that needs to be addressed.

Blaming the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC), or the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), for the chaos is misplaced. The agencies are overwhelmed and can’t do much. The agencies can only be effective under normal traffic situations. But they are working in an abnormal situation, which is not their making. The traffic chaos in Lagos is systemic and can only be handled by addressing all the systemic issues that make for smooth traffic flow. Otherwise, there is no way out. What are the causes of the monster traffic gridlock in Lagos?

First, are bad roads: Despite being the economic powerhouse of Nigeria, the roads in Lagos are few and are among the worst in the world. The same roads and flyovers that were built more than forty years ago, precisely in the 70s, when the population was less than five million and vehicular traffic was low are the same roads that are still in use. Nothing has been added. Worse still, those roads are now dilapidated, thereby making vehicular movement more difficult. For instance, the Ikorodu road, which is a major arterial highway at the centre of Lagos, has been constricted to accommodate BRT Buses. With the exception of the Fashola administration, successive administrations at both the federal and state levels have done very little to address the road network in the city. Endemic traffic crisis in Lagos was one of the major factors that forced the Federal Government to decide in 1976 to relocate the capital to Abuja. This shows that the problem is not new, yet, nothing has been done about it for over forty-five years later. What would have been the situation if the Gen. Gowon administration did not build the few flyovers in Lagos in the 70s?

Second, is lawlessness and undisciplined motorists: Lagos is, perhaps, the most disorderly city in the world where traffic goes in all directions! A first-time visitor to Lagos is astounded with the anarchy and chaos on the roads. Commuter buses, private cars, security vehicles, motorcyclists and tri-cyclists move in all directions and against traffic. There is no order. Traffic rules are flagrantly ignored. Traffic signs are few. Motorists ignore traffic red light. Uniformed personnel including the police, army, Customs, Navy, etc, drive against traffic unperturbed. Law enforcement is weak and corrupt. Driving on Lagos roads is madness. Scores of LASTMA personnel have been manhandled by military officers for attempting to stop military personnel from driving against traffic. It is as bad as that.

Third, is increased vehicular numbers: As I said earlier, Lagos roads were built in the 70s, when the number of vehicles in the city was less. There was no provision for motorcyclists/tricycles or pedestrians. As a Geography student at the University of Lagos in the early 80s, we conducted a project research on vehicular traffic on Ikorodu road starting from Ojota to Jibowu. At the time, there were about one million vehicles in Lagos. We discovered that the road was four lanes on both sides of the highway. But at Jibowu, the lanes formed a bottleneck, thereby, causing a traffic snarl from Jibowu to Yaba.

Today, there are over five million vehicles operating on Lagos roads. When the motorcycles and tri-cycles are added, the number might climb to 10 million. At the same time, the population of road users has quadrupled. The population of Lagos is over 12 million people. That same Ikorodu road has been constricted to two lanes to accommodate the BRT lanes in both directions. Therefore, it is like forcing a camel through the eye of a needle, which is impossible. The road space is small in relation to the large number of vehicles. With that, nothing can remove traffic gridlock even if motorists were orderly, which is impossible.

Fourth, is large number of rickety vehicles in Lagos: It is no exaggeration that about 85 per cent of vehicles operating in Lagos, are not road worthy. Practically, all the trailers, tankers and other heavy-duty articulated vehicles in Lagos are decrepit. The implication is that quite often these vehicles break down on the busy highways and thereby compound the traffic. Tankers and trailers upturn at bad spots. Faulty vehicles stall in traffic and the drivers, instead of pushing them out of the road, would stay there to do repairs. There is no Automobile Association (AA) service in Lagos that could be called to tow broken down vehicles off the road.

Fifth, lack of parking lots, particularly for heavy-duty vehicles: Lagos is perhaps the only city in the world where trailers, tankers and heavy-duty articulated vehicles are parked on the roads. Because, Lagos is largely unplanned, there was no provision made for parking lots for trailers and tankers. The ad-hoc provisions made by the state authorities have not worked. Besides, there are thousands of disused abandoned vehicles on the roads. The way out, to start with, is to repair all the roads in Lagos. The inner city roads should be repaired to provide alternative exit routes where necessary. Thereafter, the other issues could be tackled systematically, one after the other.


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