Why Lagos is choking with traffic gridlock

Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu’s recent vow to end the Apapa gridlock within 60 days of his administration and subsequent denial shows the gravity of the traffic situation in Lagos. The Governor must have been overwhelmed by the magnitude of the man-made chaos on the roads that he took the easy way out.

But is that the end of the story? Is Lagos going to be left to sink deeper into bedlam as, virtually, all the road networks have collapsed leaving the residents traumatized. It is most astonishing that not even the presidential order to truck and tanker drivers who parked their vehicles on all access roads and bridges to the Apapa ports and environs to vacate within 72 hours could make a difference.

It is not surprising that the order from the Federal and Lagos State governments made no impact, as similar orders have been issued in the past by the same governments without result. The only thing that could clear the trucks and trailers off Apapa is a strong political will devoid of undue politics. Reason is that there are people and interest groups that are benefiting from the anarchy.

The chaos on Apapa roads has made some people rich such that talking about ending the gridlock is an uphill task. They beneficiaries of the chaos will frustrate any attempt to end it. If government, whether Federal or Lagos State, really wants to end the chaos, then, they must be prepared to step on big toes. Otherwise, there may be no respite, at least for now.

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

It has always been hellish. Over the years, Lagos traffic gridlock has defied all measures the authorities have applied. Rather than getting better, it got worse. The authorities appear helpless 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 place at 1pm. I spent solid six hours for a shuttle that would normally take about 30 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 coming back, 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 daily man-hours lost by Lagos work force to 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. These agencies are overwhelmed and can’t do magic. They 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 plaguing 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 low, and vehicular traffic was minimal, are still the same roads that are in use.

Nothing has been added. No additional flyovers. Worse still, the roads are now dilapidated, thereby making vehicular movement most challenging. For instance, the Ikorodu road, which is a major arterial highway at the centre of Lagos, has been constricted to accommodate BRT lanes. 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 forty years later. What would have been the situation if the 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 flows in all directions! A first-time visitor to Lagos is astounded by 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 ignored. Traffic signs are non-existent. 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 their 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 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 in both directions. But at Jibowu, the lanes tapered to two creating a bottle-neck, 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 jump up 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 and other road users. With that, nothing can remove traffic gridlocks even if motorists were orderly, which is impossible, anyway.

Fourth is large number of rickety vehicles in Lagos. It is no exaggeration to say 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 decrepit 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 getting the vehicles out of the way, would stay there to do repairs. There is no Automobile Association (AA) in Lagos that could be called to tow broken down vehicles on the road.

Fifth, lack of parking lots, particularly, for the heavy-duty vehicles. Lagos is perhaps the only city in the world where trailers, tankers and heavy-duty and articulated vehicles park on the roads and bridges. 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 inner city roads in Lagos. The inner city roads should provide alternative exit routes where necessary. Thereafter, the other issues could be tackled systematically, one after the other. (THE GUARDIAN)