•Experts say stress slowly kills motorists, commuters in Lagos traffic
By Cosmas Omegoh
Lagos, some often say, is a city of many faces. They maintain that it is one place hardly lacking in things that inspire and depress.
For the records, Lagos prides itself as a megacity. Perhaps, no one can fault this. With its many paved roads, long bridges, magnificent, high-rise buildings and many more facilities, the city, indeed, has what it takes to wear a megacity toga.
However, Lagos has its flip side. On this alternate side are people, things and phenomena that easily turn the city on its head. There are many of them on the list, one being the nerve-wrecking, trauma-filled traffic chaos, which often keeps the minds and bodies of the city’s residents ringing with enormous pain.
Just recently, a Chinese journalist, Zhang, who came to town from Abuja, noticed this ugly side of Lagos. In an encounter with Daily Sun, he expressed his displeasure with the gruelling gridlock, which the city had long been known for.
“I love Lagos; it is very clean. Its environment has improved greatly lately. With its many, good lawns and pave streets, the city has become more beautiful. However, I don’t like this traffic congestion which the residents have to deal with all day. That is terrible. Sometimes, one is pinned at the same spot for tens of minutes. This can harm business. I wish things would improve someday.”
Indeed, this known traffic situation in Lagos has the capacity of affecting the health of residents, a medical expert has said. Dr. Douglas Nkemdilim said being trapped in the city’s traffic might lead to heart failure. He added that all those who regularly experience swelling of their feet or find it difficult to wear their shoes after staying in the traffic for long or have this feeling of numbness in their feet after being trapped in the traffic for long should watch it.
Looking back, what everyone now sees as traffic menace in Lagos did not start just yesterday. The problem dates back to decades past. It refuses to go away despite concerted efforts to eliminate it. This problem, many believe, is being fuelled by rising population figures. For instance, more than 15 million people are believed to be residing in the city. With many Nigerians and non-Nigerians streaming into Lagos daily, and with the birth rate on the steady rise, the population of the city has maintained a steady climb. Because of this, more and more people have cause to be on the city’s roads all day. But the congestion phenomenon worsens during the peak hours.
It would be recalled that in a bid to check this age-long traffic situation, the Lagos State government at some point in 1976 introduced a traffic control law, which allowed cars with odd and even number plates to drive into Lagos Island on particular days. But that did not solve the problem. Soon after, residents began to acquire alternative cars with even or odd number plates. Expectedly, just before the turn of the 80s, the laws collapsed.
Against this backdrop, over the decades, many living in Lagos have had to deal with terrible traffic situations whose causes are varied. Bad roads, flooding, poor road culture, regular breakdown of vehicles, hawking on the roads are some of the causative factors actively contributing to the city’s traffic menace.
However, determined to stamp out this lingering situation, the Lagos State government in 2000, courageously set the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), an agency to tackle the challenge. It was charged with the responsibility of transforming the state transport system to ensure free flow of traffic and also to reduce road accidents.
More than one and half decades of LASTMA’s creation, the agency has determinedly complimented the efforts of the Nigeria Police in ensuring sanity on the roads. But then, many have adjudged some of its activities as controversial.
Therefore, since the existence of LASTMA, many residents of Lagos will not say affirmatively that the traffic situation has improved. Not when a good chunk of the causative factors of the choking traffic worries are still firmly in place. And now, as the rains prepare to set in with its attendant perennial flooding which washes away the roads, an ordeal seems to be awaiting many who commute on the city roads daily.
This fear was expressed by a Lagos resident, who has been working on Victoria Island since 1998. The lady, who simply identified herself as Kate, lives in Surulere on the Mainland but works with a medium-scale, company on Victoria Island. She leaves home very early in the morning in order to beat the traffic.
She said ordinarily, the journey from home to her office ought not to last more than 35 minutes. But it takes more than two hours because of the crushing traffic situation on the roads.
“In the past 15 years that I have been working on Victoria Island, I had always left home a little before or after 6 am,” she recalled. “Sometimes I get to the office a little before 8am and sometimes a little past the hour.
“But whenever there is a serious traffic hold up on the way, it affects me. The trouble spots are usually on the Eko Bridge, the CMS Bus stop and somewhere at the Army Officers’ Mess.
“To tell you the truth, if commuting to work is problematic, then the return journey is the real ordeal. We usually close at 5 pm. I’m sure most other companies too close at that hour. At that point, very many people are heading out of the Island. That is the rush hour. Very many vehicles are on the road at that hour, thus making the roads terribly congested.
“The first challenge at that time is to get out of Victoria Island. Having successfully made it out of the first island, we then pray that there is no traffic issue at Apongbon. When we go pass that spot, we also pray that there is no breakdown of any vehicles anywhere on the former Western Avenue. If ever there is, it normally grossly inhibits traffic flow.
“Can you believe that no matter how hard I try, I never get home earlier than 8 pm each day? That has been the situation in the past one and half decades I have been at this job?
“On a very bad day, I arrive home at 10 pm. I spend more than two hours trying to get a ride home and nearly four hours trapped in the traffic. You are crammed in a rickety bus with four or more people squeezed together, with hot sweat, cascading down your face, running all the way down to your inner wears. Sometimes, you are wet deep inside. In that situation, imagine the terrible odour that emanates from some of the passengers, sitting next to you. At times, some of them who are already beginning to sleep keep falling on you. That is most irritating.”
Ade Taiwo, who also has been working on Victoria Island in the past seven years, described his traffic experience as horrible.
“I live in Mile 12 area of the city,” he began. “But I work on Victoria Island. In order to get to work early, I often struggle to leave home at 6 am.
“I just have to do that because you never can tell what will happen next on Lagos roads. Oftentimes, getting to work is easy, especially after the introduction of the BRT bus system. Even when I get to Obalende, having to connect Victoria Island often does not come easy.
“Where I have the biggest challenge is on my return journey. First, one has to beat the numerous traffic challenges in Ikoyi, depending on the road the driver chooses to ply. But there is no escaping the crushing traffic situation at Oworonshoki where a lot of buses and private vehicles drop off their passengers. Sometimes, the gridlock extends up to Obalende with vehicles on all the three lanes on the Third Mainland Bridge, going at a snail speed. Sometimes, I spend up to one or more hours on a journey that should take not more than 10 minutes. By the time I have gone past the problematic point, I still have to surmount the holdup that features somewhere between Ojota and Ketu, and between Ketu and Mile 12. This traffic challenge is one the Lagos State government needs to squarely deal with. How I wish it could.”
Now, the problem with not just being in traffic but also sitting down at the same position for long, according to Dr. Nkemdilim, is that it can inhibit regular flow of blood and oxygen to the nerves in the legs. If this happens often, the heart is unduly tasked to pump blood and ensure regular supply of blood to all parts of the body. And the first sign that the affected part of the body is being starved of blood and oxygen is that the individual begins to experience numbness in the feet. And where the heart is prone to challenges, the untoward may happen.
“Sitting at the same position mostly in the office or in traffic for long prevents regular flow of blood to the legs and vice versa,” the Chief Medical Officer, Ekwulobia General Hospital, Anambra State, said. “This causes what we call pulling. Regular movement of the legs and other parts of the body ensures that blood is freely circulated.
“If one sits particularly in a bus or a car for too long, the heart finds it difficult to circulate blood adequately. This is a medical challenge that puts the heart in a difficult situation. If the individual is up to 40 years, this situation might cause the heart to be unduly tasked. That means that the heart on each occasion has to struggle to pull up blood from the legs and to pump blood back to the legs too.
“If you are travelling from Lagos to Onitsha or Abuja for instance, the first sign that you are experiencing or have experienced pulling is that your feet are a bit swollen. You find it difficult to wear your shoes if you put then off in the first place.
“It is like you have two pumping machines – one supplying water to a bungalow and the other a two-storey building. The later is more likely going to fail easily before the former.
“If you are somebody who has been experiencing this over time, it is a clear indication that your heart has been subjected to extra hard work. It means that the heart is being weakened gradually. Where the heart is weakened over time, it can fail any day.”
He noted that apart from blood and water being pulled up, other elements like calcium and potassium are left in the leg. “This causes the muscles to suffer and makes the individual to feel numbness. It means that the blood right there is deprived of oxygen.”
To many Lagos residents who are probably silently dying in traffic without knowing it, Dr Nkemdilim counsels: “While you are still there trapped in traffic, try to exercise your hands and legs as much as you can. And if you have the space in the vehicle to do so; just stretch your legs and arms if you can.
“The moment you get home, simply lie on the bed for close to 30 minutes to help the heart adequately pump blood to all parts of the body. This helps the blood in the legs to get enough oxygen. It also frees the heart from the multi task it had been previously engaged in. You don’t need medication to get over this.”