By Cosmas Omegoh
Lagos wears the toga of a megacity. Most proud residents will admit this, pointing to the city’s growing number of upscale settlements and high-rise buildings and the calibre of persons inhabiting them, as reasons for their belief. They might as well invoke the sentiment that Lagos is home of big- time opportunities – that the city is a busy one, a metropolis always on the go.
Perhaps, one might concur with them given Lagos’ vast population, which some observers believe grows at an exponential proportion. Then consider the great number of automobiles in the city, which is believed to rank nearly same with the population of the residents. Does this then surprise anyone why Lagos roads are ever characterised by strangulating gridlocks, which sometimes keep the residents on the same spot for hours?
As home to a large number of people from various climes and cultures, Lagos is expectedly a hotbed of activities – things that amaze and enthral at the same time. They form a mixed grill; they keep Lagos in season and out of season buzzing with life, thus conferring on it a peculiar character. They keep Lagos ever bubbling, often ensuring that both city and its dwellers hardly sleep.
However, there are a few things and times that keep almighty Lagos sometimes surprisingly quiet. They are times and phenomena that don’t occur often. But they knock the city nearly prostrate; strip it of its characteristic hustle and bustle. They deny it of that verve a lot of people know. One of such Lagos’ ‘nemesis’ is the Yuletide and New Year seasons.
Take for instance, as soon as the just concluded Christmas season drew near, many residents of Lagos began to leave the city in their numbers, heading for their respective towns and villages to celebrate. Given the current poor state of the country’s economy and the attendant agony being expressed by the citizenry, no one imagined that most Lagos residents would leave the city to celebrate Christmas and the New Year the way they did. But trust Lagosians, a large number of them made it out of the city, leaving it nearly empty.
Even after Christmas, Lagos’ real quiet time came on the New Year day. By then, many who celebrated Christmas in the city had left. Many who probably had nowhere to go stayed at home – and to avoid frittering away the little they had.
Traditionally, every New Year, many residents of Lagos travel out of the city to unwind so as to come back to face the grind of the incoming year. In doing so, they leave the city nearly comatose. By that time, nothing about Lagos matters anymore; people’s attention shifts to celebration among their people in the hinterlands.
At such festive seasons like Christmas and New Year, there is hardly anyone that has seen Lagos in full flight days and weeks before that will believe its new status. These are times Lagos wears a quiet, deceptive mien. The roads in most places are deserted. The chronic nerve-wrecking traffic bottlenecks suddenly disappear. A large number of shops and businesses are closed; most parts of the city are quiet. A ride around town reveals the flip side of the city, leaving first-time visitors asking: “Where have most residents of Lagos gone?”
It used to be an exodus whose build up begins shortly after mid-December. About that time last year, the transporters were already primed for the kill. But the traders were still in their respective markets with the buyers, besieging them to make their last-minute purchases ahead of Christmas. Everywhere was rowdy. But most people had their sights at travelling. Then at some point, the number of visitors to the markets began to thin out; attention shifted to the commercial bus parks. Transport fares began to soar steadily. Everyday had its own regime. Fares were no longer stable anywhere, as they began to succumb to the oppressive law of demand and supply. The turnout of intending passengers determined the fares payable. In some instances, passengers on a bus, heading for a particular destination paid different fares all because they arrived at different times.
Even in the face of the current economic crunch, passengers travelling to the South-East and parts of South-South regions paid fares, ranging between N8,000 and N14,000, depending on the vehicles available. Transport fare from Lagos to Ibadan also rose sharply from the N1,200 to N1,700. But despite the sharp increases, the bus stations were filled with people – men, women, children, all eager to travel. Everyone had their hometowns on their minds; Lagos no longer mattered.
“I was really shocked to see the way people travelled out of Lagos this season,” a trader, Akanbi Adeshina, aka June 12, told the reporter. “It was amazing. I thought that because of the current economic situation in the country, most people would stay back and conserve what they had as the New Year beckons, but I was wrong. People simply kept streaming out to enjoy themselves, leaving Lagos, especially areas inhabited by Christians and most people from the South-East and South-South somewhat empty.”
Shortly before he departed Lagos for Christmas, a businessman, Obiekwe Godwin, told the reporter that he couldn’t think of anything that would stop him from travelling home with his family to celebrate the season. “As long as I have barely enough money to buy fuel for my car, we simply have to travel home to celebrate the Yuletide and New Year. It is a tradition we have never broken in years,” he said.
A lawyer, Mr. Pat Anyadubalu, said no matter what the situation was, people had to travel to attend to some pressing family issues and social activities, which the seasons throw up. “Christmas and New Year are times when people travel to see their loved ones and to attend to important socio-cultural events. These are the seasons of fun and holiday, which most people cannot do without. Besides, they provide us with rich opportunities to recreate and gather enough energy to face the coming year.”
On Christmas and New Year days, the reporter ventured out to see the new look of the city. From Ojota through Ojuelegba to Lagos Island, the streets laid forlorn, more because those days were Sundays. The situation was the same on Victoria Island. Most shops and businesses were closed. Very few cars were on the roads. The traffic was unbelievably light. The perennial chaos dominant on the streets of Lagos had vanished. Travel time on various routes had drastically been slashed. The BRT buses were working on the designated roads they operate.
“I live in Ejigbo area of the city,” said Kola Ayeni, a vendor. “When I hit the streets on my way to church on New Year day, the roads were unusually free. It was the same on Christmas day. From my area through the ever-busy Mushin to Yaba road, it didn’t take me up to 15 minutes to get to my destination. It was very much unlike before when I used to spend more than one hour on the road before getting to church.”
Daily Sun learnt that some markets where most traders from the South-East region operate were closed for business. One of them was the popular Odu-Ade market, along Orile-Mile 2 Expressway where everything ceramics are sold. Most shops in the popular Balogun and other markets on Lagos Island were equally closed.
At the Mile 2 axis of the city where traffic used to be simply nightmarish, old things had passed away. “How I wish Lagos would continue to be like this,” a mini bus driver, who identified himself as John told the reporter. “I believe the reason is because many people have travelled out of the city to celebrate both Christmas and New Year.”
The reporter gathered that in the years past, some areas in the city used to celebrate carnivals. But this year, the Lagos State government allegedly banned such wild celebrations for undisclosed reasons.
“Before this year, some quarters on Lagos Island such as Campos, Olowogbowo and Okofaji used to organise and enjoy street carnivals,” recalled Ayeni. “Even in Adekunle, Yaba area where we have our family home, we used to sew uniforms and organise street carnivals. It used to be real fun. But the state government has stopped all that. The organisers have all called off the events so as to avoid trouble.
“Now that some recreation centres like the Lagos Bar Beach are no more, the only option open to the residents is to sit at home. Perhaps, that is part of the reason the streets are empty.”
However, Adeshina said in Agege area of the city where many residents are Muslims, most people, particularly on Christmas day, went about their normal activities. But on New Year day, the situation was different.
“I had to stay back home to celebrate with my family, not minding whether I’m a Muslim or Christian,” he said. “If most people reasoned the way I did, then the city streets were bound to be empty.”