•Insecurity, hooliganism responsible
By Fred Ezeh
Until 2012, there were few pedestrian bridges within the Abuja metropolis and some major satellite towns. But as the population of the city grew, many residents, apparently worried by the loss of lives of hapless residents as they crossed the wide, busy roads, intensified calls for more pedestrian bridges to be constructed at strategic places to aid pedestirian movement.
In response to the call, the former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Sen. Bala Mohammed, approached the World Bank for financial assistance to construct pedestrian bridges in Abuja.
Some of the approved locations within the city centre were Area 1, by Old Federal Secretariat junction, Finance junction in Wuye district and Nnamdi Azikiwe Expressway, by Banex junction.
Others were built at NICON junction in Maitama district, VIO junction in Mabushi and Ladi Kwali Way by Sheraton Hotel, among others, along Kubwa and airport expressways.
Majority of them are now open for public use but the bridges have been abandoned to dust, grass and hoodlums that have turned some of them to safe havens for their criminal planning and execution.
A motorists, Mr. Livingstone Ndubuisi, said, “It is inexplicable why commuters would choose to risk death crossing the 10-lane expressway, where drivers test the life of their car engines, instead of comfortably using the bridges to peacefully cross the road.”
Some other motorists have also suggested that security officials be deployed at the various pedestrian bridges for enforcement, as is the case in Mogadishu Cantonment, Asokoro.
Former Minister of Works, Mr. Mike Onolememem, at the foundation-laying ceremony of the projects in 2012, regretted the continued loss of lives of pedestrians while crossing busy roads in Abuja, hence the need for the pedestrian bridges across strategic motorways within and outside the FCT, which he believed would reduce road fatalities by 50 per cent; but, unfortunately, otherwise has been the case.
Abuja Metro observed that despite the growing number of deaths as a result of not using pedestrian bridges, residents still prefer taking the risk to cross the roads, instead of utilising the pedestrian bridges.
Some of the pedestrians might, perhaps, present plausible reasons for such a practise. It might be a fallout of the difficulties in getting to the bridge, distance to bus stops, physical strength or other peculiar reasons.
But the key reason, as discovered by our reporter, was the issue of security of pedestrians whenever they use the bridges, particularly during the early hours when workers are rushing to their various workplaces and the evening hours when they are returning from work.
During these hours, when visibility is drastically reduced, virtually all the roads in Abuja, some of which are a three and five-lane expressways, are extremely busy, with motorists pressing down their accelerator like drivers in a Formula One competition.
Some of the drivers throw caution to the winds each time they are on the road, not considering pedestrians who also have the right to use the roads.
Hoodlums, some of whom are armed with dangerous weapons, take advantage of the situation and carefully position themselves at the top of the bridges under the cover of darkness to dispossess innocent people of their belongings. Their targets are mostly women that might not have the physical strength to resist or challenge them. Some of the bridges where these sociopaths operate freely are:
University of Abuja pedestrian bridge
Until recently, the activities of hoodlums, particularly at the top of the pedestrian bridge in front of the university main gate in Abuja raised a lot of concerns. Several students, particularly ladies, have fallen victim to the goons.
A few months ago, Miss Simi Boyi, a 200 level student of History and Diplomatic Studies in the University of Abuja, lost her life to a speeding vehicle that knocked her down while she was trying to escape from the hoodlums that had accosted her shortly after alighting from a commercial vehicle enroute Abuja city centre.
Her death sparked outrage and angered other students. In registering their anger and dissatisfaction over the lukewarm attitude of the management of university towards the security of students, they blocked the Abuja International Airport highway, bringing activities there to a halt.
Led by the president of the Students’ Union Government, Comrade Abdullazeez Ajiboye, the students requested that speed breakers be put in place, as well as streetlights and a police post at the bridge to counter the activities of hoodlums.
He said, “We have complained severally on criminal activities of hoodlums that have been terrorising the university community at dark hours. The hoodlums specialise in dispossessing the students, mostly females, of their personal belongings.
“Under the cover of darkness, they would strike students who might be returning from lectures or other social activities at night, to dispossess them of their belongings or possibly rape them.”
Wuye pedestrian bridge
It is unimaginable that despite daily fatalities on the Nnamdi Azikiwe expressway, which stretches from Julius Berger roundabout to Garki, all through Asokoro district, pedestrians, particularly traders in Wuye market and those resident in Wuye, still prefer crossing the road, even when a pedestrian bridge is there to aid their crossing.
A pedestrian, Mr. Paul Abba, expressed his displeasure over the poor discipline of some Nigerians. He suggested that government should introduce punitive measures against defaulters, otherwise people would continue to disregard the use of the bridges.
In his view, some pedestrians have complained that the bridge was positioned a bit far from the bus stop, where it would have been easier for them to use each time they alighted from public transportation.
Even the barricades erected by government have not stopped adamant residents from crossing the road, instead of using pedestrian bridges.
Insecurity and unpalatable experiences of those who have fallen victim could also be at the centre of why residents often disregard the pedestrian bridges.
NICON and Banex Junction pedestrian bridges
Several lives have been lost at these junctions due to the unwillingness of residents to use the pedestrian bridges there. They have equally brought down the barricades erected to prevent them from crossing the road.
During rush hour on week days (morning and evening) residents from Kubwa, Gishiri, Mpape and neighbouring Maitama district use the route and some of them, out of haste, cross the busy road carelessly.
While the lucky ones cross successfully, many others get knocked down by oncoming vehicles as a result of either miscalculations or the carelessness of the drivers. The non-usage of the footbridges at the junctions has paved the way for beggars, smokers and other criminal elements to take up position at the bridges.
A pedestrian, Mrs. Kate Ogih, complained over the rate of death and permanent injuries inflicted on individuals at these various junctions every day, especially during rush hour, when residents of the nearby villages are trying to cross the road to look after their routine business.
Ogih, who claimed that some of the pedestrians are sometimes absent-minded, queried why someone would be crossing such a busy highway like Banex and NICON junctions and be absent-minded. “Some even ping with their phone while on the road. That is the height of carelessness,” she said.
She equally blamed some “careless” drivers that never care to slow down while approaching such busy junctions: “The former FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, heard our cry and constructed this pedestrian bridge but people have refused to use it, rather they prefer to risk their lives crossing the road.
“Prior to that, innocent lives were being lost daily, including school children, pregnant women and the aged, even the physically-challenged were also affected.
“The most important thing now is for government to provide security at the bridge and intensify enforcement as it is being done in Mogadishu Cantonment (Abacha barracks). This they can do by positioning security agents at the foot of the bridge to ensure strict compliance by pedestrians.”
Area 1, Old Federal Secretariat pedestrian bridge
The case here is not different from what was observed in other places. The pedestrian bridge is the worst hit by “lack of patronage.”
Like others, activities of hoodlums was the major factor that discouraged people from using the pedestrian bridge.
In a chat with Daily Sun, Mr. George Akpan, an Abuja resident, relived how he was robbed twice on the pedestrian bridge at that particular spot in the night.
“On that fateful evening, I rushed to Area 3 junction to board a bus to Nyanya, after the close of work. Due to the high volume of cars that plied the expressway that evening, I decided to use the pedestrian bridge. As I climbed the isolated bridge at that dark hour, I saw some young men at the top of the bridge. They quietly beckoned on me, asking me to come and cooperate with them for my own good.
“When I got there, they quietly cornered me to one side and dispossessed me of my bag, which contained two smart phones worth N180,000. They also took N40,000 cash that was with me, my debit cards, identity card and my international passport. It was like a film to me, until a few minutes later when it dawned on me that the whole incident was real,” he said.
As a result of these past experiences, he has vowed never to use the pedestrian bridge again neither would he allow anyone he knows to use the bridge.
Sheraton/Yar’Adua Center pedestrian bridge
The experiences here are similar to what was reported at other pedestrian bridges, only that no barricade was erected at the Sheraton footbridge. It is isolated and has minimal human traffic at night hours, which has made the bridge a safe haven for criminals to plan and execute “jobs.”
The quiet serenity of the location is also to the advantage of the hoodlums. Because of the presence of security officials at the nearby Sheraton Hotel and the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, the hoodlums look like decent, responsible people to deceive the security agents and their targets before they strike.
A victim who simply identified herself as Betty narrated her experience in the hands of the hoodlums at that spot: “I ran into them one evening on my way from the Yar’Adua Centre. I tried to be a good Nigerian by using the pedestrian bridge to cross to other side heading to Wuse Zone 4 bus stop to board a vehicle. But at gunpoint, some young men in their early 30s accosted me. They disguised themselves like other good Nigerians, only to dispossess me of my belongings, including my laptop, iPad, smartphones and the other important documents. Not even transport fare was left for me.”
In response to the menace of hoodlums at footbridges, a cross-section of FCT residents have insisted that the solution lies in siting security posts at the bridges and mobile courts to punish any defaulter.
Mogadishu and Lungi barracks pedestrian bridges
These are the only pedestrian bridges in Abuja that enjoy 100 per cent usage from pedestrians, even when no one is there to enforce the law. They are located in military barracks, where discipline is the watchword.
The barricade erected within the Mogadishu Cantonment is still intact. No part of it has been tampered with by pedestrians (military or civilian), unlike around other pedestrian bridges where indiscipline and frustration has made people to pull down the barricades and force their way through it, instead of using the pedestrian bridges.
Incidents of harassment, theft or hooliganism are very rare due to the presence of the military officers. This has encouraged residents to regularly use the pedestrian bridge irrespective of the time of the day.
Meanwhile, a shop owner in the mammy market in the barracks, Mrs. Abike Oladeji, told Abuja Metro that it was impossible for someone irrespective of the status to violate the order on the usage of the pedestrian bridge.
“You can see that both uniformed men and civilians use the pedestrian bridge. You don’t need anyone to tell you about it because you see it for yourself. Military Police are watching and waiting to punish whoever might violate the standing order, knowingly or unknowingly,” she said.
Akpan Thelma, who was once punished by some soldiers for violating the rule at the Mogadishu Cantonment, said, “I was in hurry and wanted to quickly dash to the other side of the road, not knowing that it was a big offence. The soldiers caught me. I tried to explain to them but they refused to entertain excuses from me and insisted that I face punishment. What I passed through that day was better imagined than experienced. In fact, I learnt my lesson in a hard way.”