By FRED ITUA and FRED EZEH
When former Head of State, General Murtala Mohammed, conceived Abuja as the nation’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT) over 40 years ago, it was envisaged that it will be a sharp departure from the hitherto chaotic Lagos. To some extent, Mohammed’s dream has been partly fulfilled. Abuja has indeed become a reference point on how modern cities should be developed.
Beside the obvious fact that Abuja is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, it is also the only planned city in Nigeria. Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai, who served as Minister of FCT between 2003 and 2007, changed the face of the city and made it a centre of envy. World-class road networks were constructed. The aesthetics and architectural designs were second to known. How some argue that these features started wearing off in the last five years.
Situation at the moment
So far nothing seems to have changed. The situation is arguably getting worse. Critics of the FCT Minister, Muhammad Bello, claim that he has not shown any sign that he would remedy the ugly trend.
Critics who claim to have keenly followed the development in the territory since the appointment of the minister almost 10 months ago, contend he is a wrong square in a right hole. They insist that the city has gone to bed, with no proof that there is any government presence.
Sure those who criticize may be doing so for political reason. However, there are few developments in the city that tend to give credence to their submissions.
For instance, the regular, or rather, permanent presence of herdsmen in the city centre since the appointment of Bello is no longer news. What still puzzles many observers and residents is the foot-dragging posture of the FCT Administration.
Traffic and streetlights
The inability of the FCT administration to fix some faulty traffic and streetlights in Abuja has made the hitherto hitch-free driving experience of motorists to vanish, resulting sometimes, in road crashes at the major junctions within and outside the Abuja city centre. Sometimes, the entire streets and roads go dark at night, thus giving room to some criminal elements to operate.
Motorists who are most hit by this development, differ on the real cause of the accidents. To be fair to the minister, the disappearance of streetlights and the malfunctioning of traffic lights didn’t start from his administration. They were some of the ugly pictures that marked the last administration.
In fact, in an attempt to defend the disheartening situation, the former FCT of Transport Secretary, Jonathan Ivoke, once said that only a little percentage of accident in FCT roads can be attributed to malfunctioning of traffic lights:
“Nigerian road users have bad attitude to roads. The good road network in Abuja, which ought to be a blessing has become otherwise. Some motorists drive at a high speed, throwing caution to the wind. When accident occurs, they crash land on either the traffic or street lights that was provided by the government with tax payers money.”
Many motorists criticized the immediate-past FCT Administration for citing traffic lights at wrong locations. But aside that, it was observed that some of the traffic lights give conflicting signals, thereby causing confusion for drivers and the result, predictably is head-on collision.
A taxi driver, Mr. Kayode Oluwaseun, in Garki Area 11 area of the metropolis, said the malfunctioning state of the traffic and streetlights, especially at night hours have been the major cause of accidents in the city centre:
“If you are opportune to come out very early in the morning, you will be amazed at the kind of fatal accidents that happens at virtually all the junctions on Ahmadu Bello Way and Shehu Shagari Expressway because of the confusing state of the lights. The light is so confusing that, sometimes, it passes two different lanes at the same time, and the predictable result is head-on collision.
“I have been wrongly penalized twice by traffic policemen. They double-crossed me and said that I beat traffic light, when I knew that I didn’t do that, but because of the malfunctioning state of the traffic light. It is true that these traffic and streetlights are powered by public power supply, which is not regular. But the knowledge of this should make traffic policemen to extend their working hours, in the event the power failure, they can resort to the manual option.”
Another motorist, Mr. Nnaemeka Ugwu, put the blame squarely on the Minister of FCT: “We have neither heard nor seen realistic plans by the minister on how he intends to sustain the achievements of his predecessors. All we kept reading on newspapers is blame game and courtesy calls. He has not even appointed mandate secretaries who are suppose to help him pilot the affairs of the administration.
“Abuja is a world class city that needs proper management. FCT administration that is solely responsible for the management of the city should ensure all-round-the-clock facilities monitoring, liasing with the FCT Call Center to get prompt and right information regarding the new developments across the city.”
An official of FCT Transportation Secretariat who pleaded not to be mentioned, said 90 per cent of traffic lights in Abuja use bulbs and they are powered using the public power supply, except for the few one that were recently installed at the last days of Bala Mohammed as the Minister of FCT, that use solar energy:
“With the development in technology, we have no option than to upgrade the traffic and street lights to solar powered so that the issue of power outage won’t affect it anymore. But the reckless driving attitude of some motorists should be put to check by concerned authorities.”
He explained that the FCT Department of Monitoring and Evalution apparently charged with the responsibility of monitoring public infrastructure in Abuja, is lacking in capacity and manpower.
Several roads in Abuja, particularly in the satellite towns have failed completely and have turned to death traps for motorists. Some of these ditches are conspicuous in Abuja and have caused damages to cars plying the roads and in some cases, untimely deaths. Officials of FCT Administration appear not to be interested in fixing the roads, while some complained of lack of funds to execute any such projects.
Driving from one part of Abuja to another, motorists are compelled to drive with utmost care in order to maneuver their ways against the daily increasing and expanding ditches. A visitor, Mrs. Grace Effiong, expressed disappointment over the level of decadence and depth of incompetence of the FCT Administration in the management of the city:
“I am highly disappointed with what I have seen in the past few weeks that I have spent in Abuja, unlike what I saw in the past few years that I visited. It is indeed a clear sign of bad city management. Heaps of refuse with offensive odour, over grown grasses, dilapidated infrastructure, dark night, insecurity, hooliganism, destitute littered everywhere, hawkers and the high accident on the roads as a result of obvious malfunction traffic lights.”
She challenged the FCT Administration to “wake up” from their “official slumber” to the task of managing the city which is the pride of Nigeria: “Attention of the world has shifted to Nigeria, and it is proper that the management of the city sit up to the responsibility.”
The purpose of constructing pedestrian bridges appears to have been defeated. People have defied police and FCT Administration’s warnings to desist from crossing the roads, while speeding vehicles try to avoid them. Some of the bridges have been turned to open markets, while others have been converted into sporting centres where people gather to gym every morning to exercise.
The fences that were built to prevent people from crossing the roads have not solved the problem, as people have pulled them down to cross the roads. Sadly, many lives have been lost to speeding vehicles along these busy roads.
Some of the busy roads are Ahmadu Bello Way, Shehu Shagari and Yakubu Gowon ways. These roads go somehow the metropolis, linking different districts and major crescents, including the Central Business District (CBD), where major government offices and banks are located.
Others are AYA-Kubwa-Suleja, Lugbe-Airport and Abuja-Nyanya-Keffi expressways. These roads are the major entry points into Abuja. Some motorists use these roads with one thing in their minds, which is to test the speed capacity of their cars. Serving as a bypass, some motorists prefer to use these expressways because it would save them from the stress of traffic challenges that are visible in the city centres.
However, a cross section of residents that interacted with Daily Sun gave reasons they chose not to use the pedestrian bridges.
Some claimed that hooligans have chosen the lonely bridges, like the ones in Area 3 Junction, Wuye Junction, Yar’adua Centre and a host of others as locations to plan and carryout their evil acts.
Mr. Kingsley Onyedika vowed not to use the bridge again: “I got an urgent call the previous night from a regular customer, requesting that I come out as early as possible to meet him at Garki Area 3 Junction and so I did. It was still dark then and the roads were busy as people were speeding to get to their places of work. I decided to use the pedestrian bridge. As I climbed up, I met some guys on top of the bridge. Immediately they saw me, they beckoned on me to come, they requested that I cooperate with them which I did. They quietly dispossessed me of all my belongings. It was a horrible experience.
“My case is one among several others as later heard when I began to share my story with people. I was meant to understand that people are robbed on these bridges especially at early morning and late in evening, with little or no intervention from the police, even when they are contacted.”
Though he commended the government for the concept of the bridges, however, he suggested that security officials should be positioned at the bridges regularly to guarantee the safety and encourage pedestrians to use them.
Only at the Mogadishu Barracks, Asokoro, that people are compelled to use pedestrian bridges or be punished, irrespective of their status.
A trader at the foot of a pedestrian bridge at Nicon Junction, said women have complained about inconveniences of using the bridge particularly, as it has to do with strength and stamina to climb the staircase. Some also complained of phobia.
A pedestrian, Mr Akachi Ibeh. while expressing displeasure over the low disciplinary attitudes of some Nigerians, insisted that unless government introduced a punitive measure against defaulters, as it is being done in Mogadishu Barracks, people will continue to ignore the use of these bridges:
“Imagine a situation where the bridges were built meters away from where it ought to be. The bridges would have been built at the bus stops so that people can easily use them whenever they alight from bus, this would have eased the difficulty of trekking far to use the bridge.”
However, a civil engineer, Mr. Kolawale Adedayo, said, “the profession (engineering) does not allow pedestrian bridges to be built at bus stops but few meters away from the bus stops.”
Another pedestrian, Mrs. Kate Ogih, complained bitterly at the rate of death and sometimes permanent injuries sustained by individuals at these various junctions everyday, especially during rush hours, (morning and evening) when commuters are trying to cross the road to go for their daily business. She said that some of the pedestrians are sometimes absent minded because of so many thoughts going one on their brain per time:
“What is the best way to describe a situation where someone will be crossing a busy road and be pinging with his or her phone? That is the height of carelessness.”