- A journalist rides round Africa’s mega city By TOPE ADEBOBOYE
THE driver fetched a small bottle of some alcoholic drink from his pocket, opened it and took two quick, short shots. His face contorted in a grimace as he nodded his head three or four times. Then, he let out a contented sigh.
“Yes, this is how it is supposed to be,” he told himself. He looked at the reporter and added in Yoruba: “Egbon, oju lasan o se se were. E saa mo.” It translates, “Big brother, you don’t practise lunacy wearing a normal face.” He then threw his head back and guzzled down the remaining contents before tossing the bottle out of the window.
He was sitting behind the wheel of a yellow mini-bus, popularly known as danfo, at Dopemu Under-Bridge, along the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway in Lagos. As he spoke, his conductor busied himself yelling Oshodi, Oshodi, as passengers rushed to fill the 14-seater mini-bus. Sitting on the passenger seat in front, the reporter was silent as the driver continued.
“Egbon, if you don’t get yourself ready, those boys at Oshodi will mess you up. I’m telling you. That’s why I’ve told my conductor to always direct them to me. I understand their language. Now that I’m charged up, nothing. I’m telling you.”
Asked whether he was aware that driving under the influence of liquor was a major crime in Lagos, he laughed. Employing a blend of Yoruba and Pidgin, he intoned: “Egbon, forget that. “Which law? Doesn’t the government know that we drink? Where did I buy this Koboko that I’ve just finished? No be inside the garage? No be government give them permit? Abi dem no dey collect money from traders? Bros, forget that. I’m telling you.”
“You know we drivers, na from morning till night we dey work. And na siddon we dey always sddon. If you no dey take this thing everyday, na jedijedi (haemorrhoid) go finish your life.
“Apart from that sef, na Monday be dis, and if you no shine your eyes well, well, those boys go mess you up. Even passengers sef go dey ride you, I’m telling you.”
Thankfully, there was no incident till the reporter alighted at Bolade, near Oshodi.
“On Monday mornings, Lagos brooks no nonsense.” That, in Yoruba, is what Fela Anikulapo-Kuti affirms in his popular, 1975 song: Monday morning in Lagos. But in truth, it’s not just on Monday mornings that Lagos streets are intolerant of nonsense. If the roads and streets scattered all over the city could talk, they’d tell you that every minute of everyday in the year, lethargy is a habit that the economic hub of West Africa pointedly loathes. Wherever you go in the city, patience isn’t a virtue you would accuse Lagos and its inhabitants of possessing in copious quantities; not even in Surulere, a popular suburb of Lagos that actually means, ‘patience is rewarding.’
But, in truth, Lagos wakes up with an amazing alacrity on Monday morning. A few hours after midnight, at a time when millions of people in saner climes are still cuddled up in bed, savouring the early morning slumber, Lagos roads are already alive. Between 4.30 and 5.00 on Monday morning, many highways in Lagos are already crowded with assorted vehicles, crawling frustratingly to various destinations. On the Lagos Road, Ikorodu, Ikorodu Road, Funsho Williams Avenue, Agege Motor Road, Lagos-Abeoukuta Expressway, Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Lagos- Badagry Expressway, Ibrahim Babangida Boulevard, commonly called Third Mainland Bridge, Lagos roads get quite busy. It is expected. It’s Monday morning and Lagosians are already setting out in search of their daily bread.
The morning hours are particularly gruelling on the weekday. Apart from Lagos residents, millions of other people that work in Lagos but live outside the state also clog the roads, moving in from places like Sango, Ifo, Otta, Agbara, Atan, Mowe, Ibafo and Shagamu.
This particular Monday in March, the roads are busy as usual. At Ikorodu Garage, vehicles from the suburbs – Ijede-Elepe axis, Odogunyan-Ogijo axis, Imota-Adamo-Lucky Fibre axis – are piling up for onward journey to their destinations in other parts of Lagos.
The Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) Terminal in Ikorodu is already full to capacity. And many more commuters, desirous of boarding the air-conditioned blue BRT buses are streaming in from all directions. The red LAGBUS buses are also on the road, the voices of their ‘ticketers’ – the appellations of their conductors – mingling in a chaotic mix with those of the conductors of the regular yellow danfo buses and the long, Tata buses as each bus commenced a day-long struggle for passengers.
Getting out of Ikorodu early on a typical Monday morning can be a very exasperating experience. The gridlock sometimes starts from Ketu and backlogs all the way to Asolo Bus Stop, about 15 kilometres stretch. The yellow buses, mostly danfo, usually congregate in Ketu, busy picking up and discharging passengers on the expressway directly opposite the Ketu Police Station. To beat the traffic, many residents of Ikorodu area who work outside the community leave their homes between three and four in the morning.
These days, the daily gridlock is gradually subsiding. A barrier being constructed by the Lagos State government from Mile 12 all the way to Odo Iya Alaro in Ojota has ensured that delinquent danfo drivers are restricted to the service lanes. That has created a better movement for vehicles on the express lanes.
Even as you sit in the gruelling traffic, one thing that you wouldn’t lack is some kind of entertainment. Close to the road at Irawo Bus Stop, Ajegunle, is a music store where the only CDs for sale are those of Fuji star Wasiu Alabi Pasuma. Each morning, Pasuma’s songs ring out through the loudspeakers mounted by the shop, disturbing the peace of the atmosphere. But even if you don’t value the songs, you cannot but be entertained by the man running the studio. Every single day, between the hours of 9am and 12pm, he stands by the expressway in front of his shop, dancing the morning away.
Lagos gridlocks become absolutely intractable whenever the heavens open their dams, unleashing torrents of water on the earth. Miniature rivers swiftly materialise on the roads, and traffic grinds to a mere crawl or a total halt. Whether in Ajah or Ajao Estate, in Ikeja or in Ipaja, be it from Ikotun to Ikosi, from Abule Egba to Abule Ado and the communities on the island, hardly would you find any part of Lagos that is immune to traffic.
Bad roads in strategic places
Like in many parts of the country, Lagos has its fair share of bad roads. But what has continued to shock many residents and those that come for business in the state is that some of the failed and forsaken Lagos highways are the most critical to the nation’s economy. Most of such abandoned roads are federal government-owned, but neither the Federal Ministry of Works nor the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) have shown much commitment to fixing the roads.
A first-time visitor to the country would definitely be appalled at the state of the International Airport Road, the visitor’s very first encounter with the country after the airport. You would be more scandalised by the state of the road leading to and from the nation’s major ports–Tin Can Island and Apapa Ports. Between Cele Bus Stop and Isolo Bus Stop on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway is a totally collapsed stretch that has punished Lagos dwellers for ages. Dillion Street, Kirikiri is the major artery to the Kirikiri Prisons, the Navy Town and Kirikiri Industrial Estate. In the last 15 years, the road has become a death trap. Container-laden articulated vehicles regularly fall on the road, causing death, disability and distress. It was gathered that the state government and the federal authorities have always bickered over the true ownership of the road and the government that should handle the repairs.
Just last month, the reporter learnt that Dillion Street road has been approved for reconstruction by the state authorities.
Hope rises on some roads
But these days, some roads are in far better states than they were in the recent past. The brand new Ikorodu-Mile 12 road was recently commissioned by Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. The road, which was started by former Governor Babatunde Fashola, stretches from Ikorodu Garage to Mile 12 just before the flyover. Driving has since become evidently better on the road.
But motorists still have a few complaints on the road. “This is not what Fashola promised us,” Mathew Anjorin told the reporter inside an Oshodi-bound red BRT bus. He lives in Ikorodu but has a furniture showroom at Onigbongbo, Maryland.
“I remember vividly when that project was to start, Fashola told us that he was going to do a ten-lane road from Mile 12 to Ikorodu. There was a big billboard announcing that by the bridge at Owode- Elede. There was to be a service lane on either side of the road. Houses were demolished on both sides of the road, and we thought we would be having one hell of a highway. But we later saw that we had been deceived. All we got was a BRT lane and two very narrow lanes for other vehicles on each side of the road. The rest of the space was used for flowers. That is why there is still traffic on the road whenever there is some obstruction. The lanes are just too narrow.”
The state government says the Akinwunmi Ambode administration has rehabilitated at least 300 roads across the state. The government is also constructing 114 new roads, with each of the 57 local governments and local council development areas getting two.
City that never sleeps
The apparently uncontainable traffic crisis in the metropolis has turned many a Lagosian into nocturnal beings. Many that own cars would wait till late in the evening before driving home, even as they rise very early to hit the road again.
Those without cars and who can’t stand the traffic also stay till late. In many parts of Lagos, the city is always alive. Whether in the daytime or at night, places like Oshodi, Ojuelegba, Mile 2, Obalende, Idumota, Surulere, Ketu, Ikeja and many others neither sleep nor slumber. They are always as awake as an owl. At Oshodi or Ojuelegba, you will definitely get a vehicle to your destination even if it’s 2.am. You might not find the ubiquitous danfo buses any longer, but taxicabs or kabukabu are always available.
If you develop a sudden urge for food at 2.am in parts of Ikeja, Mushin or Idumota, it wouldn’t be a problem. All you need do is take a stroll out, and you’ll find many food sellers offering assorted meals. Besides the meals, you would also find sellers of pepper-soup, suya (grilled skewered beef), asun (barbecued goat meat), nkwobi (cooked cow leg mixed in spicy palm oil paste) and such other delicacies from evening till morning. Assorted chilled drinks are also never in short supply from dawn to dawn.
“Only God knows where the customers usually materialise from, but our own is to sell. And we do is sell,” Chinyere Orji, a sales assistant to a food seller in Ikeja affirmed. She informed that her mistress starts business at her joint, an open space at Ipodo, off Obafemi Awolowo Way each night between 9.30 and 10.
“We close between 3am and 4am, depending on when we finish selling,” she adds.
Driving at night in Lagos can be fun these days. Once the fuel queue-inspired traffic in many parts of the city disappears. Every major highway now glows at night, as the Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration is putting streetlights all over the metropolis. The Light up Lagos Project initiated by the government, many admit, has curtailed the activities of criminals, just as it has accentuated the aesthetics of the roads and highways. From the mainland to the island, Lagos roads are alive, even at night, as light bulbs glow and glitter from tall poles.
In Lagos, many old things are passing away, even if not all has become new. Nowhere is the transformation more evident than in the transportation system.
Back in the days, the molue, danfo and the Lagos State Transport Corporation (LSTC) buses were the most important means of road travel in Lagos. The LSTC buses were owned and operated by the state government. It was gathered that the Bola Tinubu administration scrapped the corporation after an audit revealed monumental corruption in the system.
Danfo buses have been around since the 70s, after the bolekaja was outlawed in Lagos. The bolekaja was a wooden lorry with crowded passengers usually fighting for space in the cabin. The bolekaja had just a door for passengers to embark and disembark. Expectedly, there was a lot of inconvenience in the lorry, and fights usually ensued. But since the compartment was too compact to accommodate a boxing bout, the aggrieved passenger would tell the other to “bole kaja” (let’s get down and fight). That was how the vehicle earned its name.
Till date, danfo buses are still omnipresent in every part of Lagos. Most of the drivers and conductors are quite unruly and untamed, showing scant regard for neither the law nor the law enforcers. They couldn’t be bothered about other road users and their vehicles.
But until the recent past, the kings of Lagos roads were the molues. The big, long 911 buses and their smaller cousins, the Bedford buses were made solely for Lagos roads. Molue buses have since disappeared from most roads in Lagos. But while it reigned, it had no competitor.
In times past, the molue was the commonest and cheapest means of transportation. Between the 1970s and the early 2000s, it ferried passengers in large numbers to and from all parts of Lagos. The most popular routes for the Molue included the Ikorodu to Mile 12/Ketu/Ojota to Yaba/ Oyingbo/ Idumota route; Mile12/Ketu/Ojota to Ijora/ Breweries/Costain; Oshodi to Agege; Oshodi to Iyana-Ipaja/Abule Egba/Agbado/ Ijaye/Sango; Agege/Oshodi/ Apongbon; Sango/ Abule Egba/Oshodi to Mushin/ Barracks/ Stadium/ Costain/ Ijora-Olopa/ Obalende/CMS; Okokomaiko to Mile 2 to Orile Iganmu to Idumota. Passengers were sardined inside the long buses, either sitting on crudely constructed plank seats or standing ever so close together. In those good, old days of the molue, it was not an irregular occurrence to have the female buttocks inevitably, consciously or unconsciously, fondling the crotches of male passengers.
In fact, until it was eventually phased out, the Molue was a striking feature of Lagos life.
The molue has a character of its own. In the molue, you’ll find a church. You’ll also discover a thriving market, with sellers of assorted articles virtually fighting for space. Commuters journeying from Sango to Obalende, for instance, might have their ears traumatised by the husky voices of up to five sellers of assorted items ranging from good luck charms to a single drug that could cure as many as two-dozen ailments!
Din the molue, even if you refuse to go to church, the church comes to you – right inside the molue. You can never run away from listening to Christian sermons, even if you are not a regular church attendee. Itinerant evangelists and peripatetic preachers always board the molue, spreading the gospel of Christ. Many storm the buses with brown or white envelopes which they distribute to the passengers. The envelopes are for offerings from the kind-hearted passengers to enable them continue the spread of the gospel. They might also be for seed-sowing purposes, so that the passengers could reap bountifully after giving God, through the preachers, a part of the passengers’ monetary possessions.
The molue has little respect for class. The reputable banker bedecked in a designer shirt and tie would share a seat with the mechanic donning his oil-stained overalls, or the tomato seller whose pepper and tomatoes-filled basket slightly excretes odoriferous water.
And the molue never fully stops either when picking or dropping passengers. Once it departs from the bus stop, the next time it stops totally would be at its final destination. It keeps moving, with passengers jumping in or jumping down.
Right now, the molue has almost totally been forcefully removed from Lagos roads. A few remain though – the final vestiges of a vanishing tribe. They still struggle with the danfos and BRT buses for Lagos passengers. One of the few places you would find them now is Oshodi. At Bolade on your way to PWD, about three or four molue buses wait their turn on the queue. The molues ply the Iyana Ipaja/Abule Egba/ Sango route.
This Sunday afternoon, the conductor, in his black T-shirt and dark jeans, is busy yelling for passengers. Most people ignore his strident calls, electing to cross to the other side of the road by the Nigerian Army Shopping Arena to board the danfo or the red BRT buses. But some passengers still prefer the molue, which charges N100 for a one-way trip to Sango. A ride in a danfo bus would cost double, maybe triple the amount.
Now, the BRT has almost totally replaced the molue. With its dedicated lanes on some of the city’s highways, the BRT is obviously the preferred choice for most Lagos residents.
The BRT rode into Lagos during the final days of the Bola Tinubu administration in the state. The succeeding government of Babatunde Fashola, a natural inheritor of Tinubu’s programmes and policies, made the project a key part of its public transportation policy. New lanes, called the BRT corridor, were carved out on Ikorodu Road and Funsho Williams Avenue. A BRT corridor was created on the Third Mainland Bridge and demarcated with a yellow line. Even the newly reconstructed Mile 12-Ikorodu Road was apparently built for the BRT. The BRT corridor on the road is pretty wide, while the main carriageway is barely able to accommodate two cars side-by -side.
The project, operated by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (LAMATA), started with big, brand new decent-looking blue and red buses ferrying passengers on designated routes. The difference between the BRT and the other buses is crystal clear. Well, the difference was very clear. These days, many insist that the BRT buses, especially the ones operated by the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) Cooperative, are hardly better than the good, old molue.
Like molue, like BRT
Indeed, a ride in the red BRT buses might prove them right. Part of the rules guiding the operations of the BRT is that no preaching or trading is allowed in the bus. Tickets are issued to each passenger, and the conductors are referred to as ticketers. Also, the doors of the buses are to be locked while the bus is on motion.
But now, the laws are hardly obeyed. These days, hawking of recharge cards, snacks and drinks in the BRT, especially as passengers troop into the big buses, is a daily occurrence. And the drivers hardly behave better than the regular molue driver in terms of deportment. Most of them speed as if they are on a date with death.
“The drivers have little regard for speed limits,” Ibrahim Taju informed the reporter inside a red BRT bus plying the Ketu- CMS route. Both the reporter and Taju were lucky to find two seats at the back before the bus became jam-packed by passengers at Ojota. “You can see how passengers are packed inside this bus, as if we are sardines. If you count those standing, I’m sure they are more than those sitting. It’s as if Fela’s song, ‘Suffering and Smiling,’ was meant for BRT passengers. Sometimes, you even find passengers hanging by the door. That is why I avoid the BRT as much as I can these days.”
But the situation seems to be getting better gradually. Recently, the state government procured dozens of brand new blue air-conditioned buses for BRT operations. These buses operate without ticketers riding with the passengers. You buy your ticket at the BRT terminal and enjoy the ride to any of the routes, from Ikorodu to Mile 12 or Fadeyi or TBS/CMS. Some of the new blue buses also take off to CMS from Mile 12 and Ojota.
“Those ones are close to what you find in public buses in Europe,” Taju noted. “You don’t even need to call the driver for anything. There are buttons to press if you need the driver’s attention. That is the way things are done in more civilized climes.”
Okadas, keke operate without restraint
Other flourishing means of public transportation on Lagos roads are taxicabs, kabukabu (private vehicles being used as taxicabs by their owners), commercial tricycles (keke Marwa or keke NAPEP) and the omnipresent commercial motorbikes known by their more popular name: okada. The state government has, in the last four years, been in a running battle with commercial motorbike riders concerning their operations on Lagos roads. In 2012, government restricted their operations on a number of roads and bridges, including major highways. The okada riders protested and went to court. But government insisted there was no looking back.
These days, okada riders are gradually returning on many of the restricted routes.
Journeying on water
Lagos is surrounded by water – rivers, creeks, lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean. Those who cannot stand the daily gridlock on Lagos roads have the options of the water routes. There are ferry services covering many routes, including Ikorodu-Marina/CMS; Marina- Mile 2; Ikorodu-Addax/Falomo; Ikorodu-Ebute Ero; Marina-Ijegun Egba-Ebute-Ojo; Mile 2-Marina/ CMS-Mekwen-Falomo; Badore- Ijede; Badore –Five Cowries; Marina-Oworonshoki; Ebute Ojo- Ijegun Egba; Oworonshoki-Five Cowries and Bayeku-Langbasa, among others.
There are a number of ferry companies in Lagos, some of which are private operators. Some of them make use of big ferries while some use smaller ones. Some firms also operate car ferry services, using barges to ferry vehicles from Ikoyi to Victoria Island and Lekki, Marina to Apapa and other routes on Lagos waters.
But there are many Lagosians that are not favourably disposed to experiencing the usually tumultuous ride on the waters. One of such is Bimbo Oyediji.
He explained his reasons to the reporter: “I live in Ikorodu area and work in Ajah. There is a jetty in Ijede and hundreds of people take the ferry everyday from Ijede to Ajah. It takes just about 30 minutes. But I would rather spend as many as four hours in traffic than use the ferry. There have been some unpalatable news in the past with those ferries. Many people have drowned when the boats in which they were travelling capsized People tell me it is usually scary when bigger boats cruise past the smaller boats, and you are so alarmed that you think the boat might sink. My heart will be in my mouth. No, I will never try a boat ride on the Lagos Lagoon.”
Similar thoughts traversed the reporter’s mind while he attempted to board a boat recently from CMS to Badore area of Ajah, Lagos. Seeing the few commercial ferries anchored at the Marina jetty, each waiting for passengers to Apapa, Badore, Langbasa, Maroko and parts of Ikoyi and Victoria Island, the mind skipped a few beats. It was in a private luxury boat that one eventually hitched a ride to and from Badore. Because of the size and opulence of the boat, the trip was smooth, unaffected by the waves. But that could not be said of the usually smaller, engine-propelled wooden boats and even the speedboats. They swayed from side-to-side as the waters violently slapped the craft, almost threatening to overturn and send passengers careering into the lagoon.