•Lagos residents suffer health challenges, lose money to gridlock
•We’re working hard to curtail crisis, says state government
BY TOPE ADEBOBOYE
Adelabu Gabriel Akande shook his head slowly and let out a deep sigh. The scowl on his face was conspicuous as he threw the empty water sachet out of the window. His frustration was palpable.
The Ikorodu-bound BRT bus conveying him and others from Oshodi had been stuck in traffic for the better part of an hour, crawling sluggishly on its dedicated lane. That ‘dedicated’ lane had been taken over by dozens of unauthorised commercial and private vehicles as well as two or three siren-blaring police vans. They were trying to escape the gridlock on the main carriageway. But here also, the traffic was now at a total standstill.
Ahead of him, in the glow of the streetlights illuminating the Ikorodu Road between Anthony and Maryland, scores of vehicles sat in the gruelling gridlock that stretched a few kilometres.
“I’m tired of this kind of life,” the 35-year-old businessman muttered to the passenger beside him. “I have been in traffic all day. I left Apapa since 5pm, and now, by 8. 37pm, I’m still stuck in traffic at Anthony. And I live in Ikorodu? When will I get home now? Maybe 11 or 12 midnight. And tomorrow, I have a meeting for 8.00am in Victoria Island, which means I have to set out at 4.30 to beat the early morning traffic. With all these, how could one live long in this type of country?” The other man, equally fagged out in the tiring traffic, could only nod in agreement.
Akande eventually got to his Odogunyan, Ikorodu home a few minutes past 11pm. Date was Thursday, October 22, 2015.
Hundreds of his fellow Lagos residents were, however, not as fortunate. That same evening, many were those that lost cash and valuables to rampaging robbers as they were stuck in traffic on the bridge linking Costain and Eko Bridge.
The robbers, armed with pistols, knives and cutlasses, were about ten. They had a field day smashing car windows and vandalising vehicles while they robbed terrified motorists. Not a single policeman or security agent bothered the hoodlums in the course of their operation that lasted over 15 minutes.
A man, who claimed to have witnessed the siege on hapless motorists, told reporters: “We were in a serious gridlock at the Costain area when armed robbers, who cashed in on the traffic situation, started robbing motorists. Our bus was robbed, after which the robbers went to a car in front of ours. I saw one of the armed robbers arguing with the occupants of the vehicle. I later heard about five gunshots. One of the robbers was searching the car while others were firing into the air.
“The shooting caused serious stampede, as motorists abandoned their vehicles and scampered for safety. Some courageous ones, who tried to zoom off, hit other vehicles.”
Another eyewitness asserted: “When we heard the gunshots, my family and I thought that they were the bank robbers that raided Festac Town some weeks ago. So we abandoned our vehicle and took to our heels.”
The Lagos State Police spokesperson, Mr. Joseph Offor, in his reaction, said a motorist called him to report that there was a traffic robbery at the Costain area of the metropolis, but he said he was not aware that anyone died.”
A city grounded by gridlocks
Across the world, Lagos has long carved a niche for itself as a city of gruelling gridlocks. Wherever you look on the city’s roads, a long, thick line of assorted vehicles stuck in traffic constantly meets your gaze. A coastal city that sits on the brink of the Atlantic, Lagos has a relatively small land mass of 999.6km2, though the entire state is about 3, 577 square km. But it is estimated that about 21 million souls reside within that small space. Even though the seat of power has since been relocated to Abuja, Lagos, the former capital of the world’s most populous black nation, remains West Africa’s economic nerve centre. Each day, thousands of people from all over Nigeria and the nearby countries arrive in Lagos in search of a better, more fulfilling life. The increasing population has not, however, been matched by increased infrastructure.
One major infrastructure that has continued to groan, residents assert, is the road network across the state. The major roads in Lagos, constructed several decades back to serve the population then, have remained the only ones in existence. Apart from the Third Mainland Bridge constructed by the then General Ibrahim Babangida’s military government in the early 1990s, no new major roads have been built in Lagos in the past two decades. Many of the existing roads have undergone massive repairs, rehabilitation and outright reconstruction since 1999, but no brand new roads have been added to the existing ones. The construction of the Fourth Mainland Bridge has remained a pipedream. Naturally, roads in Lagos have become patently overwhelmed by the number of vehicles that use them every day.
And since the 21 million persons in Lagos must commute from place to place, the resultant effect is the debilitating traffic chaos that persistently locks Lagos down every now and then, leaving the populace frustrated and in perpetual agony.
Whenever there is a gridlock, the entire city grinds to a halt. Businesses suffer, and socio-economic activities collapse. Ultimately, every aspect of life is affected.
Though Lagos is the smallest land mass area in Nigeria, it is home to 117 federal roads of 509, 97 kilometres. There are 3,028 state roads, totalling 5, 816.71 kilometres, as well as 6, 451 local government roads totalling 3, 573.7kilometres. The Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS) said the state, the smallest in land mass, is home to about 25 percent of the total number of vehicles and drivers in Nigeria.
As a matter of fact, it has been reported that as many as four million cars and 100,000 commercial vehicles in Lagos. While the national average is 11 vehicles per kilometre, Lagos daily records an average of 227 vehicles per every kilometre of roads. One of the major fallouts of this scenario is the extremely physically frustrating and mentally traumatising gridlocks on Lagos roads.
Omololu Ogunleye is a businessman and international education consultant. If there is anything that gives him constant pain and regrets, it is the fact that he has established his business in Lagos. He told Daily Sun correspondent, Ola-Kehinde Balogun, that he might be forced to relocate from Lagos soon, unless some change occurs.
While comparing the traffic situation in Lagos to what obtains in the United Kingdom where he resided before moving to Nigeria, Ogunleye pooh-poohed the various governments in Nigeria for leaving the state’s transport system in the hands of ill-trained, highly lawless and corrupt private individuals. He told Daily Sun: “The traffic in Lagos is extremely irritating. The police who are supposed to assist in easing the traffic are only there to see you make a mistake, arrest you and collect some bribe. They are not trained to correct; instead, they would bully you into submitting to their whims and caprices only so they can extort money from you.
“I was reading an article recently and saw a research which says many Nigerians are liable to end up with stroke as a result of the long hours they spend in traffic. I don’t have a reason not to believe such research, understanding what we daily go through. Unfortunately, the same society would not care for you if you fall sick from what it is indirectly responsible for. ”The traffic situation in Lagos has affected my productivity beyond words. You get to the office and you are worn out. You arrive home after a heavy traffic into a total blackout and you your family members become the victims of your frustration. It is only a fact that one’s lifespan is being cut short.
“I will give you a vivid interpretation of Lagos roads. For example, driving from Cement Bus Stop to Sango should take approximately 20 minutes but you end up spending two to three hours, especially during the peak period. Right from Dopemu Under-bridge, you would sweat and struggle through the bus stop till you get to Iyana-Ipaja. At Ilepo bus stop, the road is blocked totally just because there is a market and heavy potholes on the way. Also the danfo drivers would park aimlessly on the road. Drive further down and you encounter another traffic congestion from Super to Abule Egba Bus Stop. There are traffic lights there, but unfortunately, the traffic lights cannot do much in the area. What the people need is a flyover. When you drive further down, you would encounter traffic at Ahmadiya Bus Stop just because there is a turning ahead. Drive further down and you encounter another traffic at Kolington and Moshalashi bus stops due to the indiscipline and utter recklessness of danfo drivers stopping abruptly on the road to pick passengers. Then you encounter another at Toll Gate Bus Stop because of the danfo drivers and the turning ahead. And from Dalemo Bus Stop, you will have to drive in a bumper-to-bumper traffic up to Sango. These things irritate me beyond words.
“Because the times are hard, sometimes motorists only have little cash to spend on petrol. And you end up burning the petrol in traffic. It’s a shame.
“Having driven in the UK for over five years, where I bagged both my Bachelor and Master’s degrees, I find it hard to comprehend the driving sense of Lagosians. Only few selected roads have medians or lane dividers in Lagos. It is a shame that people can’t even drive inside their lane. Look at the Ajayi Farm Bus Stop to Airport Bus Stop. It’s a three-lane road, yet, people won’t still drive on the road. Even siren-blaring government officials don’t obey the law. They see themselves as above the law.” Another Lagos resident, Ogunbi Bernard, teaches in a tertiary institution in Yaba. He also lamented that he had been having a traumatic experience since he started living in Lagos. In his words, a major cause of traffic in Lagos is the fact that the entire state is too jam-packed with assorted human beings from all part of West Africa. He averred that the city’s growing population continues to overwhelm its facilities and amenities. Said he: “I have been living and working in Lagos for years now as a lecturer at Westerfield College, Yaba. It has not been easy for me because getting to my destination, just like others, I spend endless hours on the road. I stay at Meiran area near Abule-Egba. It’s almost a world away from where I work due to the daily traffic crisis. In Lagos, the traffic is beyond normal. My official resumption time is 8.30am, but to beat the traffic, I wake up as early as 4.30am. Mondays and Fridays are the days with the worst traffic. A 30-minute journey could take up to three hours or more.
“I try to beat the traffic by waking up as early as 4.30 in the morning and I leave by 5.30am. If I don’t leave by then, I might not get to the office until 9am or 10am.”
Another Lagos resident, Ms. Abimibola Ogundipe, an information technology expert, is upset with the handling of traffic issues by the Lagos State officials. Hear her: “The traffic situation, of late, has become totally unbearable and worrisome. During the last dispensation, it was not as if the state was entirely free of traffic, but it was not this bad. Today, the reverse is the case. You can’t say when and where the traffic will start or end. You can’t predict the peak or the non-peak period again. It is as if this is no longer the Lagos we used to know under the past administration. We don’t know if the LASTMA (Lagos State Traffic Management Agency) people are still working or not.
“And the worst thing is the insecurity that has come to threaten us in traffic. You don’t dare display your phone or laptop around certain areas, especially on Lagos/Badagry Expressway in the evening. You could be sure that you would be attacked. Everyone is now afraid of the turnout of things in the state. Maybe the harsh economic condition is pushing up crime, as people need to survive. Unfortunately, traffic congestion is seriously aiding this trend.”
She is also worried about the anarchy on the roads in Lagos, which she said was not being adequately addressed by the authorities. “Operators of commercial motorbikes are back on our major roads,” she lamented. “I’m so worried that I can’t understand why the traffic situation has gone from bad to worse. What happened to the zeal with which our traffic law was passed a few years ago? Now, even the traffic law enforcement agents are not taking the whole issue seriously. I will advise Governor Ambode to go back to the drawing board and study how traffic was handled in the early days of the last administration. Maybe the governor should also return some of the powers he was said to have taken off LASTMA. We cannot continue like this.”
Sheer anarchy on the roads
Babatunde Joseph, an estate surveyor who has an office close to Ijesha Bus Stop along the Oshodi-Mile 2 Expressway, narrated an incident that he witnessed sometime in late April. A man was crossing the highway about 30 metres from the bus stop, apparently to board an Oshodi-bound bus. He had successfully made the dash to the middle of the highway. But while making the final run to the other side, he was knocked down and run over by a commercial bus, otherwise known as danfo, driving on the wrong way towards Mile 2. The man died on the spot.
“Since then, I have always advised anyone that I know against crossing that road,” he told the reporter. “The most painful thing is that the danfo driver escaped with all the passengers. Neither the man nor his passengers bothered to help the victim.”
Daily Sun had, in a series of reports between April and May, warned that anarchy was looming on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway as a result of commercial buses and motorbikes facing oncoming traffic, even forming two or three lanes. In spite of calling the attention of the police and LASTMA authorities to these acts of sheer lawlessness, the practice continues till now. Many commuters trying to cross the road have been gravely injured, with some losing their limbs. Some others have been crushed to death.
In 2012, the Lagos State government enacted a law restricting the operations of commercial motorbikes, otherwise known as okada, on 475 roads and bridges in the state. The state also has laws prohibiting vehicles from facing oncoming traffic and driving on dedicated BRT lanes. In spite of such laws, however, the motorbikes are back fully on virtually all roads and bridges in the state. Unauthorised vehicles routinely ply BRT routes these days, even in the presence of LASTMA officials and other law enforcement agents.
“With that, the purpose of the BRT project is totally defeated. The aim was that you would park your vehicles at home, board the BRT and enjoy some level of comfort and decency while going to work or wherever you’re going. But now that all sorts of vehicles no longer respect the BRT lane, there is bound to be traffic. I must say, however, that I learnt that the Governor’s Monitoring Team has been going about arresting motorists violating the law on the BRT lane. One hopes such will continue,” Christy Njoku told the reporter.
There are good stories emanating from the Apapa end too. On Wednesday, October 28, the Governor’s Monitoring Team was said to have apprehended some motorists driving against traffic on the road.
How bad roads cause traffic
Many have attributed the intractable gridlocks in Lagos to the many bad roads dotting the metropolis. In truth, most of the major highways in Lagos are riddled with craters and killer potholes. A major example is the Iyana-Itire/Ilasamaja sections of the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. Each week, many articulated vehicles lose balance on the collapsed portions and fall right on the road. In Kirikiri area, a very bad portion of Dillion Road has been the cause of a daily gridlock in the area in the past eight years. Every night, motorists are trapped in the traffic sometimes for as long as five hours. A small collapsed portion under the Mile 2 Bridge inwards Orile is also responsible for the daily gridlock along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway inwards Mile 2. Along Ikorodu Road, Funsho Williams Avenue and other major roads in the state, the story remains the same. A little collapsed portion could create a traffic crisis that would last for hours.
How traffic wreaks health havocs
The perennial traffic congestion in Lagos is doing much more than causing you to miss appointments. It’s actually harming your health in many ways. Research has shown that traffic congestion can make you more prone to violence, fracture social relationships and wreak diverse health havocs. It has also been proved that staying in gridlocks can lead to higher rates of obesity, diabetes and poor air quality.
When you stay in traffic, there is clear exposure to all kinds of pollutants, some of which are irritants to the lungs, some of which are not good for your cardiovascular system, some of which are carcinogenic,” said Dr. David Mowat, a Canadian expert and medical officer of health for Peel Region in Southern Ontario, Canada. “Emissions are worse when a vehicle is idling, making stop-and-go traffic more harmful to your lungs.”
He also informed that people with long commute times are less inclined to engage in social activities, be socially connected and be civically engaged.
Besides the long-term health problems associated with traffic jams, there are many physiological and psychological effects on those perpetually stuck in gridlocks.
A research by David Wiesenthal, a psychology professor at York University, who studies stress in drivers, explained: “As your car slows to a crawl, your heart rate picks up, your breathing intensifies and your blood pressure shoots up. Drivers become more irritable and have a higher tendency to behave aggressively, increasing the odds of rude behaviour, shouting obscenities and cutting other cars off.”
Ogunleye said the researcher could as well have been talking about Lagos roads. “Eighty-five per cent of the time that I spend driving, I experience road rage. I have road rage almost always while driving in Lagos. Hardly would I drive without raining abuses and curses on other drivers who would also abuse me in return,” he admitted.
It has long been proved that tailpipe exhaust from cars and trucks is responsible for heart disease as well as cancer and respiratory ailments. It is also believe that it may also injure brain cells, leading to some form of mental disorder. Scholars have concluded that at every stage of life, traffic fumes exact a toll on mental capacity, intelligence and emotional stability. In simple terms, what that means is that staying too long in traffic may make you mad!
Pregnant women that spend hours in traffic might be having other issues to worry about beyond their immediate health. They might be harming their yet unborn babies.
It is believed that unborn babies might have started suffering the effects of traffic congestion even while they remain in the womb.
A report published last year in Wall Street Journal indicated that scientists in the Netherlands discovered that breathing street-level fumes for just 30 minutes can intensify electrical activity in brain regions responsible for behaviour, personality and decision-making. It was also affirmed by research teams at both the Columbia University and Harvard University that breathing normal city air with high levels of traffic exhaust for 90 days can change the way that genes turn on or off among the elderly, just as it can leave a molecular mark on the genome of a newborn for life.
Research teams in New York, Boston, Beijing, and Krakow, Poland, discovered that children in areas affected by high levels of emissions, on average, scored more poorly on intelligence tests and were more prone to depression, anxiety and attention problems than children growing up in cleaner air. Scholars in Boston, Massachusetts found that older men and women that were long exposed to higher levels of traffic-related particles and ozone had memory and reasoning problems that effectively added five years to their mental age. Traffic congestions can also heighten the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and speed the effects of Parkinson’s disease, the scholars noted.
To study the effect of exhaust on expectant mothers, Dr. Frederica Perera of the Columbia University’s Center for Children’s Environmental Health started a research work in 1998. He equipped hundreds of pregnant women with personal air monitors to measure the chemistry of the air that the women breathed. As the babies were born, Dr. Perera and his colleagues tested some of the infants and discovered a distinctive biochemical mark in the DNA of about half of them, left by prenatal exposure to high levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in exhaust system.
A report by the researchers noted: “By age 3, the children who were exposed prenatally to high exhaust levels were developing mental capacities fractionally more slowly. By age 5, their IQ scores averaged about four points lower on standard intelligence tests than those of less exposed children, the team reported in 2009. The differences, while small, were significant in terms of later educational development, the researchers said.
By age 7, the children were more likely to show symptoms of anxiety, depression and attention problems, the researchers reported this year in Environmental Health Perspectives.
“The mother’s exposure – what she breathed into her lungs – could affect her child’s later behaviour,” said Dr. Perera. “The placenta is not the perfect barrier we once thought.”
Lagos residents lose billions in traffic
Each day, the chaotic gridlocks in Lagos disrupt the social order in the metropolis. But the entire country loses much more to traffic congestion.
A major implication of the perennial traffic congestion in Lagos is its cost on the finances of the state and the citizens. The more time residents spend in traffic, the more financial misfortunes the state suffers.
A research conducted by a Jerusalem-based firm, ROM Transportation Engineering, between 2007 and 2009 affirmed that Lagos residents lose more than three billion hours to traffic congestions yearly.
General manager of the company and former Israeli Minister of Transportation, Hirsh Moshe said Lagos State could be saving as much as one billion dollars (about N200 billion) every year if the traffic congestion in the city could be reduced by as little as 20 per cent.
“As for the three billion lost hours, we calculated the existing travelling time for transit passengers and car users, and compared them with the Free Flow Time (that can be achieved when there is no congestion),” he said.
“The difference is the time that is currently lost to congestion, or the potential improvement for the transportation system. In addition, we calculated the wasted time of pedestrians that can’t afford to use motorized modes,” he said.
The Association of Nigerian Licensed Customs Agents (ANLCA) has even more frightening statistics.
According to the association’s National Publicity Secretary, Kayode Farinto, the traffic congestion in Apapa alone costs the country N5 billion every day. He was speaking at a recent news conference where he lamented that the traffic congestion in the Apapa area was killing businesses and spreading poverty in the land.
“Revenues generated by some government agencies have begun to drop at an estimate of over N5 billion daily,” he said.
The business community in Lagos is also not immune from the after-effects of the debilitating gridlocks on Lagos roads. Some experts have asserted that the business community loses N11 billion monthly to the daily traffic congestions.
An economist, Mr. Wole Sowunmi, said businessmen lose about N500 million daily to traffic congestion. He contended that the longer time people spend in traffic, the more money they lose in business transactions that they would have made while they were in the traffic.
“Many people do not reach their work places in time every morning because of the dreadful traffic condition, resulting in reduction in productive hours at work places and consequently huge financial losses, thus impacting negatively on the state’s economy in particular and the country’s economy in general,” he stated, adding that about four hours are wasted in traffic daily by those working on Lagos Island and living on the mainland.
Now, LASTMA neither barks nor bites
Since its establishment, one agency that dreaded by Lagos motorists has been the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA). No driver or vehicle owner wants to dare LASTMA and its laws. Well, until lately. On Thursday, September 3, the state government stripped the agency and its officials of many of its powers. And since then, all hell has been let loose on Lagos roads.
Mr. Oluseyi Whenu, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transportation, said the agency should adopt a process of booking offenders, instead of apprehending them and seizing their vehicles. He said government wanted the traffic managers to focus more on achieving a flawless flow of traffic.
Said he: “The new directive by the state government is that LASTMA officials should consider alternative traffic management methods rather than physical apprehension and arrest. A more perfect traffic management and documentation procedure is being put in place where traffic offenders are booked and given a grace period for payment. “Defaulters will be apprehended at home through the information on the motor vehicle database. Since LASTMA officials are a reflection of the state government, they should ensure that their activities add value to the government’s covenant with Lagos residents to make life easier for them.”
He also directed motorists whose vehicles had been seized by LASTMA to visit the agency’s offices and get their vehicles back.
Soon after the announcement, commercial drivers in Lagos gleefully announced to one another that the governor had stopped LASTMA from arresting erring motorists. Immediately, they became a law unto themselves, driving on BRT lanes, driving against traffic, stopping in the middle of the lane for passengers and violating every known traffic law. Commercial motorbike operators also invaded the roads and highways, riding their bikes with recklessness on restricted routes. LASTMA officials merely looked at them with total apathy. Subsequent clarifications that Ambode never gave the drivers permission to unleash a reign of terror and tyranny on Lagos residents have been unable to tame the recalcitrant drivers. The result has been total anarchy on many roads.
“That move by the government was a major error,” Pa Ahmed Adamu, a 73-year-old lawyer from Kogi State, told the reporter. “Even if the government wanted to reform LASTMA, it should have found a better way of doing that. That announcement no doubt dampened the spirit of LASTMA officials. Nowadays, you see people doing all sorts of things on the road, and LASTMA officials are looking at them helplessly, unable to even caution them.
“You are talking of booking erring drivers like it’s done abroad. But people are different from place to place. You need an iron hand to deal with Lagos drivers. That new law will cause more traffic problems in Lagos.”
We’re working hard to curtail traffic crises, says Ambode
But the state government insists it is not unaware of the traffic problems in the state. A statement by the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Habib Aruna quoted Governor Ambode as expressing concern over the persistent gridlocks in Lagos as well as the spate of armed robberies in the metropolis.
The governor spoke at a retreat for commissioners, special advisers and permanent secretaries.
Said the governor: “I’m deeply concerned about the issues that Lagosians are sending back to me and the issues range from security issues, gridlock and the environment itself. But again, just as we are looking at the immediate solutions to them, there are medium term solutions that Lagosians will see in the next few weeks that we will roll out.
“We have declared zero tolerance on potholes and we are deploring more men to ensure free flow of traffic. As we are now in the ‘ember’ months, I just want to appeal to Lagosians to be more vigilant, and cooperate with us in all the measures we will be carrying out,” Governor Ambode said.
He said he had directed the security agents to apprehend motorbike operators riding on restricted routes, just as he assured that his government was also working hard to restrict street hawking.