It was about 7.30pm on a particular Friday in February and the traffic occupying a significant stretch of the Oshodi-Abeokuta Expressway was hellish.
It was at a standstill and it dealt a demoralising blow on the commuters as well as the motorists in that part of Lagos State that fateful day.
Hundreds of passengers had waited for hours for the gridlock to ease, all to no avail. They were forced to disembark from the stuck vehicles to trek for over 40 minutes to lkeja Along Bus Stop, where the chaos had started.
But what has continued to amaze many Lagos residents is that there is hardly any major obstruction that they can blame as being responsible for the perennial traffic congestion in different locations in the state. For instance, one cannot spot any pothole on the stretch of the expanded Oshodi-Abule-Egba Road.
Many people are, therefore, left confused about what could be causing the nearly daily problem that residents are forced to contend with on most major routes in Lagos. The problem, in the eyes of many people, seems to have defied all strategies.
What have remained indisputably visible on virtually all the roads in the city, according to the aggrieved residents, are impunity, lawlessness and extortion.
Indeed, over the years, traffic on Lagos roads has become unbearable. Motorists break laws at will, especially the notorious ‘yellow bus’ danfo drivers, who display impunity with unfathomable pleasure, no thanks to the law enforcement officials, especially policemen, who have been allegedly compromised.
Perturbed by the number of productive hours being wasted daily going and returning from workplaces, many people living in other parts of Nigeria have vowed that they will never reside in Lagos, no matter the allure. Their only annoyance and reason for the rejection remains the persistent gridlock that is disrupting the economic and social life of everyone in the state.
No doubt, the traffic chaos has continued to grind many parts of the metropolis that is being envisaged to become a mega city. In areas where the congestion is rampant, especially on the mainland, most commuters have to factor in two or three extra hours for a journey that is supposed to take less than an hour.
Keen followers of the unhealthy development have strongly maintained that it is only robust and sustained law enforcement that could untangle the traffic crisis in the state. Most people have submitted that, in order to restore sanity to the highways and other roads, punishing violators of traffic rules, irrespective of their status, should not be negotiable. While it is estimated in some quarters that over N50 billion is yearly lost to the gridlock, others believe that the loss is unquantifiable.
Besides the huge losses in man-hours, delays in supply of goods and services, Lagos traffic jams frequently feature robberies. Many motorists and commuters, particularly when returning from work at night, have been dispossessed of their cash and other belongings.
Experts have also warned that the fumes inhaled in traffic was capable of causing diverse health hazards, including emotional trauma.
Government and other stakeholders have been repeatedly reminded of the urgency of fixing this monstrous problem of slow pace of movement of persons and goods within the state that has been rated as the economic hub of Nigeria. The heavy traffic dilemma, which comes with loads of problems, is by extension hampering the pace of development in Nigeria’s richest state.
Though the state government has been commended by many people for introducing lofty policies and giving the transportation sector the priority it deserves, it is worrisome to some people that the obvious deficiencies in the area of traffic management are still a huge drawback to social and economic activities. And they believe that the poor or non-enforcement of traffic laws has overwhelmed the little gains recorded by successive administrations, particular in the sector and the state in general.
The flouting of rules is not limited to commercial bus drivers or sometimes private car owners. Motorcycle and tricycle riders also parade as kings of the roads. Some people see these riders as the worst sets of violators of traffic rules. Despite the ban on commercial motorcycles on 475 out of the 9,100 roads in the state, they have returned in full force to most of the restricted routes, causing the rightful road users grave inconvenience.
Accidents have been recorded and many lives lost as a result of riders’ recklessness. Many passengers are left with varied degrees of injuries, including amputations and other lifelong scars.
Security experts and other concerned residents have maintained that, except massive and genuine arrests are made and the appropriate sanctions given, the impunity would continue unabated.
A pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Province 27, Oluwatosin Adepoju, said: “I strongly believe that this will serve as a deterrent to others who break the laws because they know one DPO or strong politician in the state. Many commercial bus drivers have cursed me and called me names for obeying traffic lights in different parts of Lagos, especially in the night when nobody is watching.
“This is the kind of society we have degenerated to, where doing the right is now seen as sin. I am not doing it because I am a pastor but because it is the right thing to do.
“I blame the law enforcement officials who sometimes aid these violators to get away with their crimes. It is very simple; when you commit a crime or are about to commit it and you are aware that you will be caught and dealt with seriously, you will caution yourself. This is the same all over the world. Take away enforcement of traffic laws from London roads, Nigeria would be better in a few days.
“I still don’t understand why a driver of a commercial vehicle without side mirrors, brake lights, extra tyre, wipers, driver’s licence, road worthiness certification and other necessary documents will not be arrested. The average bus on Lagos routes cannot produce any of the above, but a private car owner that misses any of them will be arrested and money extorted from him. Except there is a law or clause that exempts commercial drivers from having these particulars – and I’m not yet aware of any – then I might be raising false alarm. This is not the Lagos of our dream.”
The creation of the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) in 2000 by the Governor Ahmed Tinubu administration came with huge celebration. It brought a sigh of relief to many residents. But, 19 years down the lane, the enthusiasm has waned. There are also grievances that the impact of the Federal Government’s traffic police wardens is scarcely felt in the state.
The Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO), special task force and other special law enforcement agencies have been urged to wake up from their slumber to duly carry out their duties and tame unruly motorists and riders.
Many people who spoke with the reporter expressed dissatisfaction over traffic law enforcement in Lagos, which has earned the state an unpalatable toga.
While some of the aggrieved residents raised the alarm that there was selective arrest and prosecution of violators of the rules, others accused law officials of enriching their own pockets through bribery and corruption.
A resident of the state, Ogundipe Moses Ogundele, who said he has been living in Agege for 21 years, said: “Most lorries and tankers causing heavy traffic in Apapa and other parts of the state don’t have any particulars but nobody is arresting them.
“I know of a certain LASTMA official who does daily contribution of 5,000 naira with some people in my area. Everybody knows that he does not do any other job. He spends money like a top executive in an oil-producing firm.
“Many of the policemen, too, especially those on the field, are so addicted to corruption. They are the ones that are not making the traffic laws to work as they should. Those who are supposed to ensure that the laws work smoothly for the benefit of everyone are using it to build mansions for themselves. The entire system needs an overall cleansing. Those who flout the rules need to be ruthlessly dealt with in order to serve as deterrent to others with similar intentions.”
It has been discovered that some security officials have devised smart means of collecting money from commercial drivers at regular bus stops on most expressways. They are said to have recruited young men and women to collect the bribes on their behalf while they watch closely for proper accountability.
A regular user of Oshodi-Apapa Expressway said: “At the busy Oshodi Bus Stop inwards, opposite the former office of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), you will see people running after commercial buses to collect one levy or the other. Some of these people recruited are those women selling soft drinks and snacks at the bus stops.
“A layman might think that the driver is patronising the seller for her wares. But you sometimes hear the levy collectors shouting ‘owo olopa,’ (money for the police), ‘owo LASTMA,’ (money for the LASTMA), ‘owo task force’ (money for the task force), and so on. If you’re very observant, you would see some police officers watching them intently. Any of the drivers that fails to comply with the errand men or women would be booked down for persecution. I have witnessed similar extortion at Ikeja Along Bus Stop. It is almost everywhere in Lagos.”
A security expert at one of the new generation banks in Lagos, Mr. Mexico Ikenna, said: “Laws without enforcement is akin to lawlessness. This is what we have been experiencing on Lagos roads. It has been on for years but it appears it has got worse in the last few months.”