Lagos traffic has returned to the perpetual gridlock of the old days. At present, commuters endure excruciating hardship on the roads. This is primarily because of the dilapidated road infrastructure and breakdown of traffic laws enforcement process, which cause incessant lockdown around the state, day and night. Amid the anguish, the police introduced Operation Velvet, shutting down the metropolis in their heartless bid to vet vehicle documents. To reduce the pains of Lagos residents, the Akinwunmi Ambode administration needs to wake up and quickly reverse the enervating traffic situation.
Both the Federal Government and the Lagos State Government are hurting the economy by failing to maintain the existing road infrastructure. The Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry says, “On the Apapa traffic gridlock, the cost to business is horrendous. This includes the astronomical increase in haulage costs, increased interest costs (borrowed funds) used for import transaction, high demurrage charges, high insurance premium of vessels coming to Nigeria, high shipping costs, low capacity utilisation due to problem of access to raw materials from the port, as well as traffic congestion.” And to rub salt in the wound, Operation Velvet, which the police claim is meant to restore sanity to Lagos roads, is a misplacement of priority. Instantly, it aggravated the mayhem in the metropolis because the police inexplicably put the cart before the horse. Commuters were held down in traffic for hours in the thick of the operation that was mercifully called off after two days following a public outcry.
The one-month suspension is no reprieve. What is needed is the immediate fixing of the bad roads. The Ambode government has failed to build on the template of his predecessors, who prioritised the regular maintenance of inner city roads. Currently, these roads are shabby. For the government to show that it is in tune with people’s yearnings, an all-year-round maintenance of the inner city roads must take precedence over any operation by the security agencies, which seem more intent on revenue generation.
Unfortunately, the major highways are no better. Although the state government has embarked on gigantic projects, the slow pace of work on them has made plying the roads a living hell. The deplorable roads in Apapa create daily gridlock on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Iganmu, Mile 2-Badagry Expressway and Ikorodu Road. With no adequate or enduring security arrangement in place, traffic robbers exploit the logjam even in the day time. It is thus a nightmare for those going to work early in the day and those returning home in the evening.
In tow, discipline has broken down completely on the roads, with the well-regarded LASTMA appearing helpless against lawless drivers. Wailing sirens, driving against the traffic and the illegal use of the Bus Rapid Transit lanes – ills that had been mostly tamed under the Babatunde Fashola administration – have returned. This is baffling, for a civilised society is underpinned by law and order. Instead of consistent enforcement, policemen on the field resort to extortion
A cocktail of neglect, heavy traffic and heavy rain has turned Lagos roads into a ruin. And despite the Lagos State Road Traffic Law 2012, traders, commercial motorcycle and tricycle riders have invaded the roads again. The provision banning motorcycles from 475 of the state’s 1,900 roads and from bridges has been rendered otiose because of the administration’s laxity in enforcing it. The result is the brazen lawlessness on Lagos roads. These days, commercial bus drivers and uniformed security agents drive on BRT lanes and against on-coming traffic with impunity. The then governor, Fashola, once arrested a serving Nigerian Army colonel for using the dedicated BRT lane.
Motorists are paying a high cost for Lagos’ lousy roads. It is distressing that Lagos roads are collapsing at a time when the state government earns huge Internally Generated Revenue. Instructively, Bola Tinubu, the governor of Lagos from 1999-2007, had established a decent structure for development. His successor, Fashola, built on it by revamping the inner road networks, eliminating refuse heaps, roadside trading, and the misuse of sirens. Therefore, Ambode needs to retool his governance template because the hardship Lagos residents are experiencing on the roads is unacceptable. The institutional mechanism for routine road maintenance is now dysfunctional.
Indeed, the major infrastructure works ought not to be built in isolation, for, if the inner routes are impassable, development then will be skewed. The Lagos State Public Works Corporation, which has expertise in fixing the inner roads, should be re-energised. Similarly, the pace of work on the major road projects should be increased; the BRT lanes that are in disrepair should be reconstructed quickly. Lagos should let taxpayers feel the impact of their contribution to the state’s N30 billion monthly IGR.
Really, a sustainable funding source for road construction and repairs is needed for the good of our economy and job creation. Rebuilding the institutional capacities of the agencies concerned with road maintenance and law enforcement is imperative. The Traffic Law should be rigorously enforced. The restriction on commercial motorcycles should be strictly enforced; this should be the beginning of restoring sanity to Lagos roads. The traders, who are back on the footbridges, roadsides and rail tracks, should be dislodged, while commercial bus drivers, who obstruct traffic while picking/dropping passengers and drive against the traffic, should be arrested and punished in line with the law.
Technology, like the Automatic Number Plate Recognition, should be deployed to crack down on traffic offenders. The City of London Police says the ANPR, which relies on hidden surveillance cameras, “has proved to be important in the detection of many offences, including locating stolen vehicles, tackling uninsured vehicle use and uncovering cases of major crime. It also allows officers’ attention to be drawn to offending vehicles, while allowing law-abiding drivers to go about their business unhindered.” The police and other traffic agencies should drop their crude enforcement methods and deploy technology in traffic management.