Over 10 million commuters in Lagos suffer every day in the hands of traffic robbers amid unending gridlock while awaiting the N555bn light rail and commercial cable car transit systems, writes DAYO OKETOLA
Thirty six-year-old Rachael Jegede, a front desk officer in an accounting firm in Victoria Island, Lagos, lives in Sango-Ota, a suburb of Abeokuta, the capital of Ogun State. The distance between her home and her office, according to distancecalculator.globefeed.com, is 50.2 kilometres with a driving time of one hour, 37 minutes.
Jegede, however, spends at least three hours in the morning while going to work and another three hours while returning home in the evening due to inadequate public transportation infrastructure among other related factors. Like several other millions of road users, she encounters a daunting traffic gridlock that permanently envelopes Lagos metropolis and spills over to border towns in Ogun State, including the area where she lives.
Though Jegede earns N50, 000 monthly, the job she once celebrated soon became her source of worry, largely because of the terrifying traffic gridlock she experiences every day.
She told Saturday PUNCH that because of the attendant stress of being in the traffic for many hours, coupled with the demands of her job, she lost two pregnancies to miscarriage. Beyond that, she said her inability to meet her husband’s sexual needs became a big issue she had to contend with.
She said, “I wake up at 4am and leave the house by 5am because our resumption time is 8am and I don’t like to be surcharged for late coming all the time. Due to the traffic snarls from Sango, through the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway and the Third Mainland Bridge, I spend at least three hours on the road in the morning.
“Going back home after close of work is another headache. We close by 6pm and I don’t get home until around 10pm. My husband is not comfortable with it because by the time I return home, I would have been too exhausted to cook not to talk of having any sexual relationship. I also didn’t have enough time for my little girl. So, it became an issue.
“Because of the way that has affected our sexual relationship and my inability to cater for our child very well, he wanted me to quit the job and sit at home till I get another one but I refused because he is not making enough money as well. Soon after, I got to know he was having extramarital affairs to the extent that he started bringing the lovers home since he knew I wouldn’t come back early enough. So, the traffic problem is my greatest worry.”
While Jegede continues to endure her situation, it isn’t any better for 43-year-old Josephine Nnamdi, who works on Lagos Island but lives in Ikorodu area of the state. She leaves home by 4am in order not to be late to work and often returns home around 10pm; a situation she said had been tearing her home apart.
But for the intervention of family members, Nnamdi would have been thrown out of her matrimonial home by her husband of six years.
She said, “He kept complaining that I didn’t have time for him and soon after, his attitude changed. Truly, I can’t remember the last time I had a good time with him because I usually leave the house in a rush and return very late and tired. Even though we try to make up on weekends, it doesn’t suffice because there are other things to do on such days as well. He almost filed for divorce. I had to involve his family members to resolve the issue with a promise to look for another job nearer to our home.”
Commuting is a nightmare in Lagos where half of the 21 million residents are daily subjected to anguish and pain in congested traffic conditions. Lagos traffic is epidemic in scope because everyone is affected; hence Jegede and Nnamdi are simply archetypes of typical Lagosians, especially the working class who are paying too much a price for the crazy traffic gridlock.
With over 10 million commuters on Lagos roads daily, traffic congestion and delays (go-slow) are a daily ritual frustrating the residents and stressing them out.
There are over 9,000 roads in Lagos but most of the over 10 million commuters spend as much as six hours per day commuting to/from their places of work because of traffic congestion. Most highways in the state are often congested and this has worsened since the current Governor, Mr. Akinwumi Ambode, assumed office. The situation reduces commercial activities, hampers economic growth, creates health and safety risks, threatens the people’s mental and physical wellbeing, robs the country of productive man-hours and reduces the overall quality of life of the residents.
Public records have equally shown that over 200,000 vehicles are registered annually in Lagos with 224 vehicles using a kilometre of road as against 15 vehicles per kilometre in other states of the federation.
According to the World Bank, Lagos is the sixth largest and fastest growing city in the world but the unending traffic snarls in the state are a sad pointer to the fact that the transportation infrastructure in the state was never built for its current population.
The public transit system, according to experts, has not grown in equal proportion with the population of Lagos. Yet, more vehicles ply the road every day. The traffic situation continues to worsen because many Lagosians would rather travel to work by car in congested conditions rather than opt for the less efficient public transport. This explains why most of the cars on Lagos roads are privately registered. Of the 758,958 vehicles registered in Lagos in 2011, the Lagos Bureau of Statistics said 576,186 were private, 127,548 were commercial, and 1,302 for government, 2,186 for missions and 51,636 were registered by corporations.
Tears of anguish on Lagos roads
Traffic congestion in Lagos has worsened in recent weeks and the sometimes palpable and mostly covert tears of anguish filled the eyes of the commuters.
Twenty-six per cent of Lagosians, according to a recent poll by NOIPolls Limited, have expectedly identified severe traffic gridlock across the metropolis as a major problem that has to be tackled headlong by the Ambode-led administration.
Some of the causes of the traffic congestion have been highlighted to include poor road networks, inadequate road capacity, poor traffic control/ management, poor drainage system which causes flooding during rainy season, inefficient /inadequate mass transport system and bad driving habits of many, among others.
The presence of heavy vehicles and menace of petrol tankers have also been identified as a major gridlock’s trigger. According to statistics from the Department of Petroleum Resources, there are over 2,600 petroleum tankers/trucks in Nigeria and most of them lift fuel from Lagos to the 26, 687 retail outlets across the country.
Governor Ambode recently said at least over 3, 000 tankers visit the state on a daily basis to lift fuel, thereby causing severe traffic gridlock that makes life stressful for the residents.
While vehicular movement is often grounded to a halt in Lagos traffic, road users coming in and out of Lagos via the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway also have stories of pain, agony, and frustration to tell.
For instance, a pregnant woman vomited and passed out in a commercial vehicle recently after spending several hours in a traffic snarl that stretched from the Ikeja area of Lagos to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. “She could not bear it any longer. She kept vomiting as people tried hard to save her. She vomited to the point that she became weak. I just hope she did not die,” an eyewitness, Motunrayo, had told The PUNCH.
A witness, who also identified himself as Idris, said he observed a passenger in an interstate bus being fanned after she passed out.
“I was in a bus on the Warewa Bridge when I saw people fanning a woman, who had passed out. I could not wait to see if she made it or not,” he said.
There are numerous health challenges associated with being in unending traffic gridlock. There have also been cases of private car owners giving up the ghost in terrible traffic with no one to attend to them during the emergency period preceding their death.
Though Lagosians often return home after the day’s job with complaints of persistent backache, headaches, high blood pressure and depression, among other health issues, what seems to be their greatest problem now is traffic robbery, which has escalated in recent times.
Traffic robberies on the rise in Lagos metropolis
Hoodlums are taking advantage of the severe traffic snarls in many parts of the state to rob car owners and commuters alike.
The robbers, it was learnt, do not even use the cover of darkness anymore as they openly perpetrate their crimes in the glare of motorists in broad daylight.
Parts of the state where traffic robbery acts have been perpetrated include the Gbagada- Oworonsoki-Ketu Road, Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, Murtala Muhammed Airport Road, Costain, Third Mainland Bridge, Mile Two- Badagry Expressway, Ojota, Ojodu Berger and on the Long Bridge along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. These are places which frequently experience traffic snarls.
A former member of the Lagos State House of Assembly, representing Oshodi-Isolo Constituency 2, Omowunmi Olatunji-Edet, narrated a personal experience of such an attack recently.
She said, “I had an encounter with the hoodlums on the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway. The robbers, on that particular day, came to my car while stuck in traffic, banged on the car and asked me to wind down.
“I had to summon up courage to tell them I would deal with them in such a way that they had never experienced before if they behaved in a funny way. They eventually ran away from the scene on hearing my warning.”
But a popular actress, Ireti Doyle, who was also attacked recently in traffic, was not so lucky.
“I was robbed. I am alive and well. They got away with my phone and broke the side window of my car,” she said.
By the time the attack was over, Doyle sustained a nasty injury that required six stitches.
Nigerians have also taken to airing their frustration over the rising cases of traffic robberies on the social media.
A recent victim, Isioma Osaje, who shared her experience, said she was attacked around 11.30pm by two men.
She said, “I had just got off the phone with my mum to inform her that I was in traffic. The first two guys yelled at me from outside my window to wind down. Unknown to me, she immediately said a prayer for my safe return.
“I remember hearing that your best escape was to honk your horn repeatedly. I put my hand on the horn and didn’t let go. And I called God to help me. Immediately I saw an opening in the next lane, I swerved in, still pressing the horn. They fled.
“Five minutes later, three guys came to the driver’s window side. Pointing torches into my car with same instructions to wind down and give them something. I saw something swing and my window shattered. At that very minute, another space opened on the next lane and I swerved in while honking. They fled.”
Around the same period, a victim, who was robbed in traffic on the Eko Bridge, said he was attacked around 8pm in July.
She said, “The most painful part is that while the episode played out for about five minutes, people in other cars just looked on unconcerned. I had my wife and nine-month-old baby in the car at the time but that didn’t beset them as they scattered the side glass all over them in a movie-like manner.
“They broke two of my side windows and made away with three mobile phones and my sister’s bag, which contained her valuables.”
Lagosians petition the state government
Piqued by the exasperating traffic congestion in the state, some residents under the aegis of Concerned Citizens of Lagos, petitioned the state governor over the incessant traffic robberies. The petition titled, “Petition against Traffic Robbery in Lagos State” was uploaded on http://trafficchiefng.com with the intention of getting 50,000 signatures from residents before sending it to the governor, the Inspector-General of Police and the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo.
The petition read in part, “There has been a surge in reports of attacks on passengers in private vehicles during peak traffic periods in several parts of Lagos over the past couple of months. These criminals usually operate between the hours of 4am and 6:30am and 7:30pm-10pm at night and typically target occupants of vehicles, forcing them at gunpoint to part with cash and other valuables such as handbags, wallets, jewellery, phones, laptops, etc.
“These assailants are violent and carry out “smash-and-grab” attacks where they break the wind-shields or side windows of vehicles in an attempt to intimidate or rob motorists of their belongings. Most times, these criminals are armed and could escalate the violence if resisted. They often operate in groups of two or more under the guise of street hawkers and beggars to prospect for potential victims in traffic situations.”
Calling on the governor, the petitioners urged him to facilitate the mobilisation of armed police forces on foot or mobile to patrol the various criminal hotspots around Lagos State during peak traffic periods.
“We the citizens of Lagos cannot continue to live in fear like this any longer. It’s hard enough having to wake up ridiculously early and endure the gruelling hours of traffic just to get to work and back home but now we also have to contend with these armed assailants terrorising the streets,” the petition added.
As of the time of filing this report, however, a total of 122 Lagosians had signed the petition online while lamenting their vulnerability and insecurity in transit.
One of the signatories, ‘Debo Okunade, said, “The rising spate of insecurity is alarming. Some weeks ago, my brother got robbed and beaten. Tomorrow, it may be my sister or my mother.”
Stanley Onogholo, said, “Recently, I was descending from Eko Bridge via Apongbon to CMS, when suddenly the SUV directly in my front was attacked. The robber had a gun and only succeeded in taking a phone. He succeeded because there was traffic.”
Femi Olagunju, said, “I have been robbed twice; first at Berger on my way to Mile 2 from Apapa at gunpoint. Second, at Odunade Bus Stop after Orile. My side glass was shattered.”
Some Lagosians have now developed phobia for the evening rush hours because of the marauding traffic robbers dispossessing their victims of valuables.
Capturing the mood of several millions of the people, one of the signatories who does not want to be named, said, “I’m always on the edge in traffic because I know anyone can walk to my side and point a dangerous object at me to dispossess me of valuables. Unfortunately, it has become so rampant these days; it is done without fear of security agencies.”
Police commissioner speaks out
The problem seems to have caught the attention of the Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Mr. Fatai Owoseni, who confirmed he receives about four robbery alerts on his Twitter handle every day.
He said, “One of the areas where the government has challenges is the issue of traffic robbery. We will not shy away from the fact that we have had pockets of robbery in traffic in recent times.
“In a day, I receive about four tweets of traffic robbery. I monitor this personally and I give directions and instructions immediately.”
Owoseni added the robbers’ modus operandi included disguising as street traders, adding that motorists in the state must not patronise hawkers at night.
He said the police had also been working hard to curb the problem.
He said, “We arrested 115 hoodlums recently. We made arrests in Oworonsoki, Apongbon and Onikan areas and items recovered from the hoodlums include charms, machetes, locally-made guns and valuables of victims.
“The most recent traffic robbery recorded was carried out by someone selling snacks on the road. So, the message is that motorists should be careful when patronising street traders.”
Governor Ambode reacts
Ambode recently said there had been a resolve to stop the menace of robbery in traffic in the state’s troubled spots. He wondered why robbers will disguise as traders to rob commuters.
According to him, instructions have gone out to security agents to look out for traffic robbers in troubled areas.
The governor promised to stamp out traffic robberies in the state before Christmas while saying that two helicopters would be acquired to boost security and traffic management in the nation’s economic nerve centre.
He said, “We looked at the areas, where we are winning and the areas where we need to step up our activities. One of those areas we looked at critically was the issue of the guys who rob on the highway in the traffic.”
Despite the reassurance from the governor and the police, the robbers have not stopped terrorising commuters in Lagos.
In fact, robbers unleashed mayhem on motorists at the Onikan/ Awolowo Road area of Ikoyi recently after the governor who had gone there to inspect traffic situation left the spot.
Previous efforts to reduce traffic congestion
Several initiatives by the Lagos State Government aimed at mitigating the effects of traffic congestions have made limited successes. They include the establishment of the bus rapid transit (BRT) initiative, the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority, and the introduction of a traffic radio (96.1 FM) to advise Lagosians on traffic issues.
Others are the introduction of traffic lights in multiple locations, road expansion, and creation of alternative routes across the state.
However, they are all believed to have had limited impact because there is hardly a day in Lagos without heavy traffic situation.
The Traffic Radio Station (96.1 FM) was established to provide commuters and the motoring public with information on the situation of the roads in Lagos metropolis and to enable them to know the best possible routes available, thus reducing traffic time and congestion. Citizens doubt if this has made significant impact as envisaged.
The governor recently to acknowledge that the current 2, 100 staff strength of the LASTMA, the state traffic management agency, was not enough to effectively control traffic, thus confirming that the impact on traffic reduction has been limited.
The large body of water that could have been put to better use and make a significant difference in the Lagos traffic debacle has been largely underutilised. Though the state government in recent years has given considerable attention to the waterways, ferry transit has yet to meaningfully boost the state public transport mix and reduce congestion.
Around 22 per cent of Lagos is covered by the lagoon and other water bodies linking some parts of the state. To consolidate on the opportunity created by this window, the state government under the administration of a former governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, built new jetties and refurbished old ones to boost water transportation and reduce traffic snarls across the city.
For example, Fashola in 2012 signed a Ferry Manufacturing Agreement between Aluminium Boats Company of Brisbane, Australia and Eko Water Buses Limited, a consortium of water transportation practitioners in Lagos. Under the agreement, an initial batch of 60 ferries each with a 200-passenger capacity was to be deployed on various routes across the state.
A former Managing Director, Lagos State Waterways Authority, Mr. Yinka Marinho, had told Saturday PUNCH that over 200 commercial vessels operate commercially every day on Lagos waterways with the expectation that when fully developed, the water transport mode would help reduce congestion on Lagos roads.
But despite the significant investment by the Lagos State government and other private individuals at making water transportation attractive, many of the city’s inhabitants still prefer to go by road, enduring neck-breaking traffic nightmares in the process.
Waiting for Lagos light rail
The wait for the Lagos Metroline network started in 1980 during the Alhaji Lateef Jakande administration in the Second Republic. The project was, however, scrapped in 1985 by the then Head of State, Gen Muhammadu Buhari, at a loss of over $78m to the Lagos State taxpayers. The idea of the light rail project was revived by former Governor Bola Tinubu during his administration with a formal announcement of its construction in December 2003.
The light rail system is to be delivered on two major routes: The ‘Blue Line’, which will run from Okokomaiko to Marina with 13 stations while the ‘Red Line’ will run from Agbado to the Island.
The Lagos light rail project, which began in 2006 under the administration of Fashola, will be a high capacity, electrically-powered rail mass transit system. The end-to-end journey time, which currently costs an average Lagosian three hours, will be approximately 35 minutes when the light rail takes off.
The Commissioner for Transportation, Dr. Ekundayo Mobereola, who was until his recent appointment the Managing Director, LAMATA, emphasised the need for a rail mass transit in Lagos.
He had said, “We estimated that 20 million people are moving on daily basis in Lagos and in 2030, it is going to be 32 million people that will be moving on a daily basis.
“And we can’t do all of that by road, rather, it has to be done by rail mass transit. That is why rail is very important. We need to connect to the neighbouring city of Ogun State, where about 20 to 30 per cent of people who are actually working in Lagos live.
One of the partners to the project, the Managing Director of Infrastructure Bank Plc, Mr. Adekunle Oyinloye, had put the project cost at $2.4bn (N456bn).
Though, the principal aim of the project is to address traffic congestion and make commuting less stressful for the residents, its continuous delay worries the residents.
On September 12, 2015, Ethiopia inaugurated the first light rail system in sub-Saharan Africa. The 32-kilometre line was built in three years by the China Railway Group Limited at the cost of $474m.
While the Ethiopian 32-kilometer light rail project cost only $474m and completed on time, the Lagos ‘Blue Line’ will gulp $2.4bn (N456bn). It was initially slated for completion in 2011 but has suffered delays due to funding problems.
The 21 million residents in Lagos will continue to wait for respite in the light rail that has refused to see the light of day.
Commenting on the people’s expectation from the light rail project, a retired secondary school principal, who lives in Badagry area of Lagos, Mr. Ade Badmus, said, “No matter the palliatives and rhetoric, if there is no effective light rail system in Lagos, there will be problems for the masses and the poor people living in the outskirts will continue to suffer.”
The governor, however, light rail would be completed by December 2016 and would commence immediately.
Ambode said that the state government was determined to complete the light rail project by the end of next year because it would ease the traffic situation in the Lagos metropolis and improve the living standard of the people.
Where is the Lagos cable car transit system?
While the existing road networks in Lagos remain overcrowded as a result of congestion, Ropeways Transport Limited, a Nigerian company, conceived a $275m transport project to develop a 12.85 km network of cable cars that will serve Lagos metropolis and connect Lagos Island with both the mainland and Victoria Island.
The mass urban cable propelled transit system to be called the “Lagos Sky Bus” is expected to reduce the pressure on the existing road networks and reduce average journey times by as much as 70 minutes each way.
RTL, which is stirred by Dapo Olumide as the chief executive officer, said on its website that the “Project will serve as an affordable and reliable transportation alternative to the more than 12 million daily commuters in Lagos who are currently compelled to utilise articulated buses, motorcycles, ferries and private vehicles on severely congested roads within the Lagos Metropolis. It is also expected to provide significant returns to investors and potentially reduce the carbon footprint in Central Lagos by up to 30 per cent.”
According to the company, the project will comprise some eight stations in three routes beginning at Ijora, Apapa and Victoria Island respectively and with a central hub around Adeniji Adele.
The system, it said, would be designed to accommodate up to 240,000 trips daily transporting over 350,000 people within the metropolis of Lagos. By implication, 9,000 vehicles will be taken off the roads each day as a result of the project.
Though RTL had negotiated a 30-year franchise agreement with the Lagos State Government for the operation of three routes: Ijora to Adeniji Adele, via Iddo; Adeniji Adele to Ozumba, via Obalende and Falomo; and Apapa to Adeniji Adele, via Oluwole, Trico Capital, the Financial Adviser to RTL on the project, said financing would be met through a consortium of local sponsors and international and local financial institutions led by the African Development Bank.
Though the construction was planned to have commenced in 2013 and operations started in 2014/2015, the cable transit system is still being awaited by Lagosians who crave for integrated solution to the state protracted traffic challenges.
“When I saw a newspaper advert on the cable car project few years ago, I was happy that the promoters are Nigerians and earnestly waiting for its actualisation,” the Chief Executive Officer, Qumo Auto Wheels, Mr. Quadri Moradeyo, said. “This will help reduce traffic congestion on the Island and we appeal to the promoters not to delay the project unnecessarily.”
Socio-economic costs of traffic congestion in Lagos
The cost of the light rail and the commercial cable car, when put together, is to N555bn. While commuters continue to wait for these projects to help reduce traffic snarls in the metropolis, experts said the economic loss from protracted gridlocks is huge.
According to the Economic Intelligence Unit of the Lagos State Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget in a paper titled: “The Socio-economic costs of Traffic Congestion in Lagos,” about $1bn (about N160bn) is being lost yearly to congestion.
It said, “These conclusions were reached based on the official population figure of 17 million for Lagos State. The research concludes further that Lagosians collectively lose 3 billion hours to traffic congestions yearly, and that if that time were reduced by 20 per cent, it would save the state at least $1bn (about N160 billion) yearly.
“These figures underscore the seriousness of the issue of traffic congestion in Lagos and the impetus for a reasoned and thorough response towards improving the transportation system in Lagos State.”