To say it is a shame for both the federal government of Nigeria and the Lagos State government that a major route to the country’s most vibrant and viable economic hub has been closed to traffic for 14 whole months is to trivialize what is clearly a national tragedy.
The federal government has spent 14 months, and still counting,to carry out just repair work on the damaged portion of a bridge and the Lagos State government looks away as its citizens burn out daily in gridlock that takes over four hours of their productive days.
Since March 2022, a section of the Eko Bridge which leads Lagos residents from the mainland to the island has been closed to traffic following a fire incident on Apongbon Bridge. The traffic nightmare that ensued worsened with the closure of the second section of Eko Bridge after another fire incident at the Ijora Olopa end of the bridge in November 2022.
For these reasons, Eko Bridge, like Apapa in Lagos, has become a by-word for gridlock where commuters choose either to spend three to four hours of their productive day in traffic or park their vehicles at home and trek to the Island. It is a hard choice but, for many, the later is a lesser evil.
Every morning in this mega city which is also aspiring to be a smart city, residents who live on the mainland but have their businesses on the island, are seen trekking long distances, sometimes from Costain or National Stadium into the island.
When Babatunde Fashola, the minister of works and housing, came towards the end of last year to inspect the burnt Eko Bridge and repair work on the Apongbon Bridge, expectations were high that some relief was on the way.
But that was not to be. Fashola’s visit, instead, left a sour taste in the mouth. “There will not be Apongbon for Christmas, as much as we tried,” Fashola, said, adding that the delivery date of Apongbon Bridge, earlier fixed for December 2022, had been extended to May 2023.
The reason for this, the minister explained, was because of the emergency repair of the burnt section of Eko Bridge. “Government would not be able to actualise its plan of completing Apongbon Bridge because its materials had been deployed to the burnt section of Eko Bridge,” he said.
This, for us, was dream deferred almost indefnitely. It was the beginning of increased suffering when and where it should have ended. We reasoned that six months for a project completion in election season was like eternity because, at a time like that, nobody is sure of anything.
At that time, we thought that all hopes were not lost because there was something to hope for and that was the Lagos Blue Line rail system which the state government had said would start test-running by December 2022, preparatory to its official take-off by the first quarter of 2023.
What we saw then was a fortunate and heart-warming coincidence. While the federal government extended commuters suffering on Eko Bridge for whole six months, the Lagos state government waved a green flag, assuring commuters that they would not cry for long.
“This administration will continue to keep to its promises on timely completion of infrastructural projects in the state; we are launching the last T-Beam and it is part of our commitment to deliver the blue line project as scheduled and on time to the residents of Lagos,” Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor of the state, assured.
Continuing, he stressed, “this administration will continue to meet up with its promises on timely completion of infrastructural projects in the state; the 984th T-Beam for the blue line rail project is a confirmation that the project would be delivered on schedule.
“We want to ensure that we formally complete the blue line before December 31, 2022; we will be doing testing from December, with the hope that real passenger movement will start in the first quarter of 2023,” the governor declared.
In Nigeria, the only survival strategy that works is to keep on hoping to ward off depression. Though it is already two whole months into the second quarter of the year, Lagosians still hope that the rail line operation will happen by “the first quarter.” To think otherwise is to fish in a troubled pond.
When motorists sulk in their daily dose of suffering on Eko Bridge, unsure when the federal government would be through with the repair work on the two bridges, the Lagos rail system remains the only respite in sight. They hope it will bring the much needed relief.
By its very nature, the rail system is a mass transit mode of transportation which is what Lagosians need now, especially for Mainland-Island commute that has become hellish. We believe that the Blue Line which will run from Mile 2 to Marina is a project whose time for completion and operation has come.
After 13 years of conception and construction, we believe that this project is old enough to get off the ground and get running like what happens in Cairo and Nairobi in Egypt and Kenya respectively who are not in the league of Lagos in terms of population and size of economy.
Cairo Metro is the solution to the city’s traffic challenge that was worse than what Apapa used to be in Lagos. The Cairo metro system has three lines. A fourth and a fifth are expected to be built in the future. But, currently, about 500 million passengers and 12million tons of freight are transported on the urban rail network each year by the metro.
It is our expectation that the Lagos Blue Line will come to surpass this given its ambitious conception. We, therefore, urge the state government to deliver this project soonest in the interest of humanity and the economy of the state which, in our view, will be a lot better for it.
If not for anything, at least, to save the numerous lives that are subjected to wear and tear everyday on Eko Bridge. The economy of the state will, in our hope and firm belief, benefit from it all.