Due largely to the nature of its environment, which is very challenging, Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre, has laws on virtually everything. It is such that residents joke among themselves, saying that one day the state will come up with laws on breathing, eating and sleeping.
Prominent among these laws is the Traffic Law, which was signed in August 2012 by the then governor, Babatunde Fashola. It is noteworthy that the state had its highest number of laws during Fashola’s reign. That was, however, expected from a governor who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
The traffic law, among other provisions, says that “Any person who drives a motor vehicle on a highway without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the highway, shall be guilty of an offence and be liable on conviction to a fine of fifty thousand naira (N50,000.00).” It remains to be seen how many people the law has convicted, jailed or made to pay the penalty.
For us, the law, which has new versions as recorded in 2018 and 2020, was a good and well-intentioned approach to traffic management and control in a state where the traffic situation is better described as a crisis. However, there is a missing link which is the enforcement of these laws, traffic law in particular.
It is interesting to know that, as a city, Lagos likes being addressed in superlative terms as ‘the largest economy in West Africa; one of the fastest growing cities in the world, a mega city; a smart city and one of the 100 resilient cities in the world.’ But it easily and pitiably falls flat when the cards are laid out on the table. A major card is traffic gridlock; another is stress, which is quite deep.
It does seem that the state has all the good and brilliant ideas, but lacks the will power or political will to see them through. The ban on motor cycles also called Okada is a case in point. From when the state made that pronouncement to now, the number of Okada in the state has increased. To an average Okada man in Lagos, everywhere is road.
Traffic situation in the state has made it, arguably, the most chaotic and stressful city in the world. And records show that the state’s traffic challenge dates back many decades. Precisely on July 16, 1983, Lateef Kayode Jakande, the first civilian governor of the state (1979-1983) flagged off the Lagos Metro Line project estimated to cost N689 million at that time. It was a major attempt at introducing an intra-city rail system in the state as a response to the state’s traffic crisis.
A few years earlier, the March 29, 1978 edition of Daily Times had hit the newsstand with a screaming headline, ‘Lagos Traffic Defies Solution’ with a rider—‘chaos despite new measure’, meaning that Lagos has known traffic crisis for more than 40 years today.
“We are making history today. One hundred years from now, generations yet unborn would thank us for the wisdom in establishing this project. At that time, the metro line would have expanded from the north-south route of Lagos to other states. I dream of a comfortable future and I thank God for making me and this administration instruments for this future,” Jakande said at the flag–off event.
The chaos that defines Lagos roads today, especially in the hinterlands, says it all that the visionary governor was mistaken and it is very pathetic that his dream has been dashed, meaning that the generations he talked about would have nothing to thank him and his administration, for the wisdom in establishing the project that never was.
According to projection, the first phase of the project was to be completed in July 1986. It was to have 30 trains, each running 28.5 kilometres on raised concrete tracks from Marina to Agege.
It was projected that the 30 trains would carry 88,000 passengers per hour, which is 2, 288, 000 passengers in 16 hours, about half of the population of Lagos going by the World Health Organisation (WHO) calculations at that time.
The administration had planned to execute the metro line project in two phases, with the first starting from the Marina to Yaba. This phase was slated for completion in July 1986, while the second, commencing from Agege to Yaba through Oregun and Ikorodu Expressway, was slated for completion in March, 1987. All these have gone down as mere pipe dreams, unfortunately.
We are, however, not unmindful of the challenges the state has as a mega city with over 20 million residents scrambling for space on a land mass considered the smallest in the whole country.
But it is pertinent to note that the state does not always walk its talk, especially with its traffic laws. These laws are left in the hands of extortionists masquerading as law enforcement agents. The laws are open to bribery and corruption such that an average motorist in the state understands the language of these enforcement agents. He breaks the law, bribes the agents and goes on.
Again, the law enforcers are grossly inadequate and it seems to us that the state lacks all the funds to pay if more people are recruited to join the fray. Nevertheless, in our candid opinion, there is so much more the state can do without necessarily breaking the bank. One such thing is disciplining the few law enforcers to place public interest above self.
Time to do so is today so that the 21st century economy dream can be realised for the good of all.