• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Lagos traffic: 36 years of fruitless search for solution

traffic in Lagos

In the last 36 years, Lagos State government has been consistently investing time, energy and resources in its search for a sustainable solution to traffic congestion which has become a major feature of its badly degraded and difficult environment.

For so long also the solution has been elusive, begging the question as to what the state is doing wrongly or not doing at all, accounting for this nightmare that has made the state a loathsome destination for investors and tourists in spite of its huge population.

About 40 years ago, precisely on March 29, 1978, a major glimpse into the state’s traffic challenge was given by the defunct Daily Times Newspaper which hit the newsstand with a screaming headline: ‘Lagos Traffic Defies Solution’ with a rider—‘chaos despite new measure’. This means that Lagos has known traffic crisis for as long as when the present governor of the state was a boy in primary school.

A Metro Line Project, which came five years after, was the first major attempt at solving this problem but it turned out a project that never was. It was a good dream truncated by a rampaging military junta.

On July 16, 1983, Lateef Jakande, the first civilian governor of the state (1979-1983), flagged off the Lagos Metro Line project that was projected to cost N689 million at that time. It was a major attempt at introducing an intra-city rail system as a response to the traffic crisis in the commercial city.

“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.

According to projections, the first phase of the project was to be completed in July 1986. It was to have 30 trains, each running 28.5 kilometers 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 Jakande administration was responding to a transportation study said to have been commissioned by the Federal Government in 1974, which indicated a crisis situation with regards to traffic in Lagos, compared to what was the case in the early 1970s, unless the challenge was urgently addressed.

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.

But the project suffered a setback as the military coup which saw the junta, led by then General Muhammadu Buhari, overthrew the civilian administrations of then President Shehu Shagari and Governor Jakande.

Though some efforts have been made in bits and pieces by successive military and civilian administrations 36 years after this ambitious attempt by Jakande, the monster called traffic gridlock has persisted in the state, growing in size and stature along with the state’s  population which has grown geometrically from about five million to an estimated 22 million.

With a vehicular density of over 222 vehicles/km and largely unplanned network of roads, Lagos, the smallest of Nigeria’s 36 states, by landmass, sitting on 3,577 square kilometres, continues to face traffic challenges.

The best of all attempts by one administration after another in the state has not been good enough; hence the state which is Nigeria’s economic hub, is gradually but steadily grinding to a halt with grave implications not just to the state’s economy but also to the health and well being of the residents.

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 gridlock; another is misery which is quite deep.

Misery is a native in Lagos and looking at both life and living in the state, it does seem that the residents have committed a grave and unforgivable sin and the ultimate punishment is traffic which is the first reason for everything that makes the state difficult to live.

Lagos traffic
Lagos traffic

A Global Liveability Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the world’s leader in global business intelligence, says Lagos is one of the worst places to live in the world, adding that it has been within the range of 137th-139th position out of a total of 140 cities in the world from year 2011-2019.

Environment issues bordering on living conditions were a major consideration in the ranking. Congestion is the reason an average Lagosian spends about 4 hours on the road every day just to get to his shop or office. It is so bad nowadays that even somebody who lives in Surulere has to leave his house by 5:00am in order to get to work in Victoria Island and he won’t get there until 8:00am.

In Lagos, this gridlock is no respecter of location and for the commuters, there is no hiding place. So, whether it is a journey through Lekki-Epe Expressway, Agege Motor Road, Abule Egba-Oshodi, Ifako-Ijaiye-Agbado Road, Isolo-Ejigbo-Ikotun Egbe Road, or Lagos-Badagry Expressway, it is the same “highway to hell”.

Apparently, the gridlock which is everywhere and anywhere in the state, including the very exclusive neighbourhoods, has defied solution which, in some cases, comes right from the Federal Government.

Besides the provision of roads infrastructure, the state government, especially during the administration of Babatunde Fashola, had to come up with two separate but interrelated laws aimed to control traffic situation in the state.

These are the Lagos State Traffic Law and the law setting up the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA, both aimed to regulate and control traffic flow in the state.

The traffic law which was so effective in its early days that it demanded a psychiatric evaluation of any person who drove against the normal flow of traffic or who failed to comply with any of the provisions of this Law failed due largely to lack of enforcement.

Today, it seems as though the state never had any such law in place. LASTMA which came out smoking with some level of positive results soon became an octopus, assuming larger than life image and extorting motorists on spurious charges, leading to its widespread condemnation.

Though officials of the authority are still seen everywhere on Lagos roads, their impact is quite minimal. They are no longer serious with their work after former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode clipped their wings, telling them to stop the harassment and extortion of motorists while on duty.

The reconstruction and expansion of major highways in the state are also part of measures the state government has taken to contain traffic crisis in the state. A ready example of this effort is the Lagos-Badagry Expressway which is being expanded into 10-lanes with a light rail in-between.

But the expressway has become an albatross. After 10 years with very little to justify the efforts, it has become a nightmare where motorists spend upwards of five hours within a stretch of three kilometers.

In the midst of these efforts and failures, the state, its residents and the economy have continued to suffer. It has become unbearable to live in the state and this was reflected in the ranking of the state as the third most miserable city in the world by an international ranking organisation.

Both travel time and cost have gone up in recent time by over 1000 percent. Apart from impoverishing the resident, the crisis situation is also diminishing the economy of the state as it significantly affects productivity from the level of artisans to CEOs in the corporate world.

“The congestion we see everywhere in Lagos today is as a result of action and inaction of the state government,” Adebola Adefuyi, an environment and regional analyst, told BDSUNDAY.

He explained that the inability or unwillingness of the successive governments to enforce existing traffic and street trading laws are major causes of the present crisis situation.

Adefuyi was of the view that for so long as the state government shied away from creating new city centres in places like Ikorodu, Badagry, Abule Egba and other far-flung suburbs, so long will everybody find their way to the already congested city centres, and for so long too will this crisis continue.

Ezeillo Nnamdi, a Lagos resident residing in one of the suburbs, agrees, stressing that the state government should, as short term measure, make the roads motorable because, according to him, “there is no road to drive on in Lagos at the moment.”


Chuka Uroko