Imagine trimming down an exhausting four-hour commute from your home to workplace in Lagos to 30 minutes – there are at least three things that does for you.
First is increased productivity, as less time is spent in traffic congestion. There is an upside in that for the economy as well.
Second is money saved paying lower rent, as individuals hitherto motivated to live closer to their workplaces to cut excessive commute time, can decide to relocate farther away to cheaper areas now that their commute time is shorter. Take a person who works in the business district of Victoria Island that decides to move home from suburb in Lekki Phase 1 to Ajah and cutting rent costs by over 60 percent.
Thirdly, for a business owner, shorter commute time means there’s better flexibility in considering options for an office space, not to mention how an interconnected mega city helps drive down the cost of operations and improve the ease of doing business.
It’s time to return to present day Lagos, where a non-functioning metro rail system means one of Africa’s largest city is only still nursing the ambition of a mega city. Horrendous traffic jams are a common sight and people spend four hours on journeys of 28 kilometres that take five minutes in true mega cities where high speed trains run 350km per hour.
“When I was in England, I lived in Manchester but worked in Central London, it’s five hours by road but two hours by train, and I loved it,” said Janice Okeke, a small business owner who recently relocated to Lagos.
It’s been a rude awakening for Okeke since her return as she finds that shorter distances within same state – Lagos – take even longer periods.
“I remember dropping off a cousin at the international airport in Ikeja and she arrived in London, which is a six hour trip, before I arrived home in Ajah,” Okeke said.
The distance between Manchester to London is 262 kilometres, that’s five times the distance between Ajah and the Ikeja airport. The latter journey should take an hour at most, according to Google Map estimates.
Lagos is the largest city in the world without a functioning rail system, as decades of stop-starts have scuttled plans to build a metro line first muted as far back as the 1980s.
After being conceived by then Governor of Lagos State, Lateef Jakande, in 1983, the initial Metroline project was scrapped in 1985 by Muhammadu Buhari, who happens to be President of Nigeria some 35 years later, at a loss of over $78 million to the Lagos tax payers. That project has since been dumped.
In the latest of many incarnations, the project was supposed to begin operations in 2012 at a cost of $2.4 billion.
At that time, the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), the agency set up to fast-track the state’s transport ambition, proposed seven lines in the network: Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Purple, Brown and Orange.
China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) was appointed as the contractor for the construction of the first line (Blue).
CCECC was to construct the Blue Line in two phases. The first phase included the National Theatre to Mile 2 section and the second phase includes the Mile 2 to Okokomaiko section. The Blue Line was supposed to be fully ready in 2012, but eight years after the supposed start date, construction is not yet complete.
In August 2018, LAMATA signed an agreement with French manufacturer of rail transport equipment, Alstom SA to conduct a review of the rail lines. After the review of the rail project, the state government said the Blue Line would now be ready for passenger operation by 2022.
That’s two years from now. But on the evidence of past failings, Lagosians will be forgiven if they show little hope that the rail line will be ready at the stipulated time.
In the meantime, each day a functional metro rail system stalls in Lagos, residents pay the heavy price of commuting on “nightmare roads that eat into average life expectancy,” a lawyer who works in Apapa, which houses the country’s busiest ports, says.
The nightmarish traffic on the roads will get worse the longer the rail line stalls, going by population growth expectations.
Lagos is home to roughly 22 million people which could top 30 million in the next 10 years, according to 2019 estimates by the state government. It makes up some 20 percent of Nigeria’s GDP and the poor transport links are a drag on the whole country, economists say.
“Lagos cannot truly consider itself a ‘mega city’ without a functional rail system and it’s a big problem when you consider the rapidly expanding population,” said Ayodeji Ebo, managing director of investment bank, Afrinvest Securities, who has inside details of the rail project.
“The reason the rail project has stalled mainly has to do with the government failing to meet the terms of private sector partners,” Ebo said.
It’s not a lack of funds but the lack of political will that stands between Lagos and its rail transport ambition, according to some sources with knowledge of the matter.
Johnson Chukwu, CEO of financial advisory firm, Cowry Assets, said there was a lack of interest by the immediate past administration of Akinwunmi Ambode to complete the Blue rail line.
According to his interactions with some of the people monitoring the project, Chukwu said “There weren’t enough resources committed to completing it under Ambode and no one is sure whether the new government of Babajide Sanwo-Olu is keen to revive it,” Chukwu said.
Kolawole Ojelabi, the assistant director of corporate communication at LAMATA, said last October that the rail project was “set for a breath of fresh air” under Governor Sanwo-Olu.