By Ijeoma Nwogwugwu
About a month ago, I spent a few minutes staring at a photograph on the front page of the Punch Newspaper. The photograph was taken to depict the traffic gridlock that had built up on Ikorodu Road as a result of the closure of the Third Mainland Bridge currently under repairs. While the photograph might have served its purpose, all I could see in that picture was the extra empty lane specially reserved for Lagos BRT buses that motorists are not allowed to ply.
For readers in other parts of the country that do not know Ikorodu Road, a description of the road would suffice: Ikorodu Road, expanded, I suspect, by the Federal Government in the 1970s, is a ten-lane dual carriageway. It has two service lanes on each side of the road and three on each of the main lanes. The service lanes respectively service buses and motorists wanting to drop and pick up passengers and exit or enter Ikorodu Road. The main lanes connect Western Avenue (now called Funsho Williams Road) from Suru Lere or Herbert Macaulay Way in Yaba all the way to Mile 12 after Ketu. It is without contention one of the busiest and longest roads in Lagos.
In spite of its importance and the quantum of motorists that ply that road every day, the Lagos State Government, in its wisdom, decided in 2007 to carve out, using dangerous concrete barriers, a section of the main lanes for its BRT buses and barred motorists from using the so-called exclusive lanes.
As I looked at the photograph in the Punch, I was incensed at the senseless of the policy that carved out one section of major carriageways in Lagos State. It is not just Ikorodu Road that has those life-threatening concrete barriers that cause horrific accidents at night. Several other federal roads in Lagos have been carved up in a similar fashion. There is the Outer Marina on the Lagos Island and Western Avenue in Suru Lere.
These silly lanes exclusively meant for the smattering of BRT buses that ply Lagos roads are always left empty while commuters are confined to two lanes when gridlocks occur. I even recall that two years ago, I damned the consequences and entered into a BRT bus lane but was stopped and arrested by officials of the Lagos State Transport Management Authority. Although they impounded my car, this only happened after a raging argument had ensued between the officials and myself over the foolishness of leaving one lane empty when others were choked. I informed them that their primary responsibility was to ensure that traffic flowed and not to compound it by leaving one lane empty. But like zombies, they failed to grasp the significance of my message. Mind you, we spent over 15 minutes bickering on that lane and for all of those minutes, not a single BRT bus made its way past us. I just shook my head at their inability to think outside the box.
I have tried to find out why those silly lanes were created by the Lagos State Government and the bizarre reason given was that other motorists and yellow buses – popularly known as Danfos and Molues – are barred from using them to ensure the free flow of traffic for the BRT buses (as though BRT bus users are from another planet and are any more important than the yellow bus users and other motorists in Lagos). The second reason was that other motorists are barred from using those lanes to prevent cars and yellows buses that develop faults and might breakdown on the exclusive lanes.
Both reasons, if you ask me, just don’t make sense, because, on the one hand, one lane is left empty 95 per cent of the time while others are congested most of the time. Second, the chance of a vehicle, even a brand new one for that matter, of breaking down is a fact of life and a risk that the traffic management authorities must contend with everyday in busy cities such as Lagos. What the Lagos State Government should do is it to ensure that it has a rapid response mechanism to tow away broken down vehicles on busy roads promptly and not add to the problem as it were.
Also, in the UK, where they have similar lanes reserved for buses, the concrete barriers do not exist because of the grave danger they portend. Moreover, other motorists are not barred from driving on such lanes; they are simply barred from parking or stopping on them, except where they have been stopped by traffic lights.
This issue brings us to the new Traffic Law, which the state government has just enacted and is so proudly propagating. The week before last, when the law was signed by the state governor, Babatunde Fashola, the original story which hit my computer was ‘New Traffic Law Bars Motorists from Drinking and Eating’. On seeing the headline, I did a double take and proceeded to read the story to see if the law was specific on the kind of beverages motorists had been barred from drinking. Unfortunately, nothing in the story suggested that the law had specified alcoholic beverages as banned substances while driving; neither did the story specify eating to mean a full course meal of ‘rice and stew’ or ‘garri and soup’.
Fortunately, some 30 minutes after reading the story, the governor’s media aide Hakeem Bello and the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy Aderemi Ibirogba called to wax lyrical about the significance of the new Traffic Law. I asked what this law was meant to achieve if the story I had just read meant anything and wondered what law would bar motorists from quenching their thirst with water or soft drinks in the blazing Lagos heat. I also reminded them that all modern cars have cup holders for cups and bottles and may be the state would have to enact a law barring vehicles with cup holders (I forgot to add that some SUVs even have fridges).
I also asked why any motorist would be arrested for chewing gum, munching on a sausage roll (ubiquitously known as Gala) or minced pie (better known as meat pies here) while trying to get to their destination. It just did not make sense. Expectedly, they tried to argue their way out of the irrational provisions of the law, but the point was made that it must be specific as to the kind of food and beverages motorists are barred from drinking and eating when on the road. It may also be necessary to remind the state government that rehydration in tense situations such as horrendous traffic jams is necessary to calm the nerves, while certain medical conditions require some motorists to replenish the level of sugar in the body every few hours.
But more importantly, the Lagos State Government has a responsibility to ensure that all roads in the state are motorable before it can enforce its new law. Another example will suffice: A week ago, a colleague of mine was stopped in the middle of the night by the police in Apapa for driving on the wrong side of the road. But what the police did not know was that it was LASTMA officials who had turned my colleague and other motorists back from Liverpool Road at that bizarre hour because the road exiting Apapa had been completely blocked by those crazy fuel trucks and trailers all trying to make their way to the fuel depots along Creek Road and the Apapa sea port.
The only way options for motorists that night was to either sit on the right side of the road for hours and risk being shot at and robbed by armed miscreants/robbers that the state government cannot seem to get rid off or drive against traffic. Of the two, he chose the lesser evil.
Similarly, a section of Creek Road has become unmotorable because of the craters (not potholes) on the road. A month ago, a colleague of mine and I tried to drive on the right side of the road after work on a day it had rained heavily. Indeed, it was only a miracle that out cars did not break down from that ordeal. Ever since, we have been compelled to exit Creek Road from the wrong side just because the Lagos State or federal government has not deemed it necessary to fix the road.
The point being made is that before the Lagos State Government goes gaga over its new Traffic Law, it needs to do some soul searching as to if it has provided a conducive environment for motorists to commute. Without argument, drivers in Lagos are some of the worst in the world and break the Highway Code with reckless impunity. But it requires more than well-intended laws and policies to restore sanity to Lagos roads and achieve the free flow of traffic.
Jobs must be created in order to get commercial motorcyclists, armed robbers and social miscreants off the roads and guaranty security; the concrete barriers on federal roads must be removed and all motorists allowed to ply the lanes without fear or favour; streets must by properly marked, lit and maintained so that vehicles can drive on the right lanes; more BRT buses must be deployed and alternative means of public transportation must be introduced to reduce the number of those dreadful yellow buses that litter Lagos streets; more bus parks and bus stops must be built and bus drivers taught to use the parks or bus stops instead of parking in the middle of the road to drop and pick up passengers; more policemen have to be deployed to hot spots to secure lives and property; they in turn have to be properly equipped to do their jobs properly; traffic wardens and LASTMA officials must be properly trained and re-orientated to stop jumping in front of moving vehicles or reckless drivers trying to make quick getaways as they put their lives at risk; CCTV cameras should be deployed in the state to monitor and manage vehicular movement and apprehend traffic offenders; the state should in conjunction with the FRSC work towards developing a central data base for all vehicles and licensed drivers so that traffic offenders who might try to evade arrest can still be brought to book.
The list is endless on what is required of the Lagos State Government for its Traffic Law to work, without which the law would hardly solve the problems on Lagos roads that it seeks to sanitise.