Adeola Akinremi reports that these days more young people are riding bicycles across Lagos metropolis in a trend that is suggestive of upping the ante of a bicycle culture
Like a seer, he predicted the future that is today. But Ojo Maduekwe, the former Minister of Transport did not do one thing. He did not muster enough courage in the face of criticism. If he did, there will be bicycle lanes in major cities today. Exactly 12 years ago as a Transport Minister, Maduekwe told everyone who cared to listen that cycling would be part of Nigeria’s future, especially the metropolitan city of Lagos. Maduekwe told Nigerians to embrace cycling as a partial solution to the growing gridlock that is crippling Nigeria’s economy.
To be sure, he demonstrated it. He cycled through a torrential downpour on his way to a cabinet meeting in Abuja. "Rain doctors did their worst, I defied them. In this business, rain does not really matter," said Maduekwe in a triumphant tone to his colleagues at the cabinet meeting.
Yes, Maduekwe had his name ridiculed because of his campaign for the use of bicycle on Nigerian roads. He was called ‘Ojo onikeke’- Ojo the cyclist; ‘Ojo oniyeye’- Ojo the jester and several name calling.
And in an irony of life that fate is never tired of, he was even hit by a bus and fell into a ditch while cycling to work in June 2001. But trust Maduekwe, he’s never short of words for his critics. “My critics are only concerned about the physics of the bicycle campaign, but my angle to it is inclusive of metaphysics.”
Now, Maduekwe may have moved on and that memory of his campaign to get Nigerians to use bicycle may have disappeared like a vapour as well, but Lagosians are starting to keep that memory alive with more bicycles now seen daily on the roads.
Olusola Michael, an independent courier agent who lives in Alimosho had been using bicycle to commute to work every day in the last six months. He said: “Because of the ban on motorcycle, I opted for bicycle. I have seen a number of young people too on bicycle within the metropolis and I believe it is a trend now in Lagos.”
In terms of safety, Michael said he would not encourage old people to ride bicycle in Lagos and for the young people he gave a word of caution, “don’t go on the highway until Lagos State Government creates bicycle lanes. That is a dangerous thing to do in Lagos where everyone is in a hurry and if you are a cyclist, you are treated with less regard on the road,” he said.
True, it is a common sight to see many of the riders get on highways without the proper safeguards such as crash helmets, shin guards, and knee pads. In addition, reflective lamps, and headlights are often missing on many of the bicycles.
But earlier, the Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Mr Kayode Opeifa confirmed the government’s preparedness to make cycling a part of daily life in Lagos.
“The bicycle programme is on and pretty soon, you will see some roads in Lagos, marked as bike zones.”
The Commissioner hinted, “what is alternative to motorcycle is the bicycle.”
“Anybody who wants to take a motorcycle from their house to the bus stop should use their bicycles.
“And when they (commuters in Lagos) get to the bus stop they should tie their bikes to the poles provided at the bus stop and join the BRT buses. The poles we are providing at the bus stops are not for decorations but for people to tie their bicycles,” he added.
Besides, Opeifa noted that cycling will enhance people’s lifestyle and thereby improve their productive and lifespan which he claimed will also have a resultant effect on the nation’s GDP.
And while acknowledging that the tropical weather in Lagos will make it uncomfortable for cyclers, the Commissioner noted that “yes, the weather will make people sweat but offices will be urged to provide showers” to ameliorate the discomfort.
Although Lagos State is yet to demarcate the said bicycle lanes, Lagosians are upbeat about cycling. There are more bicycle shops opening in the neighbourhoods and on Lagos high streets as people take active interest in cycling within the metropolis.
One supporter of the plan for bicycle lanes in Lagos State who spoke to THISDAY, Mr. Kenenth Igwe said: “I think it will help a lot. More young people are now going on the roads with bikes and that shows what people are looking forward to in Lagos. I'm a strong supporter of bicycles, though I wouldn't know how the riders would be protected against crazy Lagos drivers. It would work better in quiet cities like Abuja, Enugu, Calabar or maybe just restricted to the neighbourhoods in Lagos.”
But another Lagos resident queried such plan. “Tie bicycles at a car park? I hope the government will buy those bicycles? If not you will have to buy another bicycles every week, because before you come back to the park, your bike may have disappeared,” said Afeez Kilani , a resident of Ikeja.
A broadcaster, Emmanuel Essien, popularly known as Mani, who had been championing the cause for everyone to own and ride a bicycle in Lagos said: “I believe in cycling like it is done in China. I believe cycling is a way to keep healthy and to keep your heartbeat running properly and your blood pressure in check as well as keep the earth green. Lagos state is trying to endorse it for the very first time. Encourage cycling in your estate, not on the highways, because in Nigeria, we don’t live long, we have a life expectancy that is very poor, which is presently at 42 years and we spend eight hours in traffic.”
Aaron Abah, a regular importer of used bicycles for sale in Nigeria’s commercial city claimed bicycle sale is a moving, good business in Nigeria at present.
“Bicycle sale is now a good business in Lagos. I have people who place orders even before my bicycles arrive and because they are used, the price is cheap and affordable. I see a lot of young people around riding bicycle for different purpose. Some ride it mainly to exercise the body and some are using bicycle for economic reason and physical fitness.”
Abah said bicycles have range and that determines the price. “I have sold a bicycle at the cost that ranges from N10,000 to N25,000 and that is because I sell second-hand bicycles. I know you can get a new bicycle for as much as N250,000 to N350,000.”
“All over the world, from London to Stockholm to Buenos Aires, people ride their bikes to work because it saves the environment of the gaseous emissions that is harmful to the environment and if Lagosians are waking up to that reality, especially with the chaotic traffic that characterise Lagos, I think everyone should own a bicycle. We should go to stores with our bicycles and nearby streets to check out on our friends. Let’s leave the cars behind at home,” Abah added.
Indeed, Lagos with an estimated metropolitan area population of about 20 million people is in no doubt having more than its fair share of traffic problems. Most residents often rate traffic as their biggest worry after security.
Many Lagosians commute to work spending hours in traffic jam every day just as they move from one end of the sprawling city to another sitting absolutely still either in private or commercial vehicles facing the city’s ‘go-slow’
For this, family lives and the lifestyles of residents are affected. Many parents who live on the mainland and work in places such as Lekki, Victoria Island and Lagos Island leave home before the dawn to arrive work early and that means they won’t see their children until weekends when most families have the time go to bed and wake up about the same time. In most cases day care centres and housemaids are taken over the responsibility of parents towards their children.
Amazingly, the Lagos State Government despite its enormous work in road construction has not created any bicycle lanes or make definite pronouncement on bicycle zones for the state, although it claimed that is intended.
The state Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Dr. Obafemi Hamzat told THISDAY that the government is checking out on the trend to inform its final decision.
“For now, there is no bicycle lane, but plan is underway to incorporate bicycle lane in some of the road projects. The volume of bicycle traffic will determine designation of dedicated lanes for such purpose. Already the plan is underway.”
And should Lagos become a bicycle city in the end, it would be refreshing to see more people riding through the streets in office dress with papers strapped to the rear of the carriers.