Governor Babatunde Fashola
With the light rail project due this June as promised by Governor Babatunde Fashola, Lagos State appears set for challenges reflecting its megacity status, writes Nkiruka Okoh
Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, last week inspected the light rail project and some others presently being undertaken by the administration. At the site of the light rail project, an apparently impressed Fashola promised that the first phase of the project, covering areas of the state such as Okokomaiko, Mile 2, Orile Iganmu and Marina would be ready by June.
He said work had reached an advanced stage and that upon completion, the project would revolutionise the transportation sector of the state.
The problem of transportation, no doubt, has been one of the major challenges of the state, especially given its status as a megacity. But this is believed to have been further compounded by the absence of rail service and water transport system as obtainable in other climes.
But the situation presented by such inadequacies had become a source of concern for the authorities in the state which had also commenced specific projects to further boost the situation and by implication, the economy of Lagos.
Thus, by putting to task, the Lagos Metropolitan Transport Authority, (LAMATA), headed by Dr. Dayo Mobereola, the government had formulated certain policies for the restructuring of its public transportation system.
The first of such initiative was the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme which allows buses to travel on separate highway lanes, using rail-like stations for loading and unloading of passengers. The BRT has the flexibility to travel in mixed traffic and on local streets, depending on its route.
With BRT’s successful outing, the government tried its hand on the water transportation system as part of the initiative to containing the transportation challenge in the state. It is called the inter-modal transportation which encourages extensive use of the state’s waterways.
Fashola, because of this, was recently in Brisbane, Queensland in Australia, where he signed a ferry manufacturing agreement for the state between Aluminium Boats Company of Brisbane and a consortium of companies called Eko Water Buses Limited.
By virtue of the agreement, the state expects, albeit in phases, an initial batch of 60 ferries each with a capacity for 200 passengers to be deployed on various routes. The ferries said to look like water buses because of their passenger-carrying capacity are expected to hit the waterways soon.
The inspection and agreement also followed another Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Lagos State Government, represented by the Private Public Partnerships Office and the Lagos State Waterways Authority (LASWA) and Eko Water Buses Limited.
As a city surrounded by water, Lagos stands to gain a lot from diversifying its mode of transportation by tapping into the waterways. This is why many believed that if given serious attention, it could help reduce the hardship of road users and propel Lagos closer to its megacity status when compared to cities like New York, London and Hong Kong.
The scope of the waterways mode of transport can also be expanded to cultural events, tourist attraction and family treats, using the Dubai Dhow cruise as an example of how resources can further be generated if that sector is properly annexed.
With the waterways transport somewhat sorted out, Fashola therefore saw the need to accelerate work on the light rail project, which had been in the works since the end of his first term in office. Billed to use steel tracked fixed guide way, the light rail is designed as a passenger train powered by overhead electrical wires when compared to the traditional train.
It has a smaller frame and commands the ability to operate along crowded cities and urban corridors due to its turning radius. The scheme is designed to effectively provide rapid, safe and comfortable movement of large number of commuters, as well as meet the mobility needs of the state as a megacity.
The government has also said the light rail project is pivotal because of decades of neglect of the Nigerian rail system. As such, with a rail master plan, an extensive network of rail line has been conceptualised to connect different parts of Lagos.
Owing to this framework, the rail would provide passenger services on the most heavily travelled corridors in the state with red and blue lines being developed. But while the two lines would be developed on a Public Private Partnership basis, government, by the agreement, will provide the requisite infrastructure.
Lagos enjoys a special status by virtue of its geographical location and population. It sits on the border of the Atlantic, as well as being the commercial nerve centre of the country. The combination of these has always set it apart from other states of the federation, since the pre-colonial era to the post-independence days. The megacity status is therefore underscored by the influx of people who seek better living condition in the state.
As one of the most rapidly urbanising places around the world with a population estimate of 18 million, its metropolitan areas now extend beyond its borders. Lagos currently boasts N23 billion as its monthly Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) with potential for increase. But because of constant population surge, the already deficient infrastructure is further depleted and often dwarfed in the midst of the swelling population despite the infrastructure renewal drive of the Fashola administration.
It is for this reason that the controversial traffic law has survived the harshest of critique that trailed its passage. The restriction placed on the use of commercial motorcycles to certain roads has no doubt, heightened the transportation distress in the state; it has also opened government to other options in addressing the attendant transportation challenges.
This is why many hold the view that if the light rail project comes on stream and is effectively managed, it would certainly ease the transportation pang in the state and consequently reduce the numbers of automobiles on the road.
However, the real focus should be on the maintenance and management capacity of the agency to which the project has been assigned. Such reservation is believed to have been informed by the state of some of the BRT buses which despite the sincerity of government which handed them over to management companies, are in a poor state due to bad management.
The issue, observers say, is really not about conceiving ideas or kick starting them; rather, it is the maintenance culture that is ever lacking in Nigeria. The life span of most projects is limited to the first three years after which they become decrepit.
At the beginning of the BRT operations, many Lagosians left their cars at home or at the car parks provided at the BRT stations since the system seemed effective and a better option. Indeed, there was a significant change in the transportation sector of the state as it brought respite to the people.
Four years down the line, the story is not the same any longer.
Coming from this mindset, the fear of the likelihood of poor management of the light rail project is justifiable because aside the poor maintenance culture which is germane, some have also expressed concern about managing emergency situations that might sometimes arise from the use and operations of the light rail.
Yet, there are those who worry about the fate of such a project after the Fashola administration must have left office.
Suffice it to say that the rail idea was conceived in the early 1980s with the Lagos Metroline Network by Alhaji Lateef Jakande, the first civilian governor of the state. It was, however, suspended by the Gen. Muhammadu Buhari government in 1985. Such a rash decision became the loss of the tax payers in the state.
But the idea was revived by former governor Bola Tinubu sometime in 2003 and followed up by the Fashola administration. However, in a clime where politics takes precedence over other things, whether or not it is in tune with good thinking, many are therefore doubtful of the continuity of the scheme.
Interestingly, this has been dismissed times over by forward looking analysts who reckon that there is a limit to how far politics can be pushed at the expense of development, more so in this age and time.
Indeed, the project is deemed one of such initiatives that would survive any harsh political decision given its importance. For instance, the London underground has celebrated its 150th year since the first underground journey was made. The first stretch of the tube, previously called the Met Line made its debut on January 9, 1863. It has, no doubt, played a major role in boosting the economy of London by being a constant resource revenue generating system.
Certainly, if Lagos properly implements and effectively maintains the light rail scheme, many believed that it would not only remain a remarkable legacy of the Fashola administration but a reference point for proper policy implementation nationwide.