In the face of perennial vandalism of traffic lights in the nation’s capital, driving has become a challenge for motorists in the city, reports Olawale Ajimotokan
It was a peak afternoon when workers were about heading homes after the official working hours. Adeyinka Ogunkola felt a deep sense of outrage with the traffic that had ensnarled him at the junction linking Micheal Okpara Road with Herbert Macaulay Road in Wuse Zone 6. There was a vehicular scrum informed by the malfunctioning traffic lights installed at the junction. Ogunkola lost several productive minutes, wafting through a stretch of road of less than one kilometre for an appointment in the Utako area of Abuja.
His plight is similar to the hardship which motorists and commuters pass through on regular basis on most roads in the Federal Capital Territory.
Dysfunctional traffic lights in the FCT impede free flow of traffic, and in many cases, result in accidents and loss of lives.
There are 168 traffic light intersections in the FCT but about two-third of the lamps are left derelict by criminals, who vandalise their key components and dispose them off in the market.
In fact, 90 per cent of the traffic lamps installed on the junctions along the Ahmadu Bello Way are not active. The 4.6 kilometres long road is strategic as it runs from Apo in the south west area of the Abuja through the Federal Secretariat, down to Wuse 2.
Similar situation can be said of Herbert Macaulay Road, Yakubu Gowon Crescent, Tafawa Balewa Road, some sections of Obafemi Awolowo Road to the North-west of the FCT in addition to several inner roads that serve as arteries to the major roads.
In the day traffic wardens are assigned to junctions without traffic lamps, but in the night, when the wardens are off duty, bedlam usually ensues as motorists, out of lack of patience disregard traffic laws.
In reality, driving on the major roads during peak period in the light of the identified reasons, requires wits and guts.
“The traffic lights rarely function, raising the risk of fatal accidents in the night, particularly at junctions that are not manned by traffic wardens. When drivers are coming from different junctions and they refuse to give way, there can only be one outcome: accident,” lamented Ogunlola.
But the FCT Administration with regard to tackling and reducing loss of productive hours in traffic especially at peak hours, partnered with the Chinese government to install a new set of traffic lights in the city centre.
The FCT Minister, Muhammed Musa Bello, said most of the old model traffic lights were replaced with modern ones to improve vehicular movement after the FCT Administration completed technical survey for the job.
He decried the activities of hoodlums who vandalise public facilities like street light underground cables, telecommunication ducts as well as traffic light equipment.
The minister’s concern was echoed by the Director in charge of Traffic Management at FCTA Transport Secretariat, Vincent Igberaese.
Igberaese, who is an engineer, bemoaned the spate of vandalism of traffic lights in spite of concerted public enlightenment campaign by his team to rein in the monster. He said the vandals continued to sabotage the efforts of government to deliver a service that is obtainable in advanced countries through their unpatriotic conduct.
“The act of vandalism is something we find quite disturbing. The FCTA Transport Department has been engaging the public via many platforms, appealing to the hoodlums to desist from the unholy act. We have done everything we should to control this unpatriotic act, but it appears the perpetrators are doing it to sabotage the effort of government. The traffic lights control the movement of vehicles and ensure that there is no hold-up. It is very bad for someone to destroy a utility provided by government for the benefit of the public,” Igberaese said.
According to him, the vandals incapacitate traffic lights when they remove the solar panel, recharge controller and high-capacity batteries, after breaking the locks and doors housing the components. He lamented that the act is repeated even after the cannibalised piece had been replaced by the transport department.
He said the items, particularly the battery and armoured cable, are very expensive items that vandals excavate and sell at give away prices in the open market.
He also said officials of the department have also carried out investigations but efforts to establish the market and end users of the vandalised items are futile.
The FCTA director said the fight against traffic light vandalism has not been helped by the failure of security agencies to arrest and prosecute vandals, saying that offenders continue to slip through the net.
“What is stopping many of the traffic lights from working is vandalism. As a department we have all the technical know-how to do the job and ensure the traffic orderliness that exists in other climes, but they are frustrating our efforts. We have repaired some junctions on three –four occasions this year. We are also appealing to the law enforcement agency to unravel the people behind this so that they can be punished, but to my knowledge, no arrest has been made. I believe one day they will arrest one offender,” he said.
The new solar-powered lights installed in 75 intersections by FCT Administration from a grant provided by China are of modern technology designed to starve off the vandals. The batteries are positioned out of reach of unauthorised persons, unless transgressors use a ladder or willfully damage the lamp post.
The lamps are designed to last for 25 years if well maintained. They are installed to replace the old technology on 93 junctions which are prone to the activities of vandals as they are low lying in their cubicles which can be easily ripped off.
Igberaese also added that the FCTA Transport Department maintenance team as a protective measure was also considering an alarm system that will automatically trigger off and alert people nearby when the vandals tamper with the traffic light installations. In all there are 168 numbered traffic lights installed in the FCT.
He similarly revealed the plan by the administration in the second phase of the traffic management process, to signalise all the junctions in Abuja by mounting CCTV cameras that will record and enable an offender to be arrested and prosecuted if someone beats traffic.
In addition, he noted that aside from the highlighted issues with traffic lights, instances where people beat traffic light is also a sore point in traffic administration in the FCT.
To address this anomaly, FCT Administration has mandated the police to arrest and refer violators of traffics light to hospital for immediate psychiatric test. Those arrested are also to be fined to serve as a deterrent after bearing the cost of the psychiatric test.