The Enigma Called Lagos Traffic

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PLSCOPE BY Eddy Odivwri    Eddy.Odivwri@thisdaylive.com

Eddy Odivwri

About a year ago, the Lagos State government in an attempt to both ensure free flow of traffic and also promote safety on the roads, banned for the umpteenth time, the use of commercial motorcycles, popularly called Okada, from designated roads and routes in the metropolis.

I am not sure that order was obeyed for more than six weeks. One year after, not only have all such laws been broken, there are now more motorcycles and in fact more menacing. If you doubt me, take a bike ride to Tin Can Port from Mile 2.

In all the previous attempts by successive administrations to keep the motorcycles out of the major roads in the city, it had always been a contest between propriety and politics.

No doubt, the bulk of the voting public in Lagos State are such persons like the Okada riders, as many “Big Men” do not bother to vote.

So, the fear in the political circles, most times, is that any government that decisively locks these Okada riders out of “business” , will receive the corresponding backlash at the polls. So, governor, after governor, have learnt to either speak from both sides of the mouth on the matter or devise ways of threading carefully on the ‘Okada lane’.

It is also a worry that most of the Okada riders (some of them graduates) are into such “engagements” out of sheer choicelessness. So, they argue that hounding them out of the Okada business is tantamount to goading them into armed robbery.

In all, the Lagos state government has remained weak and equivocal in dealing with the Okada riders’ menace.

Something has to give. No responsible government can allow or tolerate, no matter what the contra-arguments are, the level of trouble, brigandage, disquiet and ill-image the Okada riders give the city. The presence of the Okada riders celebrate the irony in the state’s slogan: Centre of Excellence. What is the excellence in having a maddening crowd (like in Mile 2 to Apapa or Mile 12 or Gbagada etc) that not only dirties the metropolitan template of the city, but also poses great danger to other road users. Is it not said that an entire ward is dedicated to patients of Okada accidents at the Orthopaedic Hospital, Igbobi? How can a responsible and caring government knowingly permit such gradual destruction of its people, all because they expect to reap electoral gains at the end four years?

To peak the nuggets of excellence, the state government must be decisive on what it wants. If Okada riders are banned, let them remain banned, election or no election. Heavens will not fall! Accommodating the Okada riders is a sign of weakness and indecision on the part of government.

The Okada trouble is just one bit of the larger menace called Lagos traffic.

Many years back the government had introduced the use of odd and even numbers on the car plates, and allotted days which odd number cars can ply the roads and the days even number cars can ply the road.

That soon got abandoned, as its effect and gains were short-lived.

The Bola Tinubu administration had gone ahead to establish the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) with the aim of effectively controlling and managing the traffic issue in the state. More than 20 years after, it cannot be said that LASTMA is actually the solution to the traffic problem in the state.

The Tinubu/Fashola administration furthered the effort by introducing the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) scheme, with the intent that less cars will be on the road as the BRT buses will come to the rescue.

Sadly. It has also not worked. The BRT corridors have not been expanded to connect more areas. It has largely remained what it was over ten years ago, thus discouraging its mass patronage by car owners. The consequence is that more and more cars are on the road every day. And the choke gets really problematic.

In fact, the BRT lanes have indeed narrowed the width of the roads and helped to get the vehicles crowded on the roads, resulting in slower pace. And everyday, Lagosians groan and whine on the roads. Some even die on the steering.

It is instructive that a report by Danne Institute for Research has released its finding that confirmed that Lagosians lose N4 trillion annually to traffic snarle.

The report further indicated that there is a growth in Lagos but there is no productivity. In other words, the huge population is not necessarily translating to huge productivity. Very true! In fact, life is getting nastier and more brutish in Lagos. More people, less opportunities, leading to the feasting on the few and fading amenities. The socio-metrics of the city are heading south.

Sadly, the State government does not seem to have any new idea on how to manage the mess. The talk about Transport Master Plan is neither here nor there. For years, the other modes of transport like water transport or rail transport have remained elusive or at best irregular and unsafe. Water transport which should have been a possible alternative is unregulated or poorly supervised and so we often hear of boats capsizing with multiple casualties.

The result is that everybody hits the roads, all day long. The traffic control measures too often, get overwhelmed.

The Sanwo-Olu-led administration has toyed with the idea of building rail lines… there is much talk about red line and blue line, and even the more ambitious talk about Fourth Mainland bridge. Anytime I listen to Gov Sanwo-Olu talk about these projects, he speaks with so much oracular certainty, but almost two years down the line, there is not a whiff of progress on the projects, or so it seems. The much-talked about public-private partnership expected to float these projects appear stuck and cold-footed, if not jinxed.

Not even the mono-rail project started by the Fashola administration has progressed beyond where Fashola left it.

There are more cars than the roads can accommodate. The avalanche of private cab companies like Uber, Bolt, InDriver, etc, with their thousands of cars cockroaching every nook and cranny of the city has further complicated the traffic mix in the city.

Worse still is that many of the existing roads are poorly maintained. Despite the huge maintenance effort of the state government, there are still a plethora of pot hole-ridden roads or undulating earth roads. But even more terrible is the despicable driving culture especially among the commercial drivers in the state. Their recklessness and illegalities, like driving against traffic, all help to make a mess of the traffic situation in the city.

Recently, the state seized and sold off vehicles involved in ‘one-way’ driving in accordance with the state’s traffic laws. But it has not quite reined-in the dangerous drivers. The state needs more of such laws that can help in curbing the danger such drivers pose to the other unsuspecting driving public.

Gov Sanwo-Olu cannot or should not be comfortable with the findings of the research Institute. How can a people be losing that huge sum every year and expect the GDP of the state to grow? Perhaps more than anywhere else in Nigeria, the ease of doing business is highly an illusion.

It is not enough mouthing a certain Transport Master Plan, it should be reviewed, updated and activated with a view to solving the problems it is meant to solve. It is then and only then will the problem of traffic in Lagos not become a killer agent.

First published February 12, 2021.

Refinery Refurbishment: Familiar Path to Perfidy

Eddy Odivwri

Is it true that the Federal Government, has once again resumed the bureaucratic wastage?

What does that mean?

Are you asking me? Did you not hear that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently approved the expenditure of $1.5 Billion for the repair of the Port Harcourt Refinery?

Yes, is it the repair of our biggest refinery that you are describing as Bureaucratic wastage? Are you happy that we have been importing petroleum products? Or are you enemy of progress?

I am surprised that even you fell for the gambit, like most of the FEC members. Did the same federal government, in the past, rule out this routine Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) which keeps gulping huge money without we seeing any result? Is that not why till today, none of the refineries is actually functioning, hence we have been importing petroleum products for years unend now? And now we are back to that ancient crap?

Be sure of your facts, this time, it is not Turn Around Maintenance (TAM) it is full rehabilitation. It is costing $1.5 Billion because it will go beyond normal TAM. The rehabilitation shall include replacement of major components, all inclusive costs including taxes and major shift in the status of the plant. The GMD of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr Mele Kyari, made this point very clear the other day.. He insisted…,

(cuts in) Please spare me your naivety! Again, you fell for their packaging! What is full rehabilitation and what is Turn Around Maintenance? They are dazzling you with ill-fed semantics and you are carried away. My brother, be sure it is the same thing. Did you notice that they broke the so-called rehabilitation into three phases, with the earliest one being 18 months? It is so we can forget to monitor them on the project. Don’t fall for the pranks of the bureaucracy. $1.5B for refurbishment indeed. Take notice that it is not N1.5b. How much do they use in building new refinery?

The GMD said it costs $10billion to build new refinery of that stature.

Don’t mind them. They will say so, so that we can settle for the refurbishment deal. Go and do your independent check.

Pray, why have they suddenly remembered to refurbish the refinery when the Dangote refinery is almost ready for production? Why are they not supporting the idea of modular refineries?

In any case, what is the guaranty that even after the rehabilitation that we won’t still be importing petroleum products? At full production capacity, the Port Harcourt Refinery, both the old and new units can only produce 210,000 bpd. Can that satisfy the local demand? Would that stop importation? Or don’t you know that the importation deal itself is some people’s “oil well”?

Some people think that this whole refurbishment deal is aimed at preparing some persons for the 2023 election. You know Mr Timipre Sylva , the Minister of State for Petroleum is a politician. Don’t forget he was the former Bayelsa governor from whom 48 houses were once seized by EFCC, but got a court order to get them all released to him in 2017. These guys know how the system works. Hold your peace. Be circumspect with government. They are a suspect almost all the time.

I think some people in government are honest. Some of them have credible backgrounds. Did you not hear the GMD, Mr Kyari, say if we have to build a brand new refinery, it will take about four years and we shall continue importation of petroleum products? Is that what we want?

I say stop believing them! I can bet you that even after the refurbishment, importation of petroleum products will continue. In any case, ask them why they refused to privatise the nation’s four refineries? Is it not so that the deals will continue to run unhindered? Do you realise that this same Port Harcourt Refinery in 2018 made $1.45 billion and incurred expenses of $240 billion in the same year? And government paid! Which organisations runs at such ungodly loss and remains standing?

All reasonable and patriotic Nigerian leaders have criticised the refurbishment plan. It is a crying shame that all four refineries are down for years now. That an oil producing country like Nigeria depends on the importation of petroleum products to service its people. Imagine the number of metric tonnes we consume everyday! Imagine the amount of jobs we create and sustain in the countries from where we import the products, whereas our people are dying in hunger and wretch, with some university graduates struggling to be Okada riders. As late Chinua Achebe would write, There was a Country!

When they finish the refurbishment of the Port Harcourt refinery, they will do that of Warri and then Kaduna…. At which time, we shall even start exporting petroleum products and save Nigerians the hassles of landing cost jargon, just as we shall be making more and more money, all thanks to the visionary leadership of Mr President and his team!