Ijeoma Nwogwugwu: The Lagos traffic law does not make sense

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.

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.

This article was first published in Thisday.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

Comments (10)

  1. The purpose of this bill is great but its the implementation and abuse that will pose challenges majorly

  2. It is so sad to see people still think that we live in an ideal city.

    Temidayo, Do you really stay in Lagos? Do you know the level of corruption that takes place even before this new law was signed? As for your take on eating, really? That's your best excuse? What do you want those with diabetes to do in traffic because they cant eat? or those that need to break their fast so they don't collide with another car? Are you aware that LASTMA officials will direct you to one way (if you don't know) so that Police will arrest you and extort money from you? Have you read the road-bill law? Is forfeiting a vehicle for an offence supposed to be in there? Is our prison condition fit? Do you realize that both punishments can be given to you? What about the corruption level in these offices?

    Fola, it amazes me that you can write unless you are joking.

  3. Interesting but delicate topic, it amazes me when we compare Lagos with London all the time. How civilized are Lagosians? A regular Nigerian wud travel abroad, obey all the rules, 1ce their plane lands in Lagos they are back to their old selves. Lagos isn't trying 2 be like any state or country in particular. What I note dt is being done is travel 2 diff countries, pick what works, modify 2 fit our pple & implement. There is nothing wrong with dt.

    We are all entitled 2 our opinions but Nigerians are not receptive to change as I have noticed, positive or negative. We abuse the slightest priviledge in dis country.

    On the case of eating & drinking! Then again d streets will stay clean! Pple won't risk their lives 4 gala! In d name of owning a bizness as 2 sweeping d streets. Awesome!

    Ikorodu road unfortunately being my route, I thot get the trailers off & keep d yellow buses on their lanes is 100% yes, I'll choose d BRT lanes anyday. I also noticed street lights were being worked on, dt halted bcos of d traffic due 2 d 3rd mainland repairs.

    A closing note, we shud learn 2 channel our activists energies 2wards educating 1 Nig a day esp d less priveledged ones, dt's how we can make our country a beta place. Lagos remains a very difficult city 2 govern. If we teach ourselves the simple easy ways of existence, our govt wud nt v 2 think up harsh ways of getting us do what is needed of us as citizens (I don't think d laws are harsh anyway). Pls let's thank d Governor 4 working, most Nig govs only sit out their 2nd term, stop criticizing ourselves 4 d International comm. 2 continuously ridicule. the job 4 a beta Nig is for all of us and not 1 man. Closing note: if Abuja even put in this much effort, Nig wud have a destination by now

  4. The state government seems to have gone overboard with some of the provisions in the new law but saying it doesn't make sense in its totality is an empty argument. Why should a supposedly intelligent writer be advocating that we put policemen on our roads; is that their primary function? I have no problems whatsoever with the existence and modus operandi of the BRT lane, give Lagosians an inch and they would take over the whole lane.

  5. What the writer refused to understand is that the BRT was to discourage people from using their cars to work all the time. I agree on her take on the new laws. BRT definitely has more advantages to me.

  6. First of all,i give kudos to ijeoma for d wonderful written piece,and evwi1 dat has contributed to this..i believe every1 has a right to express dre opinion,for me Gov fashola isn't going in the right direction @ all,just dis lagos traffic law is definitely goin to spoil everything he has build all thru d years,just tryin to make life difficult for lagosians(and later he will say if 1 isn't satisfied,d person can go back to their state)..instead of sending ppl to a 3 year jail term,why not instill a penalty for defaulters..this is nigeria,not all persons caught will be prosecuted and sent to a 3 year jail term..and later dey will say no1 is above d law..they should better think of d consequences b4 embarking on the so called LAWs

  7. The problem is that we are alien to democracy; we do not know how it works. All the OP has been saying here should have been said at the time the law was being debated(?) in the Lagos State House of Assembly but who knows when that ever happens. Do the representatives ever come to have a discussion with their constituents on anything? We have the jungle mentality in this THIRD WORLD COUNTRY where the strongest man has all the wisdom.


  8. Temidayo, I wuld expct u 2 listen to Gov Fashola's interview on when d law would take effect.

    Fola, so sad u cudnt see beyond d ink of a majestic writer & sound contributor Ijeoma.

    Am so pained our ppl 'suffer & smile' cos of sentiments, d law has good intentions but its a farce; wats nt gud is nt gud, no oda name.

  9. Just because you can speak and write good english doesn't make you intelligent. Ijeoma if you were scandinavian, you'd be a blonde.

  10. this is a joke. How would you say this law is useless? Okay, we all-know you can park and make a call. Why cant you also park and drink or eat wot u want? Anytin can happen while you are driving. You maybe drinkin some-coloured drink and tryin to make-sure it doesnt pour on ur dress. Who says this cannot cause an accident.

    About d BRT- it may seem foolish to you. But with-time, when everythin is working perfectly(OR near perfect), motorist could be allowed to use-d-lane. We all- know dat allowing pple to use-d-lane in d present nigeria would cause more Harm than Good.

    If u also took-time to read-d-law, am sure u would av seen d part which said (d law wont be put into action until d needed resources are provided.

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