These words capture the dream of Lateef Jakande, first civilian governor of Lagos State (1979-1983), when he flagged off the Lagos Metro Line project on July 16, 1983, projected to cost N689 million at that time. It was a major attempt at introducing an intra-city rail system in Nigeria’s commercial city.
Jakande’s Lagos Metro Line project was conceived against the backdrop of the city’s seemingly intractable gridlock.
On March 29, 1978, Daily Times had led with a screaming headline ‘LAGOS TRAFFIC DEFIES SOLUTION’, with a rider, ‘Chaos despite new measure’. It was to resolve this traffic situation that the metro line was launched.
According to Jakande’s projection, the first phase of the project was to be completed in July 1986. It was to have 30 trains, each running 28.5 kilometres on raised concrete tracks from Marina to Agege.
The 30 trains were projected to carry 88,000 passengers per hour, which is 2,288,000 passengers in 16 hours, about half of the population of Lagos going by the World Health Organisation (WHO) calculations at that time.
The Jakande-led government was responding to a transportation study said to have been commissioned by the Federal Government in 1974, which indicated a crisis situation with regard to traffic in Lagos, compared to what was the case in the early 1970s, unless the challenge was urgently addressed.
The administration had planned to execute the metro line project in two phases, with the first starting from the Marina to Yaba. This phase was slated for completion in July 1986, while the second, commencing from Agege to Yaba through Oregun and Ikorodu Expressway, was slated for completion in March 1987.
BusinessDay findings reveal that the two sections were to have 19 stations spaced 1.5 kilometres from each other, with two platforms of 140 metres in length, and six metres wide.
The trains were to be made of aluminium to reduce power consumption and maintenance cost. They were to be powered from two major sources, and a traction supply, which would come through 10 rectifier substations linked to the defunct National Electricity Power Authority (NEPA) low voltage network. The other was the 415/250 volts required to operate fixed auxiliary equipment.
The Lagos Metro Line Limited (LML), a limited liability company inaugurated in 1979 and registered in 1980 to oversee the project, was expected to break even and generate its own funds by its fourth year of operation, having revenue of N62.5 million per year at an operating cost of N12.5 million.
It was projected that the surplus would be used to service its short and long-term loans. And by its fifth year, the LML would have generated its own funds and serviced its capital loans. Interinfra, a French consortium of 19 firms, was to handle the project.
The project, however, suffered a setback as the General Muhammadu Buhari military junta overthrew the civilian administration of then President Shehu Shagari in a coup. When the Lagos Metro Line project was scrapped in 1985 by the Buhari regime, it was said to have recorded a loss of over $78 million to Lagos’ taxpayers, according to information obtained from Wikipedia.
About 36 years after the bold attempt by the Jakande-led administration, the traffic crisis has worsened as the population of Lagos has grown geometrically from about 5 million to an estimated 22 million residents.
With a vehicular density of over 222 vehicles/km and largely unplanned network of roads, Lagos, the smallest of Nigeria’s 36 states by landmass, sitting on 3,577 km², faces myriad of challenges.
Though one administration after another in the state has made some attempts at containing this challenge, their best has not been good enough, hence the state which is Nigeria’s economic hub is gradually but steadily grinding to a halt due to snarling traffic situation.
Apparently, the gridlock which is everywhere and anywhere in the state, including the very exclusive neighbourhoods, has defied solution which, in some cases, comes right from the Federal Government level.
Besides the provision of roads infrastructure, the state government, during the administration of Babatunde Fashola, had to come up with two separate but interrelated laws aimed to control traffic situation in the state. These are the Lagos State Traffic Law and the law setting up the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA).
The traffic law, which was so effective in its early days that it demanded a psychiatric evaluation of any person who drove against the normal flow of traffic or who failed to comply with any of its provisions, failed due largely to lack of enforcement.
Today, it seems as though the state never had any such law in place. LASTMA which came out smoking with some level of positive results soon became an octopus, assuming larger-than-life image with its officials extorting motorists on spurious charges, leading to its widespread condemnation.
Though officials of the authority are still seen everywhere on Lagos roads, their impact is quite minimal. They are no longer serious with their work after former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode clipped their wings, telling them to stop the harassment and extortion of motorists while on duty.
The reconstruction and expansion of major highways in the state are also part of measures the state government has taken to contain traffic crisis. A ready example of this effort is the Lagos-Badagry Expressway which is being expanded into 10-lanes with a light rail in-between.
But the expressway has become an albatross. After 10 years with very little to justify the efforts, it has become a nightmare where motorists spend upwards of five hours within a stretch of 3km.
In the midst of these efforts and failures, the state, its residents and the economy have continued to suffer. It has become unbearable to live in the state. This was reflected in the ranking of the state as the third most miserable city in the world by an international ranking organisation.
Both travel time and cost have gone up in recent times. Apart from impoverishing the residents, the crisis situation is also diminishing the economy of the state as it affects productivity significantly from the level of artisans to CEOs in the corporate world.
“The congestion we see everywhere in Lagos today is as a result of action and inaction of the state government,” Adebola Adefuyi, an environment and regional analyst, told BusinessDay.
He explained that the inability or unwillingness of the successive governments to enforce existing traffic and street trading laws are major causes of the present crisis situation.
Adefuyi was of the view that for so long as the state government shied away from creating new city centres in places like Ikorodu, Badagry, Abule Egba and other far-flung suburbs, so long will everybody find their way to the already congested city centres, and for so long too will this crisis continue.
Ezeillo Nnamdi, a Lagos resident residing in one of the suburbs, agrees, stressing that the state government should, as short-term measure, make the roads motorable because, according to him, “There is no road to drive on in Lagos at the moment.”
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