By Ishola Balogun, Olasunkanmi Akoni, Evelyn Usman, Ebun Sessou & Oghene Omonisa
These days, the issues of insecurity and traumatic traffic situation in Lagos metropolis have continued to dominate discussions. Everywhere one goes, in offices, business environments, relaxation centres, motor parks among other places, Lagosians debate these issues with resentment: traffic situation getting worse, crime rate suddenly increasing, and business and commercial activities slowing down.
Now, Lagosians battle with agonising traffic gridlock on the roads daily with the attendant shocks and damage to the body and vehicles.
As a result of the roads that are littered with ditches and holes, deteriorating by the day, Lagosians are also exposed to heavy risk of attacks by highwaymen and miscreants.
Many a time, in trying to get out of the snarls, commuters are forced into trekking long distances to get to their various destinations; sometimes they are attacked by hoodlums and robbed of their valuables. More worrisome is the nonchalant attitude of many traffic men who apparently contribute to the ignoble role of bus drivers by compounding the already worse traffic situation on our roads.
This is just as other traffic men take bribes and better still, abandon their duty posts.
Worst hit are the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Cele-Iyana-Itire to Ilasa road, where the state of the roads is worrisome, causing untold hardships to motorists and commuters on daily basis. Movement around these areas have been most difficult in the last four months.
Other roads usually prone to gridlock are Ajah-Lekki Road, Ikoyi, Eko and Carter bridges, Mobolaji Bank Anthony, Ijora, Seven Up, Ikeja/Oregun axis, Allen Avenue, Agidingbi and Lagos end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
Crime rate has also suddenly increased. Cultism as well as armed robbery and kidnapping incidents are on the increase, most times claiming lives of innocent residents. The alarming insecurity situation is such that passers-by and those in their various apartments are at risk with no hiding place.
Even when distress calls are put through to the police, prompt response has remained only a wish. It is either they do not respond at all or come very late to the scene, usually blaming it on logistics. Only a few days ago, armed robbers numbering about 40 stormed two banks located on 4th Avenue area of Festac Town in Amuwo Odofin Local Council of the state and carted away unspecified amount of money.
The gunmen gained access to the banks through the canal in speed boats, accompanied by sporadic shootings, injuring several residents in the process.
During the operation which lasted for several hours, a two-year-old toddler, Mmesoma Ndirika, and her mother, Jane, who were inside their apartment in an adjoining building, were reportedly hit by stray bullets from the rampaging bandits. Both mother and child were killed right in their apartment. Fresh in mind are the Lekki bank robbery, the Ikorodu bank invasion by these bandits among others.
The re-assuring words of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode in his inauguration speech on May 29 still resonate with many Lagosians. “We shall practice government by incentives and not government by enforcement”, he had told the crowd at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Onikan, Lagos.
“We shall implement creative ideas and concepts that will reduce the cost of running government; ideas that make life simpler and happier for our people …. Join hands with me to offer new ideas that will pull more resources to cater for the poor and needy among us. This will be a compassionate government.”
Almost six months after, the same words still resonate; however, going by the complaints by most Lagosians, those words resonate not with the same enthusiasm because the Governor apparently has not been able to come up with the “ideas that make life simpler and happier for our people.”
And two critical aspects of the socio-economic life of Lagosians where the people have clearly not felt these “ideas” are those of traffic management and crime control.
If the Governor’s assurances of making the state conducive for business to thrive is anything to go by, then it is quite unfortunate that the people hardly feel the social development and security plan for the state which are supposed to be paramount among other plans.
What Ambode met
A major philosophy of Ambode’s predecessor, Babatunde Fashola, in the management of Lagos traffic was enforcement and penalties. Fashola empowered the Lagos State Task Force on Environmental and Special Offences which, in turn, used its enforcement arm, the Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) to demolish illegal structures in markets across the state. Hawking and begging were banned across the state and areas such as Obalende and Oshodi began to wear a new look.
Fashola also signed the Lagos State Road Traffic Law of 2012 which saw the restriction of commercial motorcycles on highways and the imposition of huge fines and jail terms for traffic offenders.
Any motorist guilty of wrongful overtaking was made to pay N100,000 as fine. For driving against traffic, an offender’s vehicle would be forfeited permanently to the state and the offender would be sentenced to jail for one year while a second-time offender risked a three-year jail term.
According to the traffic law, vehicles that break down on the highway will be fined N50,000. Motorists plying the route designated for the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) were fined N20,000 each while second-time offenders paid N30,000. And from statistics released by the government, the restriction on okada led to 80 per cent reduction in crime and accidents in the state.
However, the traffic law was criticized by many human rights groups and members of the opposition for being draconian and for its harsh method of enforcement which, in some cases, resulted in deaths due to the overzealousness of enforcement officers.
However, mid June, less than a month after he became governor, Governor Ambode toured major traffic black spots in Lagos metropolis to see things for himself and vowed to ensure free-flow of traffic.
Lamenting the perennial vehicular traffic gridlock in the state, he revealed that he had directed the relocation of some bus terminals in congested areas to reduce gridlock in the affected places. He also expressed great concern about the traffic gridlock being experienced in the state.
His words: “It’s not enough for us to stay in the office and believe that we can create solutions to the traffic challenge that we have in the state. So, we decided that we are going to go round ourselves and see how we can improve on the traffic situation in Lagos.
“We have been to 3rd Mainland, Oworonshoki, Ketu, Abule-Egba, Alimosho and then we have gone to Mile 12. That’s not the end of the story. We’re still going to Apapa, Mile 2. The truth is that we must start to bring solutions to our traffic challenges in the state and that’s what we are doing.” He then assured that residents would start noticing solutions to the traffic challenges being experienced in the state.
Ambode’s policy, leniency taken for granted?
The differences in the style of governance between Fashola and Ambode are becoming more glaring, especially in the area of enforcement of traffic laws and security management. For instance, Ambode ordered the officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (KAI) officials and Vehicle Inspection Officers not to harass or forcibly take over citizens’ vehicles.
In the light of his compassionate governance philosophy, Ambode said, “I want to make life simpler for every Lagosian. The duty of everybody here, including me, is to make life easier for every Lagosian. I want you to use technology in arresting those who contravene the law, instead of resorting to harassment or forcibly taking over peoples’ vehicles.
“The same technology that is used in sending reminder messages about vehicle documents could be adopted in tracking down people who commit traffic offences without forcibly seizing their cars.” He urged KAI officers to go back to the streets and enforce the law against street trading in a civil manner, stating that the agency should also look at the option of adopting the use of social media to achieve effectiveness.
He added: “In addition, I don’t like the practice by VIO officials who impound vehicles for days. Technology should be adopted to ensure that the practice whereby vehicles are detained for long in the VIO yards is eliminated.”
On September 2, 2015, the Governor stormed the LASTMA headquarters and ordered that all impounded vehicles be released. In the same week, the General Manager of LASTMA, Mr. Babatunde Edu, was sacked and Mr. Bashir Braimah was appointed in his stead.
Ambode later directed that traffic offenders should no longer be arrested on the spot as was done in the past. Rather, erring motorists would have their licenses or other relevant documents seized and would be allowed to go with their vehicles as is done in developed countries. However, their documents would be returned to them after they might have paid their fines.
Unfortunately, however, commercial bus drivers, most of whom do not have valid documents, are usually allowed to go scot-free in line with the new directive. Defending the style of his boss, Mr. Braimah explained that the new policy was in line with Ambode’s directive on non-accommodation of offenders’ vehicles after booking, and explained that the traffic law had not been rescinded but that only the method of implementation had changed.
On the workability of the new approach, the LASTMA boss explained, “There will be no hiding place for traffic violators as the offenders are expected to make payment of their various fines within seven days and present their tickets at LASTMA offices and upon failure to comply, will be arrested at home after the expiration of the grace period.
“For those without valid documents or not registered in the state, there is a working synergy between the agency and other sister agencies across the federation; therefore, no traffic offender will go unpunished.”
Unfortunately, however, the new method introduced by Ambode has given many motorists, especially commercial bus drivers and commercial motorcycle riders the opportunity to flout the traffic law with impunity. Many are seen taking the BRT lanes while okada riders now ply bridges, dual carriageways and expressways in contravention of the traffic law.
Many even assume that since the Governor has stated that his government shall not be preoccupied with enforcement, they are allowed to take the BRT lanes without consequence. Now, articulated truck drivers park indiscriminately on busy roads and are not towed because of the ‘leniency’.
The traffic congestion caused by traffic obstructions cannot be totally divorced from the resurgence in traffic robbery. Suddenly, heavy traffic gridlock which had drastically reduced in the last eight years became worse since Ambode came on board.
There appears to be a general consensus among Lagosians that the perennial vehicular traffic gridlock in the state has gone from bad to worse since the advent of Governor Ambode.
Insecurity, especially armed robbery, cultism, violence are peculiar with mega-cities worldwide, and not restricted to Lagos. It is the management and containment of these crimes that set aside cities in developed countries from those of developing countries. The average Lagosian will therefore readily admit that as much as former Governor Babatunde Fashola positively managed security in Lagos, the state was not devoid of crimes before the advent of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode.
Of course there had been armed robbery and kidnapping incidents before May 29; some that really shook the nation to its foundation. Notable among them was the epic Hollywood-scene like armed robbery which played out at the highbrow Lekki area of Lagos State on Thursday, March 12.
Some armed men dressed in military fatigue uniforms and wielding AK47 automatic rifles, stormed two banks on the Lekki end of the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge. The robbers were said to have emerged from the nearby waterway bordering the lagoon along the bridge, announced their arrival with sporadic gun shots and positioned themselves strategically to ward off intruders.
Unfortunately, three policemen in a white coaster bus, who were on escort duty with expatriates, were felled by bullets from the rampaging robbers. But the policemen identified as Inspector Bethel Agbobu, Sergeant Odehowho George and Corporal Imoise Ikechukwu, were not the only ones sent to an unprepared grave by the hoodlums.
Life was also snuffed out of a man whose identity was given as Mr. Sowemimo Kabiru and a 15-year-old girl, Sarah Ibikunle, who sold fish close to the bank. At the end of the operation, the armed robbers reportedly carted away an undisclosed amount, leaving scores of persons injured.
Following startling confessions by some suspected members of the Lekki robbery syndicate arrested by the Lagos State Police Command that those behind recent bank robberies were militants hired from the Niger Delta Region, Lagosians began to wonder if their state is beginning to emerge as a new haven for notorious militants-turned-armed robbers.
It will be recalled that the Police in Lagos, two months after the incident, arrested four suspected members of the 22-man robbery gang that operated at Lekki, and preliminary investigation revealed that some of the suspects were oil bunkerers recruited from Delta and Ondo states and Arepo in Ogun State.
Unless drastic measures are taken to curb their excesses, Lagos may afterall not be a safe haven for business to thrive, whether locally or internationally. This is because aside bank robberies, other forms of criminalities such as kidnap, pick pocket, catch-in-the-air, otherwise known as one chance, as well as attacks on motorists in traffic are witnessing a rising turn in the state.
Recently, the Lagos State Coordinator of the Lord’s Chosen Charismatic Revival Ministries, Pastor Chukwuemeka Okpokpo, was shot dead by gunmen at Apple Junction, in Amuwo Odofin area of the state. The gunmen, said to have driven on a motorcycle, reportedly trailed the deceased from a second generation bank where he had gone to withdraw N3 million for the church.
They reportedly fired shots into the air, which sent other road users and passersby scampering for safety. Reports said Pastor Okpokpo tried to escape when it became obvious that he was the target. But he reportedly slowed down on reaching a bad spot, where the hoodlums shot at the tyres of the church bus he was driving, thereby bringing the vehicle to an abrupt halt, before shooting him at close range.
Vanguard’s Assistant Labour Editor, Mr Victor Ahiuma Young was also shot by robbers, who forcefully collected the money he had gone to withdraw from a second generation bank at Ilasamaja, along Oshodi /Apapa Expressway. While Ahiuma Young is alive to tell his tale, three others who fell victims around Ilamaja were not that lucky as they had life snuffed out of them by these robbers who always operated on motorcycle.
Sadly, whenever incidents which tend to reveal the handicap of any security agency as well as slow response of government occur, the concerned authorities resort to blame game and outright redeployment of the man in charge of the location. Unfortunately, this measure has not brought about the needed change.
For instance, when the Lekki and Ikorodu twin bank robberies occurred, the then Lagos State Commissioner of Police, Kayode Aderanti was redeployed. Again, the Area Commander in-charge of Area ‘E’ command, Mr Frank Mba, was also redeployed over Tuesday’s banks robbery attacks at Festac Town.
Even though such measure is considered as one of the ways to make officers more responsible to their constitutional duties, it has also proven to be a wrong approach to addressing insecurity, whether in Lagos State or Nigeria at large.
A cross section of Lagosians who spoke to Saturday Vanguard agreed that traffic and crime rate which were checked at the twilight of the tenure of Babatunde Fashola have suddenly increased. Security expert, Ona Ekhomu in a chat with Saturday Vanguard on the issue said, “I think the general statement is that, it could be better.
I think the difficulty the new Governor is having is that he is trying to settle down, and that is why the situation has been so deteriorated. The hoodlums in Lagos are making use of the security lapses in the state as an opportunity to unleash mayhem in the state. And this is the situation whenever there is a new administration.
He continued: “It appeared that the new Governor did not want to adopt the template he met on ground on the issue of security in Lagos, even though the template that the former Governor used was very effective and efficient. It was the step that the Fashola administration took that kept Boko Haram out of Lagos.
“What we are seeing now regarding the increase in cultism, kidnapping and armed robbery in Lagos State is a result of the gap between the past and the present administration. And the hoodlums have taken the advantage of these lapses.”
He however advised the Governor to design a security template for the state. “Ambode is an accountant by training; he needs a lot of advice on security issues. He must appoint an experienced security expert as adviser. He should be proactive when it comes to security issues. Governor Fashola got it right during his administration, therefore it is expedient that Governor Ambode gets it right too.”
A member of the Lagos State Assembly, Bisi Yusuf said the state government was determined to fix most federal and state roads. “With this development, I believe traffic in Lagos would be a thing of the past and Lagosians would enjoy dividends of democracy. As soon as the rains are over, the state government would engage the services of FERMA to fix federal roads.”
He however blamed the usual traffic congestion in the state on the impatient attitude of road users. “They cause traffic gridlock because of their impatience and the attitude of parking on the road. There is need for change in their attitudes so that we can forge ahead. The state Governor is highly proactive especially in addressing traffic gridlock in Lagos.
For instance, he has fixed the roads at the Ipaja/Ayobo axis, noted for traffic congestion. I believe he will fix all the roads in all the 37 local governments to allow for easy road network system in Lagos.”
According to a serving army officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, “the problem is not the Police but some of our politicians who gave these thugs arms before the election. Now the elections are over. But they have not been able to retrieve the weapons from them. From record, this has always been the case, immediately after election.”
Corroborating his view, a senior police officer who also spoke on condition of anonymity said “Yes, proliferation of arms is one of the major causes of what people describe as re-emergence of crime, not only in Lagos but the country at large. However, the Police are not sleeping. We are doing all we can to mop them out of circulation.
We have made tremendous arrests. In no time from now, you will witness a drastic drop. “We also want to use this opportunity to appeal to the state government to do all it can to support the police just as previous governments have been doing. So far, we have been given assurances of government’s support.
On our part, we will use all available equipment at our disposal to ensure that Lagosians sleep with their two eyes closed. A radical lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, who took-on former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola on the Lekki/Epe Toll Gate for the about whole eight years of his tenure said it was too early to judge the present governor of the state, Akinwunmi Ambode.
According to him, “Judging Ambode’s government at this time will be too hasty. I need to give him six months before accessing his performance in Lagos. Let us all keep our figures crossed; we are watching him.”
In a swift reaction to the persistent gridlock in parts of Lagos, the Governor of the state, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode reiterated his determination to tackle the traffic gridlock in the metropolis by putting in place multi-strategic solutions to address the challenge currently being encountered by motorists in most parts of the state.
Addressing a joint press conference, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Mr. Fola Adeyemi, said the Governor has shown deep concern over the persistent traffic gridlock in the state and has therefore directed the agencies concerned to swing into action to decongest traffic in the metropolis.
Adeyemi said: ”This press briefing is initiated at the instance of the Governor who has expressed growing concerns arising from complaints and feedback from members of the public, and from experiences recorded a few days ago by motorists in Lagos. He is greatly concerned from this feedback and as a result of which necessitated we address Lagosians.”
Adeyemi highlighted some of the efforts being put in place by the present administration to ensure that traffic gridlock becomes a thing of the past.