By Dr Ugoji Egbujo
Lagos must learn. A tree doesn’t make a forest. But without the Irokos where will the Eagles and vultures nest?
The ports and the markets are the Irokos in the Eko forest. Where did Lagos keep it sense of priority?
The road to the ports died. And Eko started seeing ghosts, and struggling to breathe. But it seemed the gods had made Eko mad. Eko allowed the road to the markets to fall apart.
The biggest markets in Lagos are Alaba International and the Trade Fair Complex. Both markets and the State university lie in the same Lagos West axis. They are connected to the rest of the state by the all important Lagos Badagry Expressway. Lagos planned big things for the Lagos Badagry way. But it’s been struggling with making it a ten-lane road with a rail line for over a decade. The project had seemed ambitious and commendable, until it began to linger and frustrate.
Why would a man bring down his small bungalow to build a big mansion and spend the rest of his life living in an uncompleted building, and having nightmares when he sees rain clouds?
People started asking why Lagos chose to choke itself by chewing more than it could swallow?
The Lagos Badagry Expressway project has left all parts of Lagos beyond Festac town miserable. And that is an understatement.
It would have been bad enough if that road led to some economically inconsequential slums. But it’s perhaps inexplicable that the road that leads to the biggest markets in the biggest city in Africa was destroyed by a contractor that wanted to improve it and then abandoned it until it degenerated to impassibility and to spread anguish.
Sometime last year, I accepted to attend a wedding ceremony in Badagry. I hadn’t seen the town in many years. I stopped going to Badagry years ago, when the Customs and the Police chose to erect over 20 check points between Festac and Seme border. The check points, I learnt, have reduced significantly but pot holes and traffic snarls have constituted themselves into a more infernal nuisance on that route .
I was warned about the journey. But how could I have foreseen what I encountered? We started early. Our troubles began early too. Two trucks had fallen beside themselves. With the state of the road, it seemed a miracle how any trucks with containers survived the test. It was chaos.
The contractor had used a bull dozer to widen the road and scrapped the tar. That left the rains with a soft under belly to dig craters and gullies that became ponds and rivers in the middle of the road. Huge articulated load bearing vehicles came, fell and perhaps rested. Trucks lying prostrate, or kneeling with broken hips have since become permanent features on that road.
We passed the first obstacle after a two-hour hissing and grumbling exercise. When the road was free we sighed but we couldn’t do more than crawl. The pot holes were everywhere. Some of them where deep enough to challenge SUVs. And because vehicles had to always find the least treacherous paths, road rages and battered cars lay on all sides.
We spent four hours on a journey that ordinarily shouldn’t take more than 30 mins. We got to the wedding reception worn out. But that wasn’t why we could not dance and make merry like others. We were filled with apprehension about our return journey. We left the reception early. Plying that road in the dark would be doubly tedious.
But that was frightening. We knew darkness meant another vulnerability. Robberies happened in Lagos. But robberies happened rampantly on that axis. Many had said that there was a connection between the porousness of the fencing of Ojo military cantonment , the waywardness of cult boys of the Lagos State University and the frequency of armed robbery on that route. But the state of the road must have established it a robber’s heaven.
We were fortunate on the return journey. We spent only four hours coming back. And we didn’t have our windscreen broken and our phones snatched.
But that was last year. That road has grown more hellish.
The minister of works announced during the electioneering campaigns last year that the Federal Government had awarded the contract to build the road from Okokomaiko. People celebrated, they thought they were about being freed from their suffering. But nothing has happened.
The new governor of Lagos has promised that the state would complete the building of a portion of the road, from Festac to Okokomaiko, in six months. It would appear he had the agony of commuters , traders and students in mind. It’s been almost four months since. Traders, students, truckers and residents of Okokomaiko, Ajangbadi, Agbara, Badagry, Seme are all dying slowly. The governor has blamed the delay on the rains.
But the sheer magnitude of suffering on such an industrial scale calls for an emergency palliative response. The governor should dip his hands into his security vote and fill the road with stones.
Many who live in Victoria Island and Ikoyi would simply go mad if asked to live in Badagry and work in Yaba today.
I recommend that the governor tries living in Badagry for a week. Let him live there and work in his Lagos island office for just one week. Yes, he can live in Whispering Palms Hotel and Resort to promote tourism in the state. And he should not do the experiment with sirens. If he attempts the experiment he may understand why rains cannot be a good excuse.
I know he has complained about rains and their effect on bitumen. I know he has only been four months in office. But he has to find answers to the daily anguish residents go through on that axis, immediately. The contractor dug up a road that was fairly manageable in the name of transformation and abandoned it. And left millions gnashing their teeth daily.
The situation is made more ridiculous by the literal mushrooming of Road Safety and VIO officers in the midst of these potholes on Lagos roads. Gov Ambode had contained their nuisance. But they are everywhere again, hunting motorists like bush rats. The governor cannot afford the impression that his emergence has set loose shackled predators.
The duty the state owes the residents must include emergency measures in crisis situations. I have listened to the governor. He seems meticulous and thorough. He has big plans. It is not his fault that some of the roads to the most important economic hubs in the state were allowed to fail. But what he cannot fail to do is show immediate responsiveness in palliative measures. The roads to the ports are being fixed. Let the roads to the markets be made passable immediately. Road safety and VIO officers should exist more to warn and caution. Rodents and cockroaches must be swept off the roads.
Let the governor hurry. Lagos is fickle. He must not lose the confidence of the public.