By Bose Adelaja
General Manager of Lagos State Traffic Management Agency, LASTMA, Olajide Oduyoye, in this interview, speaks on the traffic gridlock in Lagos and various challenges associated with traffic management.
How have you been managing the traffic situation in Lagos?
I was sworn in as the General Manager of LASTMA in 2019. Incidentally, the job of LASTMA is to ensure the free flow of traffic in Lagos State. It behooves the leader of the agency to ensure the free flow of traffic.
This is achievable mainly because the state government ensures that LASTMA officers are paid hazard allowances. This goes a long way to convince the officers that government is interested in their welfare. The state government ensures that an insurance policy is in place to cater to the officers where applicable, especially when we record injuries or death.
Also, comments have been coming from members of the public that the officers now look more presentable in terms of their outlook. Apart from the officers’ outlook, one can truly say that traffic is always fluid and it is not all about LASTMA but about what goes on. For instance, when we had the #EndSARS protests across the state, traffic chaos was felt all over because officers could not go out as expected of them.
This has demonstrated the importance of who we are or what we do. However, we have learnt a lot of lessons and the need to apply technology to our jobs. We are working on how to introduce technology that could prevent LASTMA from physically impounding vehicles. Government has engaged a consultant that will provide all the hardware and personnel to put this to work.
Does that mean you have not started?
We have not technically started but the pilot scheme has commenced in the last six months.
There is an agreement involved that needs to be ratified by the Lagos State House of Assembly, once this is done, we are good to go.
In what way do you think this will enhance traffic management in the state?
It will enhance it in the sense that LASTMA will be more focused. The technology is opposed to the practice of physically arresting offenders. We need to get hold of those who obstruct the free flow of traffic and effect arrests according to traffic law but when technology comes up, less time would be spent on this because penalty charge notices will be sent to the owners of vehicles.
You have been talking about the free flow of traffic in Lagos, but traffic gridlock is getting worse in the state…
The free flow of traffic in Lagos is subject to so many things. For instance, when repair works are being carried out on the Third Mainland Bridge and Apapa/Tincan Road, one should expect that traffic will not be free on that axis. Road users need to be patient. As we speak, construction works are ongoing at Ozumba Mbadiwe Road, Bonny Camp and other areas.
All these require patience because motorists out of desperation may want to drive against traffic and this will create additional tasks for LASTMA. In the absence of a viable public transport system, a city as large as Lagos with a population of over 21 Million population, the traffic flow will be affected in the sense that people have fewer choices for mobility.
Thank God for the Bus Rapid Transit,BRT, which the state government has introduced but this is only on two major corridors and many people need travel patterns in the state. In the absence of a reliable transport system like rail and water systems, many people use their cars and this causes more vehicular movement in the state, which automatically increases the volume of traffic.
It is almost becoming a regular feature for commercial motorcyclists to compete with BRT on their corridor, thereby obstructing free flow of traffic. What is LASTMA doing about this?
The state government does not support it. I believe that with the help of stakeholders, this will be put under control. Government has introduced a policy that prohibits Okada operations on the highways and I believe this will be strictly followed up to enable LASTMA to do its job effectively. This government has never supported Okada as a means of public transportation in the state. LASTMA as an agency whose men bear no arms is exposed to dangers.
For instance, if an officer wants to go out to arrest violators of BRT corridor, the riders may escape not minding that he endangers the lives of the passengers. This is where the Police come in to enforce the law. Ideally, there are two BRT corridors, and the first one which is Ikorodu to CMS Terminal is over 23 kilometers with various intersections.
How many Police patrol vehicles can we station on that corridor without disrupting free flow of traffic to checkmate the activities of Okada riders alone? Don’t forget that there are other means of transportation like tricycles, cars, buses and articulated trucks on the roads?
Every profession has its peculiarities in terms of hazards. How does LASTMA cope with such?
I don’t think coping with injuries and deaths is something that can be easily embraced. So many officers have ended up in hospitals, some with broken arms or legs while others are dead.
This may not be direct because of motorists but could be as a result of dangers and hazards of the job. Government fulfills its part by creating a welfare department within the system to provide succor to the officers whenever the need arises. There were 45 attacks on our men from 2019 to date.
How do we forestall future occurrences?
At the moment, the protection we have is from the Police but the ratio of the Policemen attached to LASTMA is very low compared with the number of LASTMA officers on the ground. LASTMA covers the entire Lagos State from Badagry to Epe, Ikorodu, Alimosho, Lagos Island and Mainland with thousands of junctions, intersections and check points. There should be an armed officer at every check point. Whether the Nigeria Police Force has such capacity is something we have to look at.
How do you ensure the safety of LASTMA officers or reach out to the affected families in case of the hazards on the job?
LASTMA officers are trained regularly on self-defense and keeping the stage alive because you must be alive before you can work. As you operate on the road, don’t be blind to the issues of loose tyres, bad breaks, drunk drivers, protests, dangerous driving and articulated vehicles. All these can cause accidents on the road. Recently, a truck ran into a traffic control post made of metal and injured a woman who was hospitalized.
Areas like Ajah, Sangotedo, Bogije, Mosalasi, Kola, Abule-Egba, Oke-Odo, Agege, Iyana-Ipaja, Ketu, Ojota, Mile 12, Apapa, Lagos/ Badagry Expressway among others are gridlock prone. What is LASTMA doing about this?
LASTMA is aware of all these but we need to realise that people are usually heading towards the same directions at peak hours and because many motorists don’t have the natural gift from heaven to be patient, this usually leads to confrontations on the roads. There is little LASTMA officers can do because we have to concentrate on intersections to minimize accidents. We have more than 3,000 men.
Are there plans to introduce night shift?
We have two teams which are rescue and enforcement teams. They are always called upon while senior officers are always on air to intimate people with the happenings on the road. These can easily be called upon anywhere their attention is needed. The rescue team goes around to attend to broken-down vehicles while the enforcement team goes about to enforce the law.
Let’s talk about Apapa gridlock…
The state government has set up a traffic management team comprising four people headed by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Transportation, Toyin Fayinka. The governor has mandated us to provide a lasting solution to the traffic gridlock in Apapa and environs. We have started work and mobilized law enforcement agents like Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and the enforcement arms of Nigeria Ports Authority.
This is a lot of work and we have introduced the ethos system which brought about the call-up system that is being experimented with. The whole idea is to get trucks off the axis. It is an ongoing exercise and new technology is being introduced which we call the ethos system. This means you have to park at the terminal yard, get documentation, and get called upon before you are allowed in.