By Olabode Ajayi
To say that the roads in Lagos are in dire need of repair would be an understatement. Potholes, gullies and even wells adorn our roads causing untold hardship for both the living and the unborn. From the Island to the Mainland, the story is the same, exacerbated by the unpredictable rains. It seemed like yesterday when the last government of Akinwunmi Ambode mandated all local government areas and local council development authorities in the state to embark on road repairs in their different jurisdictions. A few months after that hurried adventure, Lagos roads fell back into sin, leaving us asking the question: What went wrong?
Enter the new administration of Babajide Sanwo-Olu. During the campaigns, the present governor with his deputy came in with so much vibes while articulating his ‘THEMES agenda’ for Lagos State, where ‘T’ stands for Traffic and Transportation. He mathematically identified and clinically dissected the troubled spots of Lagos gridlocks and proposed ways of tackling this hydra-headed monster, which unfortunately defined the twilight days of his predecessor.
For many of us, we felt Sanwo-Olu came prepared, judging by factors such as his choice of a “sound” deputy, his close affiliations and interactions with former Governor Babatunde Fashola, as well as a well-defined vision to wrest Lagos from the chokehold of the past medieval period. But five months down the line, the situation has only got worse, with people spending gruelling hours in traffic. I heard of the case of a young girl around the Lekki area whose school closed early to discharge its students because of the horrendous traffic situation some days ago. The girl left school at 2pm and got home at 9pm. How about that job seeker who got to the interview late and lost the job, the new employee who resumed late on his first day, the multi-million naira business deal that had to be cancelled, etc. The list is endless. Everybody has a bitter tale to tell. For me, my dad died in traffic on his way to the hospital. We’ve all lost something precious to us one way or the other because of this cycle of pain. How many more are we going to lose?
Indeed, it would be wrong to lay the blame of bad roads in Lagos solely at the feet of Governor Sanwo-Olu. This was an issue virtually all past governors had to contend with. However, the approach employed by these respective governors to the same set of issues differs considerable. Fashola left no one in doubt as to the fact that he came prepared, building up on the legacies of Bola Tinubu, cleaning the city and providing greenery. Ambode began very slowly as he viciously pursued a vindictive agenda that sought to erase the legacies of his predecessor. Things almost came to a halt but somehow, he managed to stay afloat for four years. In the case of Sanwo-Olu, one of my mentors describes the governor’s demeanour in the following hilarious words, ‘He rolled up his sleeves during campaign for the camera. Time to work, he’s attired in flowing agbada. Tufiakwa!’
One would have expected a smooth and endless synergy between successive administrations in the state but the open-secret animosity between the personalities of these governors despite belonging to the same party has continued to ensure that the vision and drive for a greater Lagos would take longer than we all imagined.
The major causes of traffic in Lagos are not unknown to us. They include failed/failing roads, absence of traffic officials, wayward drivers and road repair at peak periods by the state Public Works Corporation. This is not forgetting the defiant illegal highway parking by tankers and trailers. The feeling one gets when the cause of the gridlock is identified to be a small portion of the road that requires only a minor patching can be really saddening. Modern democracies don’t highlight road repairs as an agenda or achievement for a smart city in the 21st century. It is unfortunate but this is where we have found ourselves. Everyone knows that potholes in Lagos are living organisms –they grow and reproduce after their kind within a very short period of time because very cheap labour and materials are deployed into giving Lagosians temporary solace. And the conspiracy behind this idea is not far-fetched. When the roads are fixed by the cronies of the political elite, they are not meant to last in order to perpetuate a continuous avenue to milk the state. Were it not for corruption, financial recklessness and wasteful spending on the part of successive governments, politicians and public office holders, who does not know that it is more economical to fix roads when they begin to show early signs of fatigue? But then how else will party faithful be compensated and their appetites satiated if not with juicy contracts that border on road rehabilitation and other such constructions? You ask yourself the question, why would the same set of roads be rehabilitated over and over again every time a new government assumes the reins of power?
Several statements have been attributed to the governor in light of the abysmal state of roads in the state. He was quoted to have said that the state was broke. How can Lagos ever be broke? What was the state of the account when he took over the reins of power? Ladies and Gentlemen, we will never know because our governments are not accountable to us. You might ask, how about revenue generated from taxes? Well, the governor was said to have declared that only a few Lagosians pay tax and those who pay under-remit their taxes. I find this laughable. Is the Lagos State Government now impotent that it cannot enforce the law against tax defaulters? Is he expecting our sympathy? Does he even realise that traders who lay their wares by the side of the road pay as high as N30,000 per month in some areas like Ketu? Please go and find out!
The governor decides to fill our roads with stones and rocks as palliative measures to traffic congestion. The Executive Order on traffic has achieved little and so also is the declaration of state of emergency on the roads. The increase in the allowances and powers to LASTMA officials has also not yielded much in alleviating gridlocks. LASTMA officials edit the days of the week they render services for which they are being paid. The ones in my area viciously clamp down on private car owners while commercial drivers, tricycle and bike operators run wild.
Dear Mr Sanwo-Olu, we can’t be going to the office and returning the next day. We can’t be spending half our lives in gruelling traffic caused by poorly maintained roads. We can’t stop the rain from falling in its due season. Please fix these roads as you promised during the campaign trail. If you met an empty treasury, go ahead and borrow but please do fix the roads. And fix them permanently! Remember, another hundred days is looming. What will be your achievement in the area of traffic and transport in your exalted THEMES agenda?
Ajayi wrote in from Lagos.