It was a Sunday afternoon trip to Abeokuta. Ordinarily, Sundays are not very busy days and on a “normal” day, it takes about one hour and a few minutes to arrive Abeokuta from Lagos. Remi Bello, the District Governor of Rotary International District 9110, and his entourage hit the road last Sunday for his official visit to the Rotary Club of Obantoko in Abeokuta. As District Secretary, I was part of the team.
The District Governor is required to visit every club in our District comprising Lagos and Ogun states with 131 Rotary clubs – and still counting. Nigeria has four Districts with the following numerical identities: 9110, 9125, 9141 and 9142. In the whole of Africa which forms Zone 22, there are 17 Districts. But in District 9150 which hosted the 3rd All Africa Rotary Institute in Cameroon from August 24-28, 2021, there are 10 countries!
You can see that Nigeria is blessed in so many ways and it shows in Rotary. Nigeria alone has four Districts out of the 17 Districts in Africa due to our numerical advantage. As we continue to drive membership growth of Rotary in Nigeria, more Districts will be created.
By 4.50 pm, it was time to head back to Lagos. My driver suggested we should avoid the Sagamu-Lagos Expressway because of the long line of cars we saw when we were inbound Abeokuta. I discussed this option with our District Governor who was in his own car and we agreed to use the Expressway through the Sagamu interchange back to Lagos. It turned out to be a costly mistake.
There was chaos on the Expressway that was completely enveloped by darkness. There were no street lights. Apparently, the federal government had announced traffic diversion on that route effective that same Sunday for six days to enable Julius Berger, one of the contractors working on the project, to lay asphalt between Arepo and Warewa, a distance of one and half kilometres. But most people were unaware of the announcement.
The federal government is keen to complete the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project by next year, because it was a promise made by the Buhari administration. There was clearly the need to increase the pace of work but it has come with the hefty price of sitting for long hours in the traffic.
No one could rule out the threat of hit-and-grab criminals who operate in slow moving traffic, harassing innocent people for cash, mobile phones and other valuables.
The effect of the diversion was pain, anger, frustration and lamentation by motorists and commuters. The drivers were impatient but it was understandable. From private cars to commercial vehicles and heavy duty trucks, it was a struggle for every available space, sometimes only in inches. About six lanes were formed with a lot of “James Bond” driving on full display in a desperate bid to out-maneuver each other.
I travelled with the District media officer Elizabeth and photographer Afeez and we sat patiently for seven hours in the horrendous traffic jam to get to Lagos. Most of the time, traffic was at a standstill. When movement resumed, it was at snail speed.
The more I remembered the suggestion by my driver to beat the traffic, the more I felt guilty. Instead of seven hours, the journey would have lasted less than two hours if we had passed through Ijebu-Ode.
We were stuck in Mowe for one hour. I asked Afeez to step out of the car at around 6.30 pm to take shots of the bumper-to-bumper traffic scene. At this time, we were not even sure when we would arrive Lagos.
Emotions began to run high due to the fact that no one could be in control of the situation. Even if a chopper was available, there was no place for it to land in the pitch dark neighbourhood.
On the sidewalk, commuters who disembarked from commercial vehicles trekked long distances: men, women and children opted to find their way home from the nasty traffic experience that would be etched on their minds forever.
But it appears we are forgetting something. Everyone was heading to Lagos — the city, like New York, that never sleeps and bursting at the seams — for different reasons. Lagos has its attractions which includes high enterprise growth, sprawling real estate and access to opportunities. Lagos is home to everyone.
Vehicles that ran out of petrol and could no longer continue also became part of the problem and added to the back story. Others broke down from rising engine temperatures while some drove against the traffic, making life even more difficult for other motorists.
The entire stretch on the Expressway from Mowe, Ibafo, Magboro all the way down to Longbridge and the surrounding communities are major conurbations of Ogun State extending into Lagos. There are so many people who live in Mowe, Magboro and Arepo axis but work in Lagos. On a daily basis, they commute to and from these communities.
The population density in Lagos is perhaps one of the highest in Africa and the rising cost of a decent accommodation has resulted in developers building low income estates in the area. It is evident the residents are used to traffic jams on the highway but what happened last Sunday must have shocked them, too.
Motorists and commuters were helpless and traffic enforcement officers were missing in action. They were clearly overwhelmed with the unbearable traffic gridlock and they were not around for duty.
But the good thing was that miscreants who usually rob in traffic could not carry out their nefarious activities on that day. The explanation is simple: since the vehicles were largely at a standstill, the occupants of all the vehicles on the road were capable of forming a “formidable army” to repel any attack. It would have been a game of numbers.
Thankfully, to the best of my knowledge, there were no violent incidents in spite of the anxious moments until we arrived at Ojodu-Berger a few minutes to midnight. Even at this late hour, there were several vehicles dropping off passengers at the bus terminal.
It turned out to be a huge relief for vehicles that were running low on petrol to drive into filling stations that were still open to top up. For example, the Total Filling Station at Ojota was still open for business at about midnight.
For those who had appointments to keep, the logjam was a huge disappointment. I was also looking forward to arriving Lagos early enough to see the Super Sunday English premier league game between hosts Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge. I missed it but I monitored the match online.
For the next few days, construction works will continue on the highway and the slow moving traffic and the inconvenience will not go away.
Overall, it was a frustrating experience, affecting one’s capacity to think straight apart from being drained physically. Medical practitioners tell us not to sit for too long so that blood flow in our veins is not restrained, but on that day, we sat for seven hours nonstop. The driver stepped out a few times and the photographer once.
But you cannot make an omelet without breaking an egg. Can you?
–Braimah is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Naija Times (https://naijatimes.ng)