Akujobi Okorie nearly ‘died’ of excitement in the weeks and days leading to his arrival in Lagos. A skilled carpenter in his native Ihiala, one of Anambra’s most popular regions, what he earned from hours of labour made nonsense of the energy and artistry he plugs into each task. In July, after a distant cousin told him of the promises Lagos held for an artisan like him and also offered to bring him to the city where ‘gold’ is said to dot every street corner, the 35-year-old father of two became restless. He was convinced in only a few weeks plying his trade across Nigeria’s commercial capital – Lagos – fortune would be served in bags of money.
But four months after that period, Okorie is already fastening his ‘seat belt’ to make the long journey back home – to a life he reckons offers little pay but delivers much peace. Lagos’ endless and often ruthless traffic ‘epidemic’ has stung him hard like the venom from an inland taipan – the world’s most venomous snake. The 35-year-old is desperate to escape the ‘madness’ he had witnessed across many of the city’s fast-crumbling roads over the last four months.
“There is no amount of money that can keep me back in Lagos going by the suffering and stress I have experienced on the road,” Okorie told SaharaReporters, frustration and a tinge of regret clearly visible in his voice.
“There is money in this city but the suffering is too much,” he reminded. “If I continue to subject myself to the long hours of traffic I experience almost every day in Lagos, I will age very fast and maybe develop a sickness that would eventually kill me soon.
“Before Christmas, I would go back to my state and remain there. I may come again sometime in the future but for now, I am leaving, the stress on Lagos roads is too much for me to bear,” he added painfully.
Interestingly, Okorie’s frustration is not a peculiar one – all across the city of aquatic splendour as Lagos is sometimes often referred to, the hallmark and fangs of its bone-crushing traffic ‘epidemic’ sit on almost every face you come across.
On Monday for example, the situation took an even more disturbing turn when major roads across the city was gripped by a ‘stubborn’ gridlock that left vehicles and their frustrated owners stuck on every corner for hours. Commuters lucky enough to find commercial motorcycles to hop on, also had their own demon to deal with. Negotiating their ways out of the armada of stranded automobiles – some of them gorgeous-looking machines acquired with mouth-watering millions – posed a tough challenge for dozens of ‘bikers’. It was indeed chaos in every sense.
Narrating his bitter experience that fateful day, Peter Igodaro, a businessman with deep pockets, told SaharaReporters that he was heading to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Ikeja, the state capital, to board a flight to Kenya when he got stuck in traffic around Oshodi. Coming all the way from Victoria Island only to be held down by traffic a few minutes from the airport was a sad experience for him.
“I live on the Island and because I knew I will need to go to Ikeja for my flight, I left home early.
“I had gotten to Oshodi when I suddenly became trapped in traffic.
“But thank God I had the initiative to call the airline to leave my flight open. It cost more to reschedule but that’s how terrible we have become as a country.
“I don't know where we go from here as a country, so many opportunities wasted in traffic. The governor must decongest the road,” Igodaro said.
Seun Sanni, a content administrator and also a resident of Lagos Island, told SaharaReporters that a 20-minute commute to work now took him more than twice that period and sometimes far higher as a result of traffic occasioned by dilapidated roads in the city.
“My house is not too far from the office but heavy traffic has become a usual experience these days,” he said.
“I think the problem is compounded by bad roads. For me, the solution is for the governor to resign. If he cannot fix something as simple as roads, I don't know what he intends to fix,” Sanni added.
A handful of residents across most parts of Lagos SaharaReporters spoke with this week all said they now spent between five to six hours daily in traffic while going to work or other places and returning to their homes later in the day. Bad portions of road in the wealth-ridden nooks and crannies of Lagos Island and deadly ditches splattered across the strife-stricken neighbourhoods of Lagos Mainland have ensured that the city’s rich and poor are united in pain.
“I live in Ajah, in one of the most expensive estates in Lagos but I can tell you that the problem we face in terms of traffic is not different from what those in places like Apapa, Ijora and Iyana-Ipaja experience.
“There is hardly a month that I don’t spent large sums in car maintenance since the beginning of this year. It does not make any sense at all,” Patrick Ekanem, a manager in a telecoms firm, told SaharaReporters.
As a result of this problem, many offices in Lagos have now had their employees work more remotely to avoid a hitch in their operations while some have made funds available for such persons to get small apartments closer to the work places.
On major social media platforms, images and stories capturing the growing frustration of Lagos’ residents over the city’s monstrous traffic is one of the quickest things your eyes show you as you log on to the Internet these days. The sentiments and concerns are overwhelmingly shared by all – young, old, rich and poor.
Blaming the rising traffic menace on Lagos’ roads in recent weeks on ongoing repair works on bad portions, Commissioner for Information in the state, Gbenga Omotoso, said the crisis would soon be over.
In a statement on Wednesday, Omotoso admitted that since the beginning of the massive road repairs under “Operation 116” across the state the traffic had been heavy.
He however, appealed to residents for understanding as the situation would soon normalise.
On October 13, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu declared a state of emergency on Lagos’ roads and listed at least 116 roads for urgent repairs.
But weeks after that declaration, commuters are yet to see or witness any significant improvement in state of the city’s roads and the traffic they inspire.
Disturbed by the situation, Abdullah Adeniran, a public affairs analyst, said, “This government is bereft of ideas.
“If there was a move to construct roads, why are there no palliatives for residents? This is the height of irresponsibility.”
Left at the mercy of health risks and hoodlums, who capitalise on failed road portions to rob and maim vehicle owners and commuters, dozens of Lagos’ residents would hope for a swift turn of events in the coming days especially as Yuletide slowly creeps into sight.