Tag: Lagos State

Counting the Cost of Lagos Traffic

Counting the Cost of Lagos Traffic

Having to catch a first flight out of Lagos, I had to hit the road by 5am to ensure I got to the airport in time to avoid hearing stories that touch the heart. As the cab driver got on the expressway, I could not help but notice that the roads were already busy at that time. While the driver and I discussed about the traffic situation, I thought about my experience spending unnecessary time commuting to and from work. Luckily, I do not need to leave for work at 5am each day; however, for many Lagosians, leaving after 5am increases their odds of getting to work late.  

To provide some context, the traffic situation in Lagos is well known across Nigeria, maybe even beyond the shores of the country. Lagos is the smallest state in Nigeria, yet it competes with Kano (officially) for the venerable title of the most populated state. Driven by a relatively high cost of living and uneven distribution of job opportunities, many Lagosians live very far away from their offices, with some effectively living in Ogun State while doing lengthy commutes each day into and out of Lagos.

If Lagos had a modern transport system such as the high-speed trains in Japan, maybe distance would not have been a problem, but with Nigeria’s hyper-functional rail system, people have to flood the roads to reach their target locations. Worsening the traffic situation is the number of private cars available in Lagos which is associated with widening distrust of the public transportation system. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics suggests that Lagos, Nigeria’s smallest state, has the highest number of road vehicles.

The foregoing provides a perfect recipe for long-winding build-up of traffic on roads across Lagos. Several pundits estimate that commuters spend hours in traffic each day on their outbound and inbound legs from their homes. For some persons, beating the traffic means waking around 3am, hurriedly getting out to head to work, reaching the office, say by 6am – 7am, finding a spot to nap, until a few minutes to 8am, when they would wash their faces and enter their offices to start the day. Thereafter, at the end of the workday, some persons may not get home until 11pm or even midnight; barely having a few hours to catch some sleep, and then repeat the cycle at 3am.

Imagine having to go through such a cycle week in, week out; how will that impact on your productivity? My unproven-yet-likely-valid theory is that the productivity of the workforce in Lagos is far below what it would have been if people did not have to spend so much time in traffic. I cannot expect someone who spent two hours coming to work inside a rickety bus, with lots of sweating during hot days, and the potential trauma of emotionally charged arguments with bus conductors or other passengers, to reach his or her office and deliver exactly the same quality of work as a colleague with similar skills (and motivation) who had a 15-minute drive to the office. It is just logical that the stress from traffic will build up over time and systematically degrade the quality of an individual’s work. While those with “less brainy” jobs may evade excessive degradation, for others whose jobs require serious brainstorming, the impact may be much more pronounced.

Besides the productivity loss, commuters pay a big toll to the security risks of being on the roads before daybreak. A friend of mine was robbed of his phones while walking out of his street one early morning. His is a small case compared with the stories of persons who have encountered “one chance” robbers early in the morning. People have been robbed early in the morning, and late at night as criminals exploit the cover of darkness to perpetuate their criminal acts. There have also been cases of robbery during traffic congestion as thieves exploit the slow pace of vehicles, especially on roads that offer quick exit routes for the criminals.

So far, I have not even touched on the impact of lengthy road journeys on people’s health. If someone does an early morning exit and late-night return repeatedly, there is bound to be some impact on his or her health from accumulated stress, especially considering that a good proportion of the workforce are not entitled to annual leave. This may manifest through stress-related breakdown from fatigue, or reduced immunity which may render a person more susceptible to germs and other disease-causing organisms. Besides ill-health, stress could impact on a person’s concentration level and situational awareness, which can lead to accidents at work, at home, or while driving. Here we see a potential workplace hazard linked to the Lagos traffic.

Lastly, there is the impact on family bonds. I have heard of families where the parents only see their kids on Saturdays and Sundays. All through the week, these parents leave their homes before the kids are awake, and return when their kids are sleeping; then these parents sometimes work on Saturday, which makes Sundays the only day when their kids may have some guarantee of seeing and relating with their parents. Is there an impact on emotional bonds within such families? Is there a potential impact on the health of children whose wellbeing is left for house-helps or other family members? Is there a potential impact on the ability of such parents to groom their children properly and teach them useful societal skills? Is there a potential impact on the preparedness of the next generation for workplace productivity and their ability to contribute to building the society in their own time?

If we sit and count the cost of the infamous Lagos traffic, we will balk at the losses being suffered every day. As shown in this article, you will see that the cost transcends monetary costs or GDP estimates but includes a range of other non-financial segments which will ordinarily be overlooked in a “regular” impact assessment. Maybe it is time for some rigorous evaluation of the impact of the Lagos traffic on its people, its economy, its communities, and the sustainability of its future. This is an area that someone or some people may consider for research. Maybe when we see the numbers, the government and people of Lagos will determine that the cost of uncontrolled traffic is too high a price to pay, and will seek a practical, sustainable solution.

Image Credit: guardian.ng

Ultra-Modern Deceptions

Ultra-Modern Deceptions

In Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Dispossessed”, a discussion between Shevek and Bedap provides a backdrop to today’s article.

“Who do you think is lying to us?” Shevek demanded.
Placid, Bedap met his gaze. “Who, brother? Who but ourselves?”

A look at Bedap’s response betrays a truism about human behaviour. More times than not, we lie to ourselves, deceiving ourselves or gleefully accepting the lies others tell us. In a case of blissful self-delusion, we seem to find it easier to face false constructs instead of reality.  Continue reading “Ultra-Modern Deceptions”

Rich Dad, Poor Hawker

Rich Dad, Poor Hawker

​By democracy’s famous definition, it is taken for granted that the government exists for the sake of the people, that it is simply a means through which a group of people govern themselves. However, governments repeatedly execute policies that are apparently anti-people, providing the impression that the people are deliberately undoing themselves, like a snake biting its own tail. This paradox is easily redefined if one redefines government to be for the elites. That’s the form of government causing discontent across the world. 

If governments were truly (and seen to be) working for the benefit of their general populations, names like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump would not exist in the political sphere. Neither would there be terms like Brexit. Bringing this down to Nigeria, in virtually every election season, the major charge contenders bring against subsisting officials is that their stay in office did not benefit “the people”. Although this is sometimes political bullshit, many times, the challengers are right, as existing officials take decisions that harm the very people they are supposedly serving. See the example of Lagos State. 

The Lagos State government, headed by Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode, recently announced a ban on street trading. The government indicated its passion to implement a law that was passed in 2003, but left in the government’s vault for thirteen years. The law’s overwhelming deterrent is the prescription of a ₦90,000 fine or a six-month jail term for both buyers and sellers of hawked products. What is the government’s reason? 

The LASG hinged its decision on the argument that street trading is a menace, an eye sore in the melting pot of Nigerian commerce. For a city hoping to compete with the world’s top commercial centres, the government feels the streets have to mimic London or Tokyo to attract investors. The government also argues that street traders are linked to a number of crimes, robbery inclusive. Hence, getting them off the streets would make Lagos safer. Some persons point to the recent death of a street hawker while escaping from government officials, and the attendant destruction that followed as motivation for the government. Also on the government’s offence chart is the involvement of children in trading activities. These children would now be free to attend school. Finally, the government argues that there are shops available for traders. For a tax-loving government, having people in shops provides a wider tax base. 

It is time to look at the government’s reasons critically. To start with, while accepting that it is good to make Lagos attractive for investors, forgetting the economic realities of Lagosians is a grievous sin. Can the unemployment rate in Lagos be compared with that of London, Frankfurt or New York? The government should have looked at the reasons people are willing to risk their lives to chase after vehicles on the road. If they had better alternatives, the hawkers themselves would disappear. For millions of Nigerians, street trading is a legitimate means of survival, allowing them to stay away from crime. 

Talking about crime, pinning street crimes on traders is a disservice to truth and fairness. Statisticians usually talk about sample size, ensuring that a sample is truly representative of the population being studied. Else, erroneous conclusions are inevitable. How many hawkers are in Lagos? What percentage of those hawkers are involved in crime (apart from the crime of hawking to survive)? Is it plausible to push thousands of hawkers off the streets and expect a safer Lagos? Has an idle mind ceased being the devil’s beloved workshop? As research and reality have shown, when humans are cornered, they can do anything to survive; legality being unimportant. With the enforcement of the ban on street trading, many pundits expect an increase in crime. An upsurge in theft and kidnapping may become the new reality in Lagos. 

The issue of children’s involvement in hawking is one area where the government may appear to have the moral upper hand. While I agree that every child needs formal education, I don’t agree that banning hawking is the way to force them into schools. Are children hawking because they wish to, or are they being forced by their parents or guardians? Instead of banning everyone, why not say children should not be seen on the streets during school hours. But first, since poverty is at the root of hawking, the government has to guarantee that the child of a knife sharpener can access education without the impediment of finance. Then, the government can prosecute parents/guardians for withholding their children from free education. This is a better approach, not the knee-jerk action of using a hot slap to kill a mosquito. 

STV recently aired footage of a newly-built shopping complex that has remained empty for months. How do you expect sellers of Lacasera and Gala to afford shops that cost above ₦10,000 per month? Some of them don’t even make profits of ₦10,000 in an entire month. This is simply elitist self-service; asking pauperized hawkers to rent shops. To start with, their target market is on the move, not some fancy shoppers with plenty of time to pick and twist. If the government can donate “free shops”, then maybe, it would have some moral leverage to sue for empty streets. Instead of telling them to rent overtly expensive shops, the government should have just copied a certain governor to say, “Go and die!” For taxes, the government can make use of unionism, get hawkers unionized in different areas, and negotiate a fixed tax. That way, LASG can see more revenue to spend on developing Lagos.

Finally, from my experience in Lagos and discussions with some Lagosians, the government may be fighting a battle that punishes the generality of Lagosians—elites and non-elites. Although Lagos is Nigeria’s smallest state, Lagosians spend hours on the roads shuttling from one part of the state to another. Being Nigeria’s revered capital of traffic congestion, commuters spend hours trapped in traffic. This is where hawkers come in, bringing life-saving consumables and hankies during hot periods. Did Ambode check how many lives have been saved by hawked products before implementing the ban? If Ambode doesn’t want hawkers, he should solve Lagos’s traffic problems. If vehicles are continuously on the move, hawkers would have limited time to approach commuters. It is wickedness to have a three-hour congestion, and then punish road users for seeking relief, and also punish the shiny-armoured knights that bring the relief. Haba! Even the devil allowed the rich man to beg Abraham for water. 

This implemented ban is an expression of a government that claims to seek the good of the entire citizenry, while actually serving a small section of the population. While making life more convenient for the elite, the less endowed should not be dumped. If the poor have no peace, the elite should expect to have a taste of the misery. Eko o ni baje oo! 

Image Credit: polyp.org.uk