Talk to bus operators, passengers and their escorts. Competition is stiff among luxury bus operators. Some of them call their drivers pilots. Their tickets look like airline tickets, some linked to insurance policies. Customers’ patronage is determined by these factors: price, safety, comfort, regularity and cargo carrying capacity.
Check out the interstate highways, the luxury buses zoom faster than saloon cars. Speed limits and traffic signs are hardly obeyed. In Nigeria, there is a mad rush on the roads. Many crash and die. Talk to the Federal Road Safety Commission; they have plenty of stories to tell and statistics to give you. The carnage on Nigerian roads is heavy.
Remember there are peak periods of transport and the mad rush on the roads in Nigeria. These are usually during the Muslim and Christian festivals. Public holidays are usually declared. People travel home to see loved ones and relations, hold family meetings and launch development programmes. The peak is usually late December, between Christmas and the New Year. Nigerians from the South-Eastern states travel home in large numbers. It is a mad rush.
It is as if a super power is invading the country. The exodus begins on 15 December and peaks on 24 December, Christmas Eve. The casualties of road accidents are many. Mid-January , obituary notices appear in the national tabloids.
Do not forget the seaports. Those in Lagos are congested. Reason: government insists on 100 per cent inspection of incoming goods. Trace the movement of container-laden haulage vehicles and trailers. They cause havoc on urban roads. It is either the long vehicle breaks down on the roads, or it is negotiating a bend and the container tips over and the traffic is blocked. Commuters are trapped in traffic jams.
Check out the intra-city commercial buses- most of them are old vehicles that are not road worthy. Behind the wheels are drivers reeking of alcohol and sometimes high on drugs. Traffic lights do not work because of epileptic power supply. Traffic policemen at street junctions are hardly obeyed. They set up “tool gates” and collect bribes A driver can switch lanes, no problem, so long as you can bribe the traffic policemen. In the confusion, single lane highways are crowded with three or four lanes of cars. The spirit of rush-rush is evident in urban roads. The traffic jams can shorten the lifespan of workers who commute long distances to work and return home exhausted. The stress and psychological torture is enormous. If you want to gauge the tempo of life and level of discipline in Nigeria, move into the traffic.
When the rains come, Nigerians still rush but in agony. Potholes and bad roads make traveling difficult. In a typical bad day, a Boeing 727 jetliner that departs London’s Heathrow Airport might touch down six hours later at Murtala Mohammed International Airport before a motorist trapped in a traffic jam in Lagos might go from Lekki Peninsular on the island, to Ikeja on the mainland. Talk to the Lagos State Transport Management Authority; that government parastatal is a child of circumstance and is waging a fierce war against traffic jams in Lagos metropolis.
I almost forgot the commercial motorcyclists. They are everywhere. They ply the roads of most urban centres in Nigeria. They are called “Okada,” mostly driven by university and polytechnic graduates who cannot get jobs. Okada is also a child of circumstance. It started to ply Nigerian roads about 15 years ago in large numbers to meet the needs of people who want to beat traffic and get to their destinations fast. Every one is in a haste to beat each other in the traffic. In the end, every one is stuck on the roads. Going faster…to where?
Watch out for Okada as you do your study. They could knock you down. Remember they are there to meander through cars on lanes and highways and beat traffic. Okadas are readily available, affordable, and move very fast but at a big risk to all road users . Some passengers end up in orthopaedic hospitals.
Also watch out for bullion vans of banks and security companies and the siren-blasting convoys of top government officials. There is siege on Nigerian roads by the tyranny of the siren. Their convoys tear through the traffic scarrying other road users. If you do not give way, the police escort accompanying them will whip you as their vehicles sway in the traffic. Police jeeps are even worse. They run against traffic, all in abid to chase robbers. In most urban cities, you see special anti-crime squads on the highways. Lagos had one that was called, Operation Sweep, and Rapid Response Squad. Citizens have complained about the siren but it has not subsided. So long as there are traffic jams, sirens will continue to blast. Where are we rushing to?
Do not forget to factor in the problem of fuel shortage in Nigeria. It contributes to the transport chaos, especially on land and air. You can check out the rail system. Nothing much is happening there. Rail travel in Nigeria is virtually moribund waiting for reactivation, and so are inland waterways. Many ferry services are grounded.
You need to talk to the former Transport Minister. To tame the monster of traffic jams, he unfolded a novel idea- Nigerians should ride bicycles within cities instead of moving in cars. “It will not work,” many Nigerians said. “Our drivers are crazy,” they observed. It will work, so the Minister thought.
He was determined to demonstrate this. He mounted a bike and drove through the streets in Abuja to a Federal Executive Council Meeting at Aso Rock, the seat of power. Guess what happened to him? A motorist knocked him down. He was lucky to be alive.
Why are people rushing? To survive. The Nigerian economy has become very harsh. Many citizens do not want to pushed back, beyond the poverty line. Materialism rules. There is a mad rush for wealth, to get rich quick. But the rich also cry.
This is the brief. So get cracking. You have three weeks to do your study and turn in your report. Please be brief and concise in your observations. Recommend solutions and the resources it would take to achieve results. And always remember the subject matter: Going faster…To Where. People are moving very fast these days. We need to slow down. I wish you luck.
Eric Okeke is a storyteller, editor, business writer, motivational speaker and author of the best selling book: I Want a Husband. He is one of Nigeria’s most experienced financial journalists. He has published several articles in local and foreign publications and in websites such as http://www.ezinearticles.com, www.ezinearticles.com and www.writingcareer.com. He is currently running Infomedia Company, a media consulting and information marketing company. Visit his blog at http://sallywantsahusband.blogspot.com