Lagos – Ibadan Road – When Will The Agony And Shame Stop?

This is a typical scenario on the Lagos – Ibadan "Expressway" of the self-proclaimed "Giant of Africa" – Nigeria:

A trailer breaks down on one lane, usually the inside or fast lane (on which trailers ought not to run in the first place) of the two-lanes heading out of Lagos. The spot is Ibafo, a shanty along the road that rapidly growing into a sub-town in its own right. Traffic flows on jeeringly by the outer lane, while vehicles on the fast lane are held up.

Lagos-Ibadan Within a minute or two, the "patience" of the third vehicle – a truck, behind the car behind the stopped trailer – snaps. The driver swerves to his right to move unto the moving lane. In quick succession others behind him follow, forcing their way unto the outer lane. In the process, the vehicles on that lane were forced to negotiate – either permit the incursion or swerve away from the road unto the untarred pathway.

A vehicle soon hits another in the course of the struggle for space and the hurry not to be delayed a minute. The two drivers stop and come out for the argument, shout and snarl. A pile up ensues, stretching for some hundred yards. Nothing is moving at this point on this side of the dual carriageway. Deafening hoots rend the air; it helps not the traffic but it stops not, music to the building chaos.

Way back the bottom of the vehicular hold-up, a "smart" driver sees an opening on the road through which his car could possibly scale the median and get on to the lane of the opposing traffic. He makes for it, dipping in and out of the rough depression. He succeeds and heads on, negotiating a slice of the fast lane of the opposing traffic as he continues speedily to leave behind the bedlam of the other side. Hurray!

Back to the side of the road heading out of Lagos, the bedlam had now become a huge mess. Other vehicles had taken cue from the escaped car and had formed an opposing lane on the one-way from Ibadan. Vehicles coming from Ibadan had by now begun to swerve away to leave room for the invaders. Soon, a car on the invading lane couldn't stand the pace of his "stolen" lane, in a moment saw that there was space, a long gap free of traffic on what's left for the legitimate traffic. The driver worked it out that he could speed through and overtake the "annoying" stretch of vehicles. He makes for it. Others began to follow. Within the twinkle of an eye, a second illegal lane had been formed running against the normal traffic and virtually pushing the legitimate traffic off the road.

At some point, a trailer that had also joined in the one-way invasion took a crazy swerve wanting to negotiate even a third illegal lane. He is faced by an unyielding oncoming truck. A standoff ensued leading to a complete standstill for the third illegal lane and a stop to all vehicular flow from and to Ibadan on all sides of the "expressway". To compound the problem, another trailer had emptied all its contents, as it upturned trying to also negotiate the median at that point of the traffic from Lagos crossing onto the side of traffic to Lagos. The stage is set for the greatest madness mankind, of the Nigerian species, can inflect on itself.

So far, it has not been more than 30 minutes since the beginning of it all. Everywhere was jammed. Some madder ones were swinging their cars or trucks through whatever area looked like could take a vehicle, even if it ends up leading to nowhere. The community of Ibafo is familiar with the situation, they welcome it, it is time for business of all sorts, from hawking all kind of wares to brazen pick-pocketing all sorts of people.

Some siren could be heard blaring furiously in the distance. It was an ambulance crying for space to move so as to heed a distress call. It was a blare in vain. Then another "sireners" happened upon the scene. This time they are of the military. Gun-totting soldiers can be seen shoving through the mass of mess, insisting a way has to be carved out for their boss' vehicle to pass.

"You wan fly," somebody could be heard above the din, at the soldiers. People laughed. Nigeria…A Thousand Laughs…A Thousand Cries!

Everyone looks on helplessly and hopelessly. Nothing can be done. There's no way to move the trailers that have jam-locked the two sides of the road. Traffic has now stretched way back past Berger into Lagos from one side, and way back to the Redeem (religions) axis coming from Ibadan. There can be no sadder sight.

It has been four, then five, then six hours on the spot for everyone. Nothing is moving, nothing can be moved. Soon, dusk signals its onset. Panic is setting in, especially for those with young children. Curses are being rained at no one in particular. The government cursed, the task force is cursed, the police is cursed, the army is cursed, the rich is cursed, and the poor turn on themselves in rage. Nigeria…A Thousand Laughs…A Thousand Cries.

The Lagos-Ibadan stretch is a mere 80 miles long. It is the economic jugular of the country, the main and almost only land access to other parts of the country from Lagos, the former capital city of the country and unarguably her business and financial capital. The road, called "Expressway" when it was built some 40 years ago, is actually ordinarily a 4-lane dual carriageway.

When it was constructed in the late 60s early 70s the railway was in place and functioning, responsible for freighting the bulk of cargo – millions of tonnage of industrial goods (raw materials and finished goods), petroleum products, and agricultural produce – to and from Lagos to the hinterland.

40 years later, nothing has been added to the expressway, everything has been taken away from it. It is now an eyesore and a death trap. The stretch that should be done within 90 minutes takes average of four to eight hours. Indeed, many have been known to pass the night on this road.

The horror is compounded by the turn the highway has taken as the domain to competing religions and religious sects. It was spearheaded by the Redeem Church and now every inch of a section of the road on both sides are dominated by these religionists. When any of them is in high session, the bedlam on the expressway is unimaginable. Some of them have tried to bring out their "army" of traffic wardens to help the traffic flow, but often, all that happens is a worsening the plight of the road users. The prayer for God to reduce our pain is rewarded by unimaginable misery on the road.

The government under the late Yar'Adua thought it had figured a way out by commissioning the expansion or reconstruction of the road into a modern 16-lane truly express motorway to the firm of Bi-Courtney chaired by the intrepid entrepreneur and brilliant lawyer, Dr. Wale Babalakin. The firm is meant to express the essence of the private/public partnership for quick and spectacular relief. So many months have passed running into over a year and noting has happened beyond some billboards of "intent". The contractors have not moved to site, and life on the Ibadan-Lagos "expressway" remains a nightmare.