On the Transport Crisis in Lagos State

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Lagos State is the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. It has a population of over 20 million people. And it also has a terrible transportation crisis. Generally speaking, a transportation crisis is one of the hydra-headed crises facing the poor masses as a result of the failure of capitalism and the greedy ambitions the bosses, with massive urbanisation. But the transportation challenge in Lagos state is of serious concern considering that it is highly dense and the most populated state in the country. It is also the richest state with a high presence of industries and fast paced commercial activities.

The state has the busiest airport in West Africa and the largest seaport in the country. But it is embattled with poor roads, a terrible transportation network, and endless traffic jams known as “go slow, go slow”, as Fela once sang. While running for the office, successive governors, particularly from 1999 have vowed to resolve the transportation challenges in the state during their campaigns.

On being elected, they always commit huge amounts of state fund, supposedly for that purpose. But these have not resulted in much fundamental changes. Obviously, the transportation crisis has always just provided another window for successive politicians and their businessmen friends to syphon wealth from the state into their pockets.

Former Governor of Lagos State, Raji Fashola in 2008, launched the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) project with the construction of special lanes and provision of mass transit buses. That gave the impression of some improvement in the transportation sector in the state.

What many people never knew was that the project was executed as a Public-Private Partnership (PPP). This made Lagos state to spend much more money to carry it out, while private entrepreneurs skimmed off the profit. In essence, what Raji Fashola did with the BRT was that he borrowed from the IMF’s neoliberal handbook of funding private enterprises with public funds.

Currently, the Lagos State House of Assembly is probing Mr Akinwunmi Ambode, the successor to Raji Fashola for misappropriation of funds, used to procure 820 new mass transit buses at N45 bn. We can agree that this exposure of Ambode is just because of their intra-class political war.

It thus gives an insight into the rot of using financial commitment to the transport sector as a method of greedy accumulation of wealth by the AD/ACN/APC government over the last two decades. Among the issues that contributed to the fall out of the immediate past governor and his godfather, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, are the projects in the transport sector. Ambode did not award many of these projects to Tinubu, he “dared” to cut his godfather out of the looting process, costing him a second term in office.

Also, many of these projects are white elephant projects which were not essentially meant to improve the living conditions of the popular masses but were mediums to further the accumulation of more wealth for the bosses. A good instance of that is the 1.4km flyover from Pen Cinema to Oke-Koto both in Agege. In reality, this flyover has no immediate importance to transportation in that community. The rail system that passes through Agege needs funding to provide a modern rail system, with more trains, to reduce heavy traffic along the Agbado axis to Oshodi towards Surulere. But the ruling elites don’t care about the plight of the poor working-class people.

Apart from the mindboggling amounts that have found their way into their pockets, these politicians have expended huge funds on projects that have no meaningful import on the lives of Lagosians, while roads across the state are in a terrible state. Popular and busy roads such as the Ikeja along, Awolowo way, Ikorodu Road and Western Avenue are not immune to the pitiable state of Lagos roads.

The rainy season often exposes the state governments and bosses for the fraud that they are. For instance, areas around Ikeja along bus/stop become transformed into Ikeja along river or waterways anytime it rains, while the Oba Akran Road becomes unmotorable.

The Lagos-Badagry Road and Oshodi-Apapa Road are eyesores, which also make transportation around the state difficult particularly for commuters around the Oshodi, Apapa, Okoko, Boundary, axis. Earlier before the general elections the current Governor of Lagos State, assured that within 6 months after being sworn in, his government would provide a lasting solution to the bad roads and decongestion of Oshodi-Apapa expressway. Immediately after the swearing in he withdrew his statement. What is that at the root of his withdrawal is the profit making spirit of capitalism.

It was gathered that, Alhaji Sayyu L Dantata who owns the MRS Oil Nigeria PLC, profits hugely from the terrible state of the Apapa/Badagry road. The tankers that come from different parts of the country to collect refined fuel from the port cannot get to the tank farms in Apapa because of the bad road. Hence, they will have to be on a long queue which could last for days.

Dantata on the other hand would deliver fuel to these tankers at a cost. It was found that he makes at least 1 billion naira yearly from this service. Surely, he won’t want the crisis to be resolved as he profits from the suffering of working-class people in the Lagos State. And he will pull in all the favours he can to stop the road being fixed – including with Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, the governor.

A road user told Socialist Worker that commuters are often faced with sudden hikes in transport fares which is a serious problem for majority of the populace, considering the level of poverty in the state. In his statement, he mentioned that government should intervene to regularize the cost of transportation in the state. But we understand that a government that privatises water and the transport system, and which is totally inclined to deregulation and other neoliberal policies, lacks the moral authority to regulate the cost of transportation which is largely private sector dominated.

Way forward

Considering the agonizing challenge which the transportation crisis in Lagos State presents to the people, Socialist Workers and Youth League (SWL) calls for “transport democracy” as a step forward in finding lasting solutions to the transport crisis. Currently the means of transportation are placed in the hands of a few, who for obvious reasons run the state transportation for their profits over the need of the popular masses.

We demand that the state government should fund a publicly transport system, that is democratically controlled by the working people and not placed in the hands of some private management. We further call on the state government to totally reclaim the BRT system and provide more buses such that the government can discourage lots of personal vehicles being used and regulate transport fares democratically. These will in turn reduce traffic on the roads.

Also, the roads, rail system and water transportation are in horrible conditions. We call on the state government to work on these, particularly the Apapa/Badagry Road. Equally, all expenditures in improving the transport system in Lagos State should be made public.

Lastly, we demand that those persons or corporations that are guilty of corruption or fund misappropriation in the name of ending the transportation crisis in the state must be prosecuted, and these must include previous governors of the state.

We know that the system of capitalism is a failed system and we can see the manifestation of that in the economic crisis that has bewildered the world for over a decade now. The bosses benefit from the status quo and lack the will to make fundamental changes we, as working and oppressed people, must organize, mobilise and fight, to bring about social changes. We thus call on working-class people in Lagos state (and to different extents, in many other big cities) to proffer proffer and mobilise around socialist alternatives, to transport crises and our reclaiming the cities.

by Lai BROWN

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