I could’t resist the pun 😀 Alright, so if you were in Lagos over the past two weeks, you must have experienced the fuel shortage issue in one way or the other. Perhaps, through a hike in transport fees, reduced mobility, hours spent on a horrible queue, “black-market” sale of fuel, or sightings of plastic kegs in various shapes and colours. 😀 I know I definitely thought twice before driving around willy-nilly.
But the worst thing, by far, about this recent fuel ‘crisis’ was the traffic. My goodness, it was tragic. For about 3/4 days I was in some form of extreme traffic jam or the other. If you’ve lived in Lagos (even if for just a short time), you will know that Lagos and heavy vehicular traffic aren’t strangers. So traffic jams are generally not surprising. So, here’s the thing. The fuel shortage saw petrol stations faced with record queues. The exact reason for the shortage is unclear (from my research). This wasn’t a case of ‘panic buying’, people’s tanks were literally empty. At any case hoards of Lagosians converged on fuel retailers state-wide. That should not be an issue, right? That just means very long queues, no?
No. At least not in Lagos. Here’s where the problem is. Indiscipline rules on Lagos roads. Let’s face facts. Everyone pretty much does what they want. So what happens when seemingly half of Lagosians are queuing up at fuel stations? Multiple lines being to form. Instead of a single file, queues being to form alongside each other. This blocks out passage for motorists driving past. And you can imagine how fast traffic builds up, especially during rush hour. There’s this awesome agency known as the Lagos State Transport Management Authority (LASTMA) which helps keep Lagosians on track. Or at least, they are supposed to. (I think they were more efficient in the early days compared to right now, but that’s just my opinion). But it seemed like this fuel thing was beyond them.
Fuel scarcity is a macroeconomic issue. There’s very little urban planning and design can do about such things. No matter how wonderfully laid out an urban area is, if there’s fuel shortage, there’s fuel shortage. It’s that simple. However, the conduct of Lagosians is definitely an urbanism issue. And if basic urbanism principles are put in place the effect of macroeconomic crises would not be so crippling to the city.
The nature of life in the city is dog-eat-dog. It seeps into everything that happens in Lagos. Here is where good urban governance can change things. A sense of discipline and responsibility can be instilled in Lagosians, it may take time but it can be done. Which is where agencies like LASTMA come in. LASTMA is not doing badly, to be fair. If you ever listen to Traffic Radio (96.1 FM) you will clearly see the efforts being made, But there’s definitely more that can be done.
For example, I was caught in nightmarish traffic one evening along Lags-Ibadan Expressway. If you know that area, there’s a U-Turn going from the expressway inward the old toll gate to head back toward Ibadan (Berger, Mowe, Ibafo and so on). Because of the heavy traffic, that U-turn was almost impossible to navigate. Quite simply no-one was willing to let anyone else through. It was aggressive driving at its best. One very simple solution would be too station traffic management officials at that junction to direct and regulate the flow of traffic. I actually felt like coming down from the car to do the job (maybe I should have 🙂 ). This would not have solved the traffic originating at the fuel stations, but it would have helped a great deal, and freed up movement.
Similarly, stationing management officials at the fuel stations would have helped as well. They would have been able to curb the multi-lane build-up and ensure queues were kept to singular stretches. Sometimes a long line that stretches for miles is better (at least other vehicles can move through). As opposed to the nightmare of one measly lane left for other motorists.
As of now, things gave eased up, thank God. We’ll keep an eye out as events unravel.
Èkó ò ní bàjé!