For most residents living in this adrenalin city called Lagos, the issue in the title above will not be a surprise. Everyday, they are daily confronted with the gradual extinction of those indices that define a truly metropolitan city and benchmarks of what makes an urbane society where everything works. But sadly, any time most residents of this city leave their home, they are forced to say their last prayers because there is seven out of ten reasons why they may not return back home intact.
I dare say that majority of Lagosians who are faced with having to take the rickety commercial buses driven by deranged drivers are in the majority. I am talking of those Lagosians who commute daily from their different locations in ‘Danfo’, ‘Molues’ and ‘Kabukabu’ and have to disembark and trek long distances to their appointments to transact most of their business on foot. For these classes of residents of this city, their ordeals begin as soon as they alight from the sub-human buses.
The nature of Lagos roads is increasingly making it unsafe for pedestrians. The whole place has been taken over by one commercial activity or the other. It is now very difficult to walk freely in this city. You will be foolhardy to think that the pedestrian walks available, if there are any, are meant for you! As a matter of fact, they are no pedestrian walks any more on Lagos roads. If you have not observed, please begin to take a second look. All the remaining ones have now been converted into other uses. Now we have had to struggle to walk on any of the converted pedestrian walks with Okada riders, cart pushers and market women who hollered at you if you dare challenge their effrontery at displaying their wares on the pedestrian walk. From Iyana Ipaja to Mushin, Ikeja to Victoria Island and Ikoyi. The story is the same. Lagos has lost its soul.
Stories have been told of how orderly Lagos was during the pre-independence years and shortly after independence. But those days are long gone. They belong to history. Now you run the risk of losing your limbs if you think that by walking on the pedestrian walk you are safe. The pedestrian walk is actually not meant for pedestrians. The dictionary meaning has been redefined. It is now meant for car parks, portakabins, mini shops Okadas, call centres, vulcanizers, etc. The situation is even made worse by the arbitrary behaviour of the average Lagos motorists who recklessly climbs the pedestrian walk to beat a traffic jam. Lagos roads are hostile towards pedestrians. It is now a crime to walk. It is like we are being told to find a way to walk on air.
The situation is much worse in Victoria Island where all the pedestrian walks have been converted into mini garages by Okadas, taxis, banks and offices. The story is the same all over the city. Of much concern is the way Okada riders deliberately and willfully flaunt this simple highway etiquette. There is scant disregard for the right of the average citizens going about his normal transactions. How does one move freely in this city when all the pedestrian walks have been converted into call centers, canteens and other uses? The story was told of a youth corps member from the eastern part that was knocked down by an Okada rider because he committed the simple ‘crime’ of using the pedestrian walk. He was lucky. He sustained some minor bruises. The Okada man simply counseled the bewildered youth corps member to walk on the road because according to him, the pedestrian walk is meant for Okadas! Strange! Isn’t it. But that is the reality of today’s Lagos. The story is the same all over this city.
The most disheartening is the complete ignorance of the use of the simple road sign of Zebra crossing by motorists in Lagos. The question that have often bothered me is why Lagos motorists- commercial and private accelerate faster when they are approaching the Zebra crossing sign with the full view of pedestrians eager to cross? Is it that they hate pedestrians or are ignorant of the Sign? You will be surprised that motorist in Lagos do not even stop at a sign that announce School Children Crossing! There have been reported cases of school children being sent to their early graves by either ignorant motorists or drunk drivers who are oblivious of the Zebra Crossing or the School Children Crossing Sign.
A former Nigerian leader referred to Lagos as a jungle. He was fiercely criticized for that statement. Indeed going by the action of Lagosian motorists- danfo drivers, commercial banks drivers, Okadas riders, the call centre girls with their yellow umbrellas and the ubiquitous cart pushers who have conspired to make life unbearable for pedestrians in Lagos, then we can safely say that their behaviour is fit for the life of the people living in a jungle.
What manner of people are we? What kind of people will annex pedestrian walks with fences and walls? The commercial offices are the guiltiest. On Allen Avenue, Awolowo Road Ikoyi, Ajose Adeogun in Victoria Island, you will not be surprised to see signs like No Walking, No Standing on pedestrian walk! We are we supposed to walk? On the main road? To get knocked down by deranged drivers? Who will come to our aid? Who will save ordinary trekking Lagosians from the antics of this Hobbesian state of nature we have found ourselves? This lawlessness is off the limit. Something needs to be done and quickly too.
The above underscores the scant disregard for law and order. It also shows the value we place on human lives in our society. A society where the simple act of walking is a crime and can send one to the great beyond. A society where you have to watch your back all the time. I stand to be proved wrong by anyone that if you walk on any of the available pedestrian walk in this city without looking behind you every second, you run the risk of losing your limb by an Okada rider or a commercial bus driver. Not to forget the bullion vans and the commercial bank drivers. Who drives as if they are under the influence of hard drugs?
Recently I was in Benin Republic and I was at once struck by the orderliness in that tiny neighbouring country. I was also amazed at their roads network. There is a separate designation for motorbikes and pedestrians. It was amazing! How come Lagos roads are not built like that? Now that Okadas have become part of our daily lives, will it not be necessary to upgrade our roads to accommodate them by carving and designing a part of the roads for them instead of letting them risk their lives and that of their passengers and other pedestrians. Simple white paint marking with Okada written on them will go a long way. Any erring Okada rider that is found on areas meant for cars should be arrested and fined. The same goes for Okadas or cars found on pedestrian walks.
The spate of loss of lives occasioned by these scant disregards for simple roads signs are alarming and calls for strict enforcement of laws that guides road use in the state. Roads are important parts of our lives. Rules that guide its use determine the well-being of citizens. In major cities of the world, respect and observance of road signs are sacrosanct. In Nigeria, motorists don’t respect roads signs. It is indeed very sad. It is worse in Lagos. The situation is too chaotic as it is. It is complete bedlam. This city is no longer conducive for old people, the physically challenged and pedestrians.
This is another challenge for the authorities in Lagos. All the rules must be respected. It should be enforced with all the determination it will entail. The rights of the pedestrians in Lagos must be respected. School children must be protected from being incapacitated or sent to the great beyond by deranged drivers. What message are we even sending to our young ones? That it is not necessary to observe road signs? That law and order belongs to aliens? As a form of solution, our roads should be redesigned by marking the lanes meant for Okadas since we cannot eradicate their existence.
A massive awareness campaigns should be embarked upon by all roads agencies to sensitize our people to respect and observe all roads signs including the ones meant for pedestrians. And for the highbrow commercial offices and their conniving local government official, that have turned our pedestrian walks to car parks, they should simply be told to look for space for their customers else where. They should kindly let us enjoy the simple act of walking. Freedom of movement is a fundamental human right.