Chaotic Transport Systems and Public Health

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Patrick Iwelunmor

One of the several challenges that cast a very dismal shadow on many “mega cities” like Lagos is the unhealthy way the road transport systems are organised. For Lagos, in particular, although the state government has mapped out strategies to ease the burden of transportation with innovations like the Rapid Bus Transit, it has also allowed miscreants to dominate the transport system by failing to tackle the excesses of some transport unions in the state.

Most motor parks in Lagos and some other states are in themselves a pandemic that have been allowed to linger. How do you expect sanity among transporters, when sellers of alcoholic beverages, concoctions and cigarettes are allowed to do their business right inside the parks? I have heard some drivers say that smoking Indian hemp helps them to see the road clearly. For such drivers, entrusting them with the transportation of commuters from one point to the other is like taking a ride to doom.

While in many places, commercial tricycle operators can be said to operate with some level of sanity, the same cannot be said of their counterparts in the commercial motorcycle business, popularly known as okada riders. These people have proved to be the most recalcitrant in Lagos and elsewhere. Most of them are very reckless and have sent many passengers to their early graves. For  passengers who have managed to escape death, many have been maimed and disfigured for life.  Some of the worst cases of bone dislocations and outright limb amputations result from commercial motorcycle accidents. The damage is usually collateral, as it does not only affect the individuals involved; government also bears the brunt as it is also indirectly affected whenever a citizen is injured or dies.

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In some states, it appears that all efforts by the government to curb the excesses of motorcyclists have failed to yield the much desired results. The Lagos State Government has, on many occasions, banned them on specific roads, especially the highways. But no amount of deterrence, including the use of force has been able to stop them. Some who left the highways simply moved to remote areas where they have intensified their reckless activities.

In places like Oshodi, Isolo, Mushin, Onipanu, Ojuelegba and Ikotun, the menace of okada riders evokes unspeakable trepidation. When you walk around these areas, you must have the mindset that there is nothing like a one-way road. This is because you can be knocked down by a commercial motorcycle, no matter how right you think you are.

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Unfortunately, the security and traffic agents who are supposed to call these people to order are trapped in a system where money answers all things. Reports have it that the transport union that oversees the activities of commercial motorcycle operators shares some of its largesse with both the police and LASTMA officials at the expense of the common good of the populace. This reality has emboldened the transporters to operate with impunity because they know that even when they are arrested for traffic offences, it would only take some money exchanging hands for them to be released.

In a place like Ikotun, the road leading to Ijegun and Abaranje has become an overflow of the Ikotun market. Half of this road is allotted to market women and other traders at daily rates. Most of the traffic gridlocks and stress commuters experience on this road are due to the nefarious activities of miscreants who take advantage of traders who are struggling to find their daily bread.

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None can quantify the level of damage stress does to healthy people, not to talk of people who are battling high blood pressure, diabetes, and other ailments. Such scenarios do not also encourage emergency medical services. For instance, an ambulance conveying a very sick person to the hospital may not make it to the hospital with the patient alive because of the nauseating gridlock occasioned by the activities of these transporters and their unions. And to think that these unwholesome activities happen very close to the palace of the Oba of Ikotun gives the whole saga an abysmally worrisome colouration.

State governments, the leadership of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and other relevant stakeholders should come together to fashion out innovative and strategic ways of improving the lot of road transportation in all the states of the federation. The safety, ease of movement and satisfaction of passengers and commuters should be of utmost priority and not the wanton extortion that takes place daily.

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