For a city of over 22 million people, it is inconceivable that the predominant means of transportation is road. Every day, more than eight million commuters are cramped into a tiny and often bad network of 9,100 roads.
A study, in 2017, rated Lagos the third most stressful city in the world just after Baghdad and Kabul. Lagosians spend an average of seven hours twenty minutes daily in traffic. A journey of less than 50 kilometres from the Murtala International Airport to Ajah could last for eight hours, as a CNN journalist discovered recently, far more than his six-hour flight from Instanbul to Lagos. As at 2006, it was estimated that the city’s transport infrastructure and services were at levels that supported a population of six million some 20 years ago.
The absence of a modern transport infrastructure in Lagos and the consequent heavy traffic gridlocks on the roads comes with huge costs to the city and its inhabitants, the state, the country and the economy. The business community alone loses an average of N11 billion monthly to the traffic. In 2015, the former governor of the state, Tunde Fashola, says the state loses N250 billion annually to the traffic while the Apapa traffic alone costs the country about $19 billion annually. The economic as well as health, emotional and relational costs to individuals and families is colossal and incalculable.
In 2006, the government developed a transportation master plan that will integrate road, water, rail, and cable-car transportation to provide one of the most efficient systems of transportation in a megacity. Shortly after, in 2008, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was launched as a stopgap measure while seven train lines were planned to link all parts of the states and even Ogun state with light rail.
However, due to paucity of funds, only the contract for the Blue Line (the 27-kilometre Badagry line running from Okokomaiko to Marina via Iddo) was awarded at the colossal cost of $1.2 billion (compared to similar projects in other parts of Africa awarded for just a fraction of that amount) to be completed in 2011. It was projected others will be awarded subsequently and the entire master plan will be completed by 2020.
However, since then, the Blue Line is yet to be completed and there is no indication that the state government is still interested or working to meet the timeline of the Master Plan.
Meanwhile, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a similar contract was awarded for a 34 kilometre and 39 station electrified light rail network in 2012. By September 2015, Addis Ababa, a city of only 4 million people, made history by becoming the first sub-Saharan city to have a light rail system.
Unlike Lagos, Ethiopia began its own construction in 2012, four years after Lagos and at the cost of $475 million but completed it on record time. However, Lagos is still battling with its $1.2 billion 27-kilometre rail system eleven years now with no completion in sight.
There are many questions begging for answers from the Lagos state government. First, why would a 27-kilometre project cost $1.2 billion when a 34-kilometres project cost only $475 million?
Second, the China Railway Construction Company (CRCC), contractors of the light rail project, in its 2010 report, put the cost as $182 million. Why is this so?
Third, what is responsible for the endless delays in the completion of the project despite reassurances from Fashola in 2010 that funding for the project was guaranteed through a loan by the World Bank?
Fourth, by what magic did the Ethiopians complete a 34-kilometres rail project in a record time of 3 years while Lagos has been battling with a 27-kilometre rail project unsuccessfully for 11 years?
My search for answers since 2015 has yielded absolutely no result. First, the state government has refused to release the contract papers for the project and have refused to answer any question or queries from any quarters on the project.
In 2015, I seized the opportunity of the visit of the then Mayor of London, Alderman Alan Yarrow, with private sector investors, to inspect the project and explore collaboration to ask Dayo Mobereola, then MD of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) about the discrepancies.
He flatly denied that a loan was secured for the project. He attributed the delays to funding challenges and the challenge of engaging the right partners to drive the project. He said the state desperately needed private investor partners who could run the system for a period of 30 years and hoped the visit by the Mayor of London will open new vistas of opportunity and attract the right investors.
Of course, seeing the miasma associated with the project, nothing came out of the visit and no investor indicated interest.
By 2017, the Lagos state government changed tact and abandoned the project, coming up with a nonsensical idea of flooding the city with buses as its solution to transportation and traffic gridlock in the state. One Sunday evening, Ambode, former governor of Lagos state invited senior journalists and editors to his office to sell the new plan to them. He invited questions and by the time I asked him about the project, he not only refused to answer me, but abruptly ended the programme and some of my colleagues blamed me for ruining the event.
The current governor, Jide Sanwo-Olu has also adopted the same strategy by conspicuously refusing to say anything on the Lagos light rail project and the 2006 transport master plan, even as the traffic gridlock in the city continues to worsen. Instead, to excite people, he has introduced another nonsensical idea through the new Eko Innovation Centre, purporting to dedicate $5 million to any innovative idea that can solve the traffic situation in Lagos.
The fraud that is the Lagos light rail project in many ways reflects the way governance and public projects are undertaken in Nigeria. Contracts are usually over-inflated, awarded to party or client members as rewards for loyalty and are poorly, if at all, executed. It also demonstrates the bankrupt nature of our political elite who do not even show enlightened self-interest.
If Addis-Ababa, with a population of just 4 million could be so pro-active to provide the inhabitants of the city with a fast, efficient, and modern transportation system to move approximately 600,000 people daily and decongest the roads, how much more urgent can the Lagos light rail system be, in a city with a population of over 22 million and which is synonymous with killing traffic jams and hold-ups that sometimes lasts 12 hours at a stretch?