Lagos deserves more than this Keke contraption

By Bayo Onanuga

I will start this intervention with a story of a conversation in 1984. I was then working as a sub-editor for Nigeria’s The Guardian newspaper. One of the reporters had just returned from a trip to Cross River and he was sharing his experience with the folks on the sub desk. We were all attentive as he regaled us with stories. I interjected, when he said the mode of transport in some parts of the state was the motorcycle; that there were no taxis, the way we knew them in Lagos.

“Motorcycle?”, I burst out in disbelief. “It can never be used in my home town, not to talk of Lagos”.

My home town is Ijebu-Ode, Ogun state and at that time the popular taxi cab was Datsun 120Y.

“No, no, motorcycle can never be used either in Ijebu-Ode or Lagos”, I repeated.

Never say never!

Before the decade ended, the motorcycle as a means of transport crept its way into Lagos and my good old town Ijebu-Ode. I always recall that 1984 conversation as the motorbike virtually became one of the favourite modes of transportation in our towns and cities. Remember billionaire-politician Bashorun MKO Abiola even gave a symbolic heavyweight of approval when he jumped on one of those two-legged vehicles to make the Jumat in central Lagos around 1990 or so. This was a time that most of the riders were unemployed graduates, who were trying to earn a living. The 1990s and 2000s had seen an exponential growth in Okada use and the tricycle that was added in late 1990s by Brig. General Buba Marwa, who initially lent his name to the tricycle before it became a national affair.

Let us not forget that the military in 1984 first scuppered an attempt by Lateef Jakande to give residents of Lagos a transport leap, by building a metro line. The project, which would have been the first in Africa, started in late 1983, but the parochial military administration that took over on 1 January 1984 stopped it, even when all the financing had been arranged and Lagos had paid its contribution to make the project a reality.

To me, the growth of Okada and the tricycle, as modes of transport cannot be called progress. It is simply a regression of the worst order. It is a clear indication that our standard of living has been going downhill since 1984. It is an indication that people born before then had a higher living standard than the present generation of Okada-Keke users. It is pathetic.

I think the politicians and soldiers who brought us to this basement level should be ashamed of themselves. They owe our people a great apology.

If our development had followed a normal trajectory, our cities should by now have trams, criss-crossing rail routes, ring roads etc.

Let us not forget that the military in 1984 first scuppered an attempt by Lateef Jakande to give residents of Lagos a transport leap, by building a metro line. The project, which would have been the first in Africa, started in late 1983, but the parochial military administration that took over on 1 January 1984 stopped it, even when all the financing had been arranged and Lagos had paid its contribution to make the project a reality. Its completion would have been a great progress, an improvement in the way we live, in the way we navigate the megapolis.

Transportation progress would also have been made in Lagos, if the military administration that took over in 1984 did not allow Jakande’s ferry service go to waste. I worked in Lagos in 1981-82 and I remember I used to take a ferry from the Marina to either Apapa or Mile 2, from where I would take a taxi to my home in Isolo or at worse ‘Iyana Isolo”.

Despite the perennial traffic jam in Lagos since God-Knows-when, Lagos had a well planned bus route in the 60s, up till 1979, similar to the way buses run till now in the UK. Tickets were issued by machines in the buses, buses had numbers and their destinations were always displayed banner-like at the front of the buses. I used to visit a friend in Akerele area of Surulere around 1972-73 and most times, when I wanted to return to Lagos Island, where I lived, I always took the last bus. It never refused to come at around midnight. And it would drop me at CMS, from where I would walk to my brother’s place in Ricca Street and later Okepopo. That was the way it was back then.

If we had improved the bus system, developed the bus routes as Lagos expanded, link road and rail transport with water transport, build several rail lines in the metropolis, that would surely have been some great progress, in our development, in our living standard. The Tinubu-Fashola administrations came with the BRT. But by now, we must have seen the limitations. The megapolis needs a transport system that can move people in large numbers, simultaneously. Buses would just not do.

If we had improved the bus system, developed the bus routes as Lagos expanded, link road and rail transport with water transport, build several rail lines in the metropolis, that would surely have been some great progress, in our development, in our living standard. The Tinubu-Fashola administrations came with the BRT. But by now, we must have seen the limitations. The megapolis needs a transport system that can move people in large numbers, simultaneously. Buses would just not do.

Okada and Keke, apart from the dangers they constitute on our roads, the limbs they break, the deaths they cause , the material damage they cause the vehicles of law abiding motorists, can never be part of any progress.

This is why I fully support the Lagos State Government in banning them from many of the major roads and bridges as it improves on our transport system. I however disagree with the government about the half-hearted measure taken. Raji Fashola restricted them before and they came back in greater number under Akinwunmi Ambode. They are even now boasting that government would sooner lose the will to enforce the restriction and they would return.

The Sanwo-Olu government should therefore make a law imposing an all encompassing ban, covering the entire state. Lagos deserves more than Okada and Keke. Lagos deserves a modern, multimodal, integrated transport system, in the true spirit of a megacity.

*The article was first published on Nigerialife blog