A foreigner could have wondered what was going on as men and women lined up on the corridor of Ikorodu road, Ojota Lagos, waving at speeding vehicles to slow down.
They stood like people on a marathon set, waving, until a driver on the first lane played the Good Samaritan and slowed down and they raced onto the road not paying attention to the car on speed on the second lane.
Onlookers were yelling until the tyres screeched to a halt. It was close, but thankfully, no casualty.
They crossed, hurling curses at the driver as if he just drove through the walkway. But it’s not always a case of “Thank God, we didn’t see blood”,” some other times there are casualties.
In 2016, at the same place, a mother and her four kids were holding on to each other’s hands crossing the expressway. They were in the middle of the road when one of the kids lost grip and slipped. A speeding commercial vehicle hit him, and he died.
People gathered, consoling his weeping mother.
One question many of them couldn’t stop asking is: “Why didn’t you use the pedestrian bridge?”
There are about 20 pedestrian bridges on Ikorodu road alone; most of them newly built. These bridges were necessitated by incessant accidents involving people trying to cross The road.
Each time that happened, the government took the blame.
“How much does it cost to build a pedestrian bridge that the government is allowing people to get run over by cars on daily basis”? They asked.
Talk of places without pedestrian bridges, and the government takes the blame for any event involving a pedestrian crossing the road. Where there are pedestrian bridges, it’s a case of people who choose ‘ease’ over their safety.
The Lagos state government knows this, and has taken some measures to instill in the people, the discipline needed to save their own life.
For instance, Ojota, along Ikorodu road, has two pedestrian bridges.
One, a modern edifice with room for disabled people and there is a stretch of metal barricade standing between pedestrians and the road.
It spans to the end of the long road, just to prevent pedestrians from making a dash across the ever-busy road.
When this initiative was effected, bouncers and officers of Lagos State’s Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) were placed in various areas to enforce the use of the bridges.
Many people who attempted to dash across the three-lane road were arrested and fined. And it helped to a good extent.
People started using the bridges to the point that some traffic Twitter handles were reporting heavy traffic activities on the bridges. But it didn’t last. As soon as enforcement was relaxed, the people went back to the old ways.
Their only problem was getting past the barricades.
One morning, there was a hole in the barricade, just big enough to accommodate an adult body. And that was it.
Today, close to a half of the barricades has been torn down to enable free flow of ‘road jumpers’.
On Apapa-Oshodi expressway, it’s the same people, the same spirit and the same story. Although not having any barricade, the speed of vehicles on the road is enough to scare anyone who cares enough for his life to a pedestrian bridge.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case, not even heavy-duty vehicles have what it takes to get many pedestrians to use the bridges.
Lagos-Abeokuta expressway, until its rehabilitation has a reputation of a bad relationship between motorists and pedestrians.
There were cases of deaths, injuries and curses. Apart from the latter that’s usually shared, pedestrians were always at the receiving end.
New pedestrian bridges have been built, although some are still under construction, it seems the people have got use to the old ways that they don’t see the need to use pedestrian bridges anymore.
Lekki-Epe Expressway, is one of the busiest roads in Lagos, vehicles are always on speed. But that doesn’t change the crossing mindset of many pedestrians.
Although, there aren’t enough pedestrian bridges on major roads, the few there are have been ignored by so many people who choose to risk their life crossing the roads instead of using pedestrian bridges.
The barricades provided to prevent such ‘dash of death’ have been damaged.
The impunity that enables these actions also undermines the UN General Assembly’s 64/55 Resolution, a 10-year plan adopted in 2010 to curb and reduce the alarming numbers of road crashes worldwide.
Yearly, approximately 1.35 million people die in road crashes worldwide, on average of 3,380 deaths per day.
Twenty-two percent of these deaths are pedestrians. Africa, due to its poor road infrastructure and lax post-accident medicare has assumed the regional headquarters, securing the highest number of fatalities with an average of 27.5 death rate per 100,000 people.
Nigeria is sitting high and tight on the list of most affected countries, due to her poor traffic management and loose enforcement of traffic laws, that have enabled drunk-driving, over speeding, obstruction, etc.
In 2017 alone, there was a record of 66,998 crashes in Nigeria, resulting in 36,215 deaths.
Lagos is a high partaker of these crashes and the consequent deaths, scoring 5th behind Niger, Kogi, FCT and Kaduna. It has a record of 3,000 road crashes, 900 injuries and 110 deaths.
About 20 of these deaths involved pedestrians.
Some pedestrians talk about their choices on dashing across roads and why they do so.
A police officer who doesn’t want to be named said, “I’m a law enforcement agent. No one can arrest me for not using the pedestrian bridge.”
When asked if the danger of being hit by a car doesn’t matter to him, he said: “I drive too. I know what it takes. So I take my time and observe the vehicles. I move only when the road is clear enough for me to do so.”
A young lady was asked why she risks her life jumping onto the road when she can use the bridge. All she said was, “short cut, short cut”.
Another pedestrian gave a different reason.
“I know it’s risky, but I don’t have the strength to climb the bridge, especially when I have loads,” said Mr. Peter.
“And also, there are thieves on the bridges, pickpockets. Your money, phones, jewelleries and other valuables could disappear before you know it. That’s why I don’t like using the bridge,” he added.
This is the case with every other road in Lagos that has pedestrian bridges. Motorists have had to accept the challenge of swerving, automatic braking or slowing down just to avoid hitting someone. Sometimes, they can’t control it, and the result is devastating.
Mathew, a professional driver, talked about an event that would never be erased from his memory.
He said, “I was driving home from work that evening, just at Onipanu, Ikorodu road. There was a woman, not far away from the pedestrian bridge who was running to cross. She had a baby at her back.
“I didn’t know what happened. But I saw the baby slipped off her wrapper and I heard the sound ‘poom’. The vehicle before me shattered her baby to shreds. I struggled to get my car to a stop. That evening will never be erased from my memory. She should have used the pedestrian bridge.”
Drivers can be irritated that they don’t care anymore.
Ifeanyi, a taxi driver, expressed the disappointment he feels whenever he has to slow down or stop because someone doesn’t want to use the bridge.
He said, “It’s just because of God and humanity, and the fact that no reasonable person would want another person’s blood to his name. If not, I don’t think I would slow down or stop for someone who should have used the pedestrian bridge to cross.”
To make the matter worse, those who jump onto the road feel that drivers owe them a slow-down or a stop whenever they want to cross. So they sometimes walk onto the road with a high sense of entitlement.
“What is wrong with you people? What will it cost you to wait for 30 seconds or a minute for people to cross?” a disgruntled pedestrian snapped at motorists.
The answer to her questions is time. It costs time. Lagos has a gnarling traffic reputation that every road user doesn’t want to reckon with.
The 2017 Forbes’ worst traffic report rated Lagos’ congestion at 60 percent, which means, average commuter in Lagos will spend about five years of his life in traffic.
Most of the times, traffic gridlock emanates from little ‘slowdowns’, and in some cases, it is as a result of pedestrians who don’t want to use the pedestrian bridge. Thereby, stopping motorists from enjoying the free flow of traffic while it lasts.
The Lagos government has taken the aforementioned measures to curb people’s insouciant attitude toward pedestrian bridges in the past. What is baffling to many motorists now is why the status quo cannot be maintained.
On June 30, 2017, former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos state, in a bid to effect a better environmental reforms, disbanded the Kick Against Indiscipline Brigade (KAI) and inaugurated a new agency called The Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Corps (LAGESC).
The new agency has its responsibilities limited to environmental concerns, mainly to serve enforcement notices such as stop work order, quit notice, seal off and demolition notices.
Following this order of events, the decline in pedestrian discipline has skyrocketed and the barricades have been vandalized with impunity.
Some claimed there hasn’t been any attempt by the Lagos state government to rehabilitate the vandalized barricades, as residents say they have not seen a strong measure to reinforce the use of pedestrian bridges, which is part of UNGA’s 64/55 resolution’s aim: that every country, especially in Africa, should develop effective traffic rules and enforce them.
In addition, that Africa has the lowest numbers of cars and the highest record of road crashes is anticlimax that baffles the rest of the world.
Concerned Lagos residents are asking: Is there going to be another measure by the government to get Lagosians to use pedestrian bridges? Are there plans by the state government to curb the vandalism of amenities such as the road barricade? What will Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu do differently? All efforts to get Lagos state government officials to answer these questions were unsuccessful.
SAMUEL NWITE, is a Lagos-based journalist.