How would anyone ever imagine how people survive daily on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway in Lagos – a road on which people should be dying from stress?
• Traumatised by gridlock, bad roads, bus drivers, passengers create fun on busy highway
Last March, Nigeria emerged as Africa’s fifth happiest country. The nation was also rated 91st in the happiness index among 156 countries of the world.
The declaration was contained in the World Happiness Report released by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) to mark this years’ United Nations World Happiness Day.
Before now, experts had emphasised that Nigerians were peculiar people who knew how to be happy even in the face of daunting odds. They created their own happiness. They also have their template for happiness.
Long before now, legendary Afrobeat music maestro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, had captured this undying Nigerian spirit in one of his epic hits, calling it “suffering and smiling.” With that, he underlined the fact that Nigerians hardly surrender to things that ought to weigh them down.
Otherwise, how would anyone ever imagine how people survive daily on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway in Lagos – a road on which people should be dying from stress? Yet, the road users wave away everything that seems to steal their joy by creating their own fun, smiling and enduring the pain that the road offers in full measure. They make themselves happy while persevering in nerve- wracking gridlocks that could last for 12 hours on a less than 15 kilometre stretch from Mile 2 in Lagos State to Agbara in Ogun State. The Lagos-Badagry Expressway is an international route. From Mile 2, it cuts through dozens of communities springing up daily. The road also cuts through the city of Badagry, reaching as far as Seme Town before opening into the Benin Republic.
Over the past four years, there has been an on-going construction work from the Lagos end to terminate at the Okokomaiko area. The Lagos State government is rebuilding the facility while at the same time incorporating rail lines it says will terminate somewhere in Okokomaiko, Ojo.
But with the construction work, many using the road – including nationals of other countries who flock into Nigeria in large numbers – have been silently experiencing unspeakable torment, drinking the wine of pain to its dregs.
According to investigations by Daily Sun, the Lagos-Badagry Expressway begins somewhere in Iganmu close to the National Theatre.
Now, from Orile up to Mile 2, the eight-track dual carriageway and the lines have been constructed. Motorists using that segment of the road up to Agboju bus stop near Festac town are having a ball.
But from there to Badagry and beyond, the narrative is different. Many are those languishing in gridlocks, daily counting their losses.
At Alakija, there is an on-going flyover intended to make traffic on the road easier on completion. But in the meantime, everyone is using the area below the bridge, which is yet to be paved. The spot is a study in chaos and confusion. Motorists going in and out of Festac and Satellite Town and other adjoining areas come head-on with those coming from Mile 2 and Badagry.
Every now and then, confusion mounts like a colossus. On this day, motorists were struggling to escape the melee. They kept driving in all directions. Then from nowhere, a team of policemen and officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency burst onto the scene and randomly began arresting vehicles they adjudged to be driving against the run of traffic thus triggering a wave of confusion. Everyone, especially motorists, fled in all directions.
From Alakija going to Badagry, the traffic was chaotic. There were scores of stationary tankers everywhere on the motorable parts of the road. Taking every inch of space, they inhibited traffic flow while awaiting an invitation to load imported petroleum products from a nearby tank farm. Every 100 metres apart, the arriving ones struggled to avoid total blockage of the paved portions of the new road.
From there, a greater part of the road has not been paved, dotted with chains of potholes. Huge mounds of sand and construction materials dominated. With the high vehicular traffic on that particular day, everyone was locked in the fierce competition to drive through.
Each day, the experience at Iyana Iba and the stretch between it and Okokomaiko bus stations is one that breaks the heart. It is a scene of filth, bad roads and indiscipline. The area features piles of refuse on both sides of the road generated by the traders. There are commercial bus drivers stopping to pick their passengers, absolutely unfazed about the feelings of other road users who keep hooting, pleading to be allowed to move on. The attitude leaves the adrenaline in everyone racing at twice the normal rate. Then add that to the confusion created by the traders – some who place their wares on the edge of the road, pedestrians dashing here and there – it is a picture of total disorder.
Further down the road, shortly after the Lagos State University’s main gate at Ojo, the entire road median is taken up by traders and an army of beggars. The beggars have built tents in the whole area. On both sides of the road, chains of refuse heaps are a permanent feature, giving off a putrid odour. The preliminary construction work on the road adds to the huge headache everyone deals with.
Then, from that point onwards, it is clear that both sides of the dual carriageway have never been rehabilitated since the road was constructed many years ago. And the signs are there that no one cares. The road is deplorable, dotted with craters that force motorists to use one side of the carriageway. The road remains that way farther down.
At some of the failed portions, operatives of the Nigeria Customs Service, the police and the Immigration Service take advantage by mounting their checkpoints where they inspect vehicles arriving from countries on the West African region.
Yes, there is a myriad of challenges on that road, but its users have continued to create their own happiness. Even when they are suffering untold hardship, they still keep their faces aglow with smiles and laughter.
“This road can play you lots of tricks,” Ofoma declared, as he deftly manoeuvred his LT Kombi bus through a chain of potholes on the edge of the road, struggling to beat the long traffic that had built up somewhere between Barracks and Volkswagen bus stops.
“Sometimes, this road can be freer than you expect. On other days, it might turn out worse.
“But we are on it every day just to earn our daily bread. It is stressful. We die here every day. It is killing us but at the same time promises to keep us alive. But what can we do anyway?” he said and let out a laugh.
While the reporter was returning from Agbara, the bus conductor in charge, who remained anonymous, was the most hilarious: “If you keep thinking about this road you will die of stress.”
He dished ou tother nuggets of wisdon while the vehicle remained stationary at the Iyana Iba gridlock, with everyone one inside grilling in the afternoon heat.
“I’m here not only to conduct you to safety but to make you laugh. So, everyone has to learn to call my name with the utmost respect,” he said. And everyone exploded with laughter.
A little while later, a pretty girl began attempting to hop in. She was experiencing momentary hiccups with a woman sitting in the way. The former had earlier picked a quarrel with the conductor following the mutilated N100 note the conductor gave her as her balance.
Then the conductor roared: “Madam, please give way to this lady who God created on a Sunday.” At that, the bus erupted with wild laughter. It was obvious that the passengers had all forgotten about the numbness they were suffering, the heat of the day and the prospect of long hours they had to endure before reaching Mile 2.
As the laughter began dying out, the conductor delivered another rib cracker. “I’m just contemplating whether to collect any fare from this God’s creation on a beautiful Sunday.” Then he put it to vote. “Do I collect money from her or do I not?”
Then the passengers roared: “Don’t collect!”
Then lowering his head preparatory to go against the verdict of the passengers, he muttered in a subdued tone: “The ayes have it; I will collect,” sending the passengers into raptures.
He went on entertaining his audience while the journey lasted to earn the sobriquet of condo-comedian from his passengers.