Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Prince Olanrewaju Elegushi, in this interview by BOLA BADMUS speaks on the new initiatives of Governor Akinwumi Ambode on making travelling a comfortable experience within the state, among others.
What makes the Ministry of Transportation very important to the state government?
Transportation is a very important sector, most especially in driving our economy, looking at creating a free corridor for motorists to ensuring the movement of passengers to their destinations by providing affordable, convenient transport services. In this wise, you would agree with me that the government needs to pay adequate attention to the sector and that is what the Lagos State government has been doing to the traffic gridlock problem; provide additional road infrastructure, safety and all that.
What improvement has the Governor Akinwumi Ambode-led administration been brought to bear over what was on ground before he came into office?
Well, I used the traffic as a scenario to explain or tell you many initiatives that the governor has brought to the system. Let us look at the Oworo situation as a scenario. Before now, if you are leaving the Island, most especially from 3pm, maybe going to Ikeja Airport, you will agree with me that you will spend nothing less than three hours in the traffic. So when this government came on board, it studied the causes of the problem and discovered that the cause is mainly inadequate laybys for vehicles that were dropping and picking passengers. So, that led to the construction of multiple laybys at Oworo. That’s an initiative in solving the traffic gridlock on the Third Mainland Bridge and I want to say that has been solved.
We adopted same along the same corridor, going towards Alapere; the slip road on Alapere that separates the vehicles that are going straight and the ones that are turning to Alapere. We initiated a slip road so that if you are going into Alapere, you don’t need to get to the junction where they create bottleneck. You just follow the slip road and then you turn inside Alapere and the vehicles that are coming out of Alapere would just go on their own undisturbed. It is also an initiative aimed at solving traffic gridlock because we normally have gridlock at the junction of Alapere. We have started the multiple laybys at Ketu and that will solve the problem of gridlock at Ketu that normally extends to Ojota. So immediately we finish that multiple laybys at Ketu, definitely the area will be totally free. It means if you leave CMS, you will get to Ikorodu within 30 to 45 minutes. It is the same thing we did along Lagos- Epe- Eti- Osa Express road with the removal of roundabouts and then using the intersections system in traffic signal light. And we have other initiatives which have brought development to the state.
It is good that you have reduced the travel time, but what of the prevalence of the rickety buses (danfo) in spite of several promises to replace them with new buses?
We’ve worked seriously and we are crossing the ‘Ts’ and dotting the ‘Is’ on that. We’ve attained many stages on the Bus Reform Project and we are almost there. We’ve started with the provision of infrastructure that will accommodate those buses. Part of it is what we did at Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS). The new Bus Terminus, the one at Berger and the new Ikeja Bus Stop are parts of the Bus Reform Project. As we are sorting out the procurement, we are also sorting out the infrastructure.
How many buses are being procured for this project?
We are looking at over 2,000 buses for the first phase. Then in three years, we are expecting 5,000 buses.
Won’t this reform take jobs out of the hands of the danfo drivers, including conductors? How do you hope to accommodate them within the reform?
We are not pushing them out of business; we are not pushing them back to the labour market. We are going to engage them, but they would be trained. We can’t just take them from the danfo and put them in our buses. So they would be trained; we would organise training for them.
These buses are not coming with drivers, we have to source for drivers here. So definitely, they are the number one point of contact when we want to engage drivers because they are already on ground. But we can’t just take them and give them the new buses, we have to train them. Some of them are not ready to submit themselves for training. So,these are the people we would leave out, but some are ready. We are ready to work with any one of them that is ready to work with us; we can’t force them.
When is the project going to take off officially and what about the Red and Blue Lines that the government has been talking about to complement land travel system?
We are looking at the end of this year for the official take-off. And for the Red Line, we have a Memorandum of Agreement (MoU) already with a company on its construction. So, we are working on the preliminaries and that is on right now. So I can’t say when we will get the project on, but all hands are on deck on Red Line. For the Blue Line, it is an ongoing project and it would not stop. We are still doing the construction of the rail; it will go to Marina. Hopefully, by next year, we’ll get the rail working.
Some few days ago, the state government moved and banned the NURTW from operating in Oshodi. What led to the development and what is the situation now?
The situation in Oshodi is cool and calm right now as I am talking to you and what informed our decision was the killing of one of the prominent members of NURTW about four weeks ago on the day the All Progressives Congress (APC) held its councillorship primary and we discovered that the situation escalated and was bringing tension to the motor parks. So, we decided to quickly move in to save the situation by suspending the activities of the NURTW in the eight accredited branches. The decision led to the peace we are having in Oshodi today. The decision really works; we invited members of the union to a meeting and they have signed an undertaking that, if given the opportunity to operate again, they would never create any problem in Oshodi. So, before the end of this week or by next week, we would be having another stakeholders’ meeting on the issue of Oshodi. But right now as I am speaking to you, the situation in Oshodi is under control. So, people should not have the fear to go to Oshodi; Oshodi is free now.
What assurance are you giving to the NURTW members that the Bus Reform System that you are introducing is not going to affect their activities?
I don’t think it is going to affect them. Then, one thing you should look at as a government is the number of people that will benefit from this scheme or the reform. I will always go by the greater number. If the over 15 million people of Lagos are saying they want it and the NURTW, with less than one million members, are now saying they don’t want it, we have to go by the greater number.
Our aim is to provide affordable and convenient transportation system for the people of Lagos. It may cause pains in some areas, but I don’t think it should stop us from providing for the greater number. So, I don’t think the scheme is going to affect them because they are also part of the operators. It is just going to affect the way they are doing things, they need to adjust. The dark era of chasing vehicles, removing bonnets and all that would go. They should look at a better way of running their activities. But our target is the greater number of the people of Lagos.
What is the government doing on the issue of Apapa gridlock and Apapa, being one of the revenue bases of the state?
The issue of Apapa is a national issue because if you look at what is the cause of the gridlock, it is the port and the Tank Farms and both are under the regulation of the Federal Government. But the most critical cause of the gridlock is the one brought about by the petrol tankers.
Most of these Tank Farms don’t have trailer holding bay. So, they rather allow those trailers to park on the road and why are we having many tankers heading to Apapa to get fuel? It is because other stations like Mosimi and some other stations too within the South West zone are not working. So a tanker that wants to supply fuel to Osun State would go there; the one that wants to get fuel to Oyo would go there.
If places like Mosimi and others in the zone are working, trailers would not come to Lagos. They would rather get fuel from Mosimi, than come to Lagos. It is because NNPC, I don’t know what’s happening to their pipelines, are not pumping to other locations where trailers can go and get fuel. They are not pumping to those areas probably because of vandalisation that had happened.
So, you mean the state government cannot do anything?
We would continue to streamline. We would continue to enforce the directive that says that all Tank Farms should have their holding bays. In the course of this enforcement, we lost one of our members, a LASTMA officer who was lynched. We are trying our best. We are working with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and we have sighted a holding bay. I think they are working on it. So, it is just a matter of getting a holding bay in that corridor and we would get it. They are seriously working on it.