As a Yoruba that grew up in the 1970s and 1980s Nigeria, I was privileged to have witnessed a Nigeria that was in hassle-free motion. Yes, there was still the Lagos traffic, for those who used the roads. There was still the regular hustle and bustle that many have come to associate with the heartbeat of this great city.
But we were getting around all the same. Following the oil boom of the 1970s and 80s, Nigerians began to flood the cities in search of greener pastures. There was money to be spent by the government and people who were hitherto farmers dropped their hoes and cutlasses to search for easier, more rewarding lives in the cities.
There were not many cities at the time so Lagos became the destination of practically everybody who ever nurtured an ambition to live a better life. For this reason, the traffic situation became unbearable. The molues and bolekajas that were moving everybody to and from work became inadequate.
But we had a thinking government at the time. Alhaji Lateef Jakande as Governor of Lagos State was already doing great things with the people’s resources he had the mandate to manage. Low-cost houses were sprouting all over the city and with this; even more people were being attracted.
The challenge was how Lagos could continue to move smoothly and how its people could get around in comfort.
There was only one thing to do – establish a rail system that could facilitate movement of people, goods and services around the city. To make this happen, Jakande and his team decided to establish the Lagos Metroline.
Designed like the London Jubilee Line, popularly called the London Underground, the Lagos Metroline Project was designed to connect all major sections of the city. Had this happened, a journey from Ikorodu to Iddo could take just 10 to 20 minutes even with all the stops along the way. It was something that would have made life very meaningful to the people.
Then came the jackboots of the military. General Mohammadu Buhari and his other lieutenants overthrew the government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari and with him, all the state governors in the then 19 states that made up the country.
Many things began to happen. Our borders were closed. From a Federal System of Government, the military introduced a Unitary system that was totalitarian in nature. From his seat of Power at Dodan Barracks, Obalende, Lagos, Buhari controlled all the states and appointed governors to superintend them on his behalf.
One of the very first steps General Buhari took as head of State was to terminate the Lagos Metroline project that had been designed to carry millions of passengers around the city with ease, facilitate commerce and improve the quality of life of the people.
It was one action that has set Lagos State back so many years.
By doing this, Buhari, with one evil hand, truncated the opportunity of a free-flow of traffic within the metropolis and by extension, the economic growth of the South-West. Countries that were nowhere near the growth attained by the South-West when the APC presidential candidate stopped Metroline project had since advanced to become world economic powers.
Plans had been concluded by the visionary Jakande administration of the time for the funds to finance the project. Everything had been put in place for its successful execution. Chief Richard Akinjide provided the legal frame work in his capacity as the Attorney General of the Federation at the time. The Lagos State government had deposited $50m after securing a $450m loan at six per cent fixed interest rate for 25 years. This fund would have completely financed the project because it was a viable one with quick and easy return.
But Buhari came and threw it into the dustbin and no government has ever thought of taking a second look at it even as the city grinds in unmanageable traffic.
I do not know what Nigerians are thinking at the moment but I can only say one thing: I doubt if at 80, Buhari, as president of Nigeria, would not terminate the BRT Project that is helping Lagos move again. I also have a feeling that the Opo Imo that Rauf Aregbesola has deployed to educate children in Osun State would not also come under his hammer if we make the mistake of voting him into office.
We lost the Lagos Metroline to Buhari. In fact, we lost the entire Nigerian railway transport system to this General. Thousands of workers were sacked nationwide from the Nigerian Railway Corporation. Thousands of businesses that were tied to the Nigerian railway system perished.
Every day, Nigerians lose millions of naira as trucks ferrying containers to and from the Apapa port fall. Sometimes these trucks upend their content on smaller vehicles, taking innocent lives in the process.
But President Jonathan has taken the bold step of reviving the railways. Although we do not have them in the needed numbers yet, but the Nigerian rail system has been revived. What this means to the economy of south-west Nigeria is too huge to be imagined. I am certain that, when in full bloom, the revived rail system would enable business growth, reduce cost of doing business around the country and by that token, reduce the time and cost of moving goods to the market. Will this not eventually bring down the cost of goods and services?
But this was what we had before Buhari’s first coming. Will he not do the same if we allow him access to the seat of power a second time?
Buhari can never change.
Photo image: courtesy the author
(The views expressed in the article are those of the author.)