- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Lagos’ traffic problems stem from geography. Its financial center sits on islands accessible only from a spit of land that once served as the territory’s slave-trading hub.

So any disruption there ripples across the city.

“Everybody wakes up in the morning and moves toward the islands, which is the economic nerve center of activities in Lagos,” said Kola Olayiwola, a lecturer at the Yaba College of Technology. “This in itself causes a lot of friction on the roads.”

A stalled vehicle or heavy downpour only makes things worse. Workers spend four hours or more daily on the roads, said Mr. Olayiwola. Some simply sleep in their offices or cars on weekdays.

And the car population is exploding. In 1995, Lagos state registered more than 27,000 new vehicles, according to government statistics; the figure for 2010 was about 230,000, three-quarters of them privately owned automobiles.

“Everybody wants to have a car to maintain [their] social class,” said Fashina Oladipupo, another lecturer at Yaba College.

Capitalism and corruption

Those without cars sweat inside buses and modified Volkswagen delivery vans while the state government struggles for solutions. It has commissioned a Chinese-built light railway and better roads into the city, but these are years from completion.

A ferry system to serve the government and commercial center has largely failed.

But in a nation where jobs are few and most earn less than $2 a day, congestion can be a livelihood.

Newspaper vendors and drink-sellers hustle among idled cars. Lagosians joke of a man driving to the grocery store and buying everything he needs on the way.

Indeed, on a recent day young men were out selling everything from newspapers and soft drinks to camera tripods, hand-held vacuum cleaners and plaid children’s pajamas complete with tiny slippers.

These sellers often are targeted by various police and local officials for kickbacks for selling along streets where signs forbid it.

Officials say the laws coming into force are necessary to curb the chaos. But critics warn that traffic wardens and police who already are known to force their way into cars to extort bribes will use the new, loosely worded laws to extract even larger sums.

Officials with the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority declined repeated requests for comment through agency spokesman Richard Omolase.

Story Continues →