Friday, 7 June 2013

How one year of Lagos Traffic Radio exposed deficiency in road transportation policy


By Tajudeen Sowole
In one year of taking a space on the airwave, Lagos Traffic Radio 96.1fm has stressed the power of radio in management of vehicular traffic, specifically, exposing poor compliance and enforcement of basic rules.

Regarded as Africa’s first traffic radio, it’s another landmark for Nigeria, which gave the continent its first TV station in 1959, courtesy of Western Nigeria Television (WNTV), Ibadan. Wednesday, last week marked was one year 96.1 fm on air.

When the governor of the state, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) unveiled 96.1 fm, last year, it was stated that the radio station would help reduce travel time of motorists and other road users.
A Presenter on Lagos Traffic Radio, Oluwanisola Arashi


During the one year on air, however, the radio station has exposed inadequacy, or lack of a national policy on road transportation. In fact, for a greater part of the year, until recently, 96.1 fm appeared like a double edged-sword: as much as it provided guidance to motorists and made vehicular traffic management easier, it offered Lagosians opportunity to release their angst over inability of governments’ agencies Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) and Nigeria Police traffic officers to enforce traffic laws.

With an estimated population of between 18 to 20 million, Lagos, as the traffic radio showed, provides a template for a total overhauling of Nigeria’s road transportation system.

Quite interesting, some ‘vocabularies’ have emerged in the lexicon of radio broadcast courtesy of traffic control via the airwaves. Some of such usage of words include ‘Yankee Bravo’, a name given to the mini commercial bus drivers, perhaps as a result of their lack of regard for other users of the road; ‘backlog’, remnant of static or slow moving traffic caused by an obstruction; ‘inward’ or ‘outward’, going or coming.

The radio station was a double coincidence: launched on the lackluster Democracy Day, of May 29, 2012, perhaps as a dividend of democracy and also a timely event that rescued motorists from the increasing traffic gridlock, during the repair of a section of the Third Mainland Bridge..

The Lagos Traffic Radio started as a three-way phone-in communication between motorists, a radio presenter and traffic managers, LASTMA officials. While the station continued to enjoy kudos from members of the public, the airwave was increasingly thickened with blame games each time motorists were stuck in avoidable traffic jam, mostly caused by excesses of mini yellow commercial bus drivers who picked and discharged passengers at unathorised spots. Frustrated motorists who called the radio station always alleged that enforcement of traffic laws, could not be achieved “because some of the buses are owned by some members of LASTMA and Nigeria Police” traffic officers.

Also the traffic officers  have been mostly, accused, by callers on the radio station,  of extorting money from private motorists while commercial bus drivers ‘are untouchable’ even for bigger traffic offences. However, the power of radio in linking the people with governance played out on most of the situations as the Honourable Commissioner for Transportation, Kayode Opeifa often made input by calling on phone to drop his number and emails 0807 500 5411, opeifaeko@yahoo.com for complaints. The phone and emails contacts of LASTMA were also made available. And quite commendable that those who used the contacts expressed satisfaction.

However, proper and fair enforcement still remained issue. In the early months, up to late last year, the radio airwaves often got so tensed that a presenter on duty would be caught in the crossfire between motorists and LASTMA. Aside presenters such as Tunmise Oladapo-Kuku, Femi Akanni, Victor Oteri, Adebowale Yusuf (a.k.a Mama Sharwama), Victoria Avoseh George and the Night-Shift lady, Oluwanisola Arashi, who tried to manage people’s frustration and anger, few other presenters were often dragged into hot debates over ‘lack of enforcement’ on commercial bus drivers and okadas.

And the hope that the enactment of the New Lagos Traffic Laws would bring succour appeared to have been dashed so soon as non-commercial motorists, even currently, still complain about incalcitrance of commercial bus drivers obstructing free flow of traffic at unauthorised notorious bust stops at Mile 12, Ketu, Iyana Ipaja, Moshalashi and Ikotun junction. And as the airwave thickened with debates, which often beclouded the widely lauded advantage of the traffic radio, It was therefore not surprising when the three way communication was modified, keeping most calls of motorists off the air during peak hours of morning and ‘return journey’ in the evening. Currently, there is a two-way-communication: between the presenter and LASTMA official or a new introduction, described as traffic report from the Control Room of the state’s traffic authority. Why exactly was the sudden change? The original concept of the traffic radio, a source from the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, disclosed was to allow the traffic officials on the road and the control room report traffic situations to the radio stations while motorists and other users of the road get the reports from the radio “without a phone-in”.

The change in format, which cleansed the airwave of people’s emotion, however came a bit late as the enforcement of the traffic laws on okada riders generated quite unnecessary heated debate that overshadowed the real purpose of traffic control.

About eight months into the enactment of the New Lagos Traffic Laws and one year of the Lagos Traffic Radio, inadequacy of a national policy on road transportation has been exposed as well.  For example, reports from LASTMA and motorists monitored via the traffic radio station showed that another common impediment to free flow of vehicular traffic on highways in Lagos, was constant breakdown of long articulated vehicles otherwise known as trailers. Through reports from traffic officials as well as motorists, an average of two to three trailers often break down on the major highways every an hour. Most affected are Ikorodu Road, Western Avenue and Apapa-Oshodi Expressway and the Wharf axis. Also, similar reports come on the radio airwave from Lagos-Ibadan Expressway – each time the Federal Road Safety Corps {FRSC} gives traffic reports on Lagos Traffic Radio. Most times, the reports come from the Southwest commander of FRSC, covering from Benin-Ore through Lagos-Ibadan and berthing on the Idi-Iroko and Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway as well as from the Ogun State Traffic Compliance and Enforcement Corps {TRACE}.

And that the Lagos State Government is currently unable to enforce a section of the new traffic laws that restricts trailers to the hours of between 9 pm and 6 p.m clearly exposed lack of a national policy on road transportation. On Lagos-Ibadan Expressway as well as inside Lagos, particularly inward Wharf, from Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, reports from Lagos Traffic Radio keeps showing that the trailers are ‘kings’ of the road. The ‘impediments’ they cause is also worsened by non-professional attitudes of the drivers and poor state of some roads. During one of the editions of a morning segment Your Side Mirror as well as other segments at different periods of the programmes monitored across the year, which focused professionalism in driving commercial bus and trailers, some of the callers traced lack of compliance in traffic laws to the seemingly open age for commercial transport drivers.

Most of the 'stubborn drivers’, the callers noted, are in the teens to mid 20s age brackets. Inability of a national policy on road transportation, if there is any, to regulate age of commercial bus and long drivers was faulted.

Traffic radio is on air from 5 a.m to 12 mid-night. Aside the uninterrupted reports of traffic across the state and parts of Ogun State during the early hours and evening, other sections of the progranning, which offered education on better usage of road include Your Side Mirror, anchored by Oteri and Automedics, about car maintenance-culture presented by Kunle Shonaike.

For some users of the radio station, the one year anniversary offered another opportunity to make input. Lawal who called on the phone-in, Wednesday during Your Side Mirror' segment lauded the efforts of LASTMA and the presenters. He however urged the station to play less music. He noted that the station often played more music than reporting traffic, citing the dynamics of regular change in vehicular traffic, which needs to be disseminated as soon as possible.

And when another caller, Nonye countered the observation of Lawal, the issue of priority between music and reporting traffic resurfaced. Nonye argued that "we need more music". Quite a number of callers, over the one year of the radio station have complained about "more music and less traffic report".

In programming, two of Lagos Traffic Radio’s most popular sections are Arashi’s Night-Waves, a nerve relaxing moment between 9 to 12 midnight and Oteri’s Your Side Mirror.

One year on the airwave, has Lagos Traffic Radio achieved it goal? Hon Opeifa, few days ago placed the score card on the desk of the public. “That's for the public to decide”, Opeifa said.

Indeed, the radio station, aside providing guidance for motorists on the state of vehicular traffic when required, it appeared to have provided a medium for what one of the presenters, Oladapo-Kuku always referred to the appeal of Fashola: “Let us invest in the industry of the mind”.     

A source disclosed that Lagos Traffic Radio, is an initiative of LASTMA and was expected to be handled by the Ministry of Transportation, but “hijacked” by Radio Lagos Eko 89.7 fm unit of Lagos State Broadcasting Corporation. The commercialisation of the morning and evening sections of the Lagos Traffic Radio during the early months of its operation, which appeared to have reduced free flow of reports from LASTMA and motorists, the source said, angered the Ministry of Transportation. The section was taken off air so soon.

Indeed, the commercial sections which included ‘prize winning courtesy of a leading communication company was taking quite a lot of attention from the main business of reporting traffic situations during the peak hours.

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