Global cities offer lessons to Lagos on dynamic optimisation of transport

A tuk tuk driver in Lagos Photo: Olasunkanmi Ariyo


Commuting between mainland Lagos and the central business districts on the island remains a lot more onerous than it should. Long delays on the Third Mainland Bridge during peak periods (what Lagosians refer to as the “rush hours”) is both time and energy consuming. This constitutes a major drain on productivity while hindering the city’s strategic economic role. Slow mobility ranks alongside power shortages as a key structural constraint to Lagos’s competitiveness. Implementing creative ideas to optimise existing transport infrastructure will help. The Third Mainland Bridge especially requires urgent planning interventions to unblock what is arguably the most important transportation artery in Nigeria’s commercial capital.

This will bring relief to motorists even as city planners work on devising more long-term solutions. As the urban conglomeration that accounts for a full quarter of Nigeria’s economic output – and Africa’s first genuine contender for the status of a megacity – Lagos must think boldly and tweak more at the edges. Otherwise its longer-term sustainability and bid to consolidate itself as Nigeria’s economic engine will hang precipitously in the balance. A dysfunctional transport system with worsening mobility will have knock-on effects, likely hobbling Nigeria’s potential to drive integration and prosperity.

Tasking commute

A system of scheduled lane switches on the Third Mainland Bridge will help to expand capacity for travellers to Lagos’s islands in the mornings and commuters bound for the mainland in the afternoon. The following are proposals around lane optimisation on the bridge, which could significantly expand capacity for accommodating Lagos’s growing vehicular traffic. This author draws on his own anecdotal experience of early morning commutes on the bridge from the island side in Ikoyi to Ikeja on the mainland, a route he plies about four to six times each month. From about 4am to 8am on work days, island-bound commuters using the bridge contend with steady traffic build-up, which slows to a crawl at around 7am. During the afternoon peak hours, usually from 4pm to 8pm, the direction of the pile up is reversed. Workers leaving the island for their homes on the mainland contend with hours-long traffic delays.

On most working days, an observer entering the bridge at about 7am from the Ikoyi/Osborne ramp towards the mainland will notice the build-up of traffic on the four lanes coming towards the island. This usually tails back several kilometres, sometimes snaking unbroken all the way to the Oworonshoki entry to the bridge on the mainland end. A commuter travelling in the opposite direction towards Oworonshoki at this time might struggle to count up to 100 vehicles plying the entire four lanes. It should normally take about 10-15 minutes to travel the 11.8 km length of the bridge from Osborne to Oworonshoki, but commuters travelling this distance at peak periods sometimes need as much as one to two hours. This raises important questions about how a dynamic lane-switch and expanding system could help improve mobility via co-opting excess lane capacity on the opposite side of congested traffic.

Reshuffle to relieve

The whole Third Mainland Bridge needs creative rethinking. Since the bridge consists of four commuter lanes in each direction, there is a strong case for optimising peak flow through co-opting two proximate lanes from the opposite side to supplement the congested direction. This solution will see a dynamic optimisation of the 4+4 lanes, switching it to a 6+2 system when needed. It essentially requires reversing the normal direction of flow on two lanes on the other side (that is, the two closest to the congested side of the bridge). Some traffic can thus be diverted to the other side to supplement capacity. The two makeshift lanes will add to capacity by forming six lanes, thus freeing up the vehicular flow. The two lanes left on the lighter traffic side will still be sufficient for travellers heading in that direction.

Piloting scheduled lane shifts during peak period promises an exciting template that could be applied elsewhere in the city. The process should operate only on work days (Monday to Friday) with a coordinated arrangement in place to smoothly reverse the flow: six lanes will convey traffic towards the island from 7am-10am and six lanes will be open to vehicular flow towards the mainland from 4pm to 8pm.

Emulate trendsetters

The importance of good proactive management of dynamically switching lane systems along major commuter arteries cannot be over-emphasised. The devil is in the detail. Many world cities already implement similar approaches based on capacity expansion and constriction in each direction as needed. That has kept commuter cities from Cape Town through to Los Angeles and Tokyo ticking through peak traffic hours. Since the opening of the Third Mainland Bridge in the 1980s, the rapid expansion in the number of vehicles has not seen a corresponding expansion of road infrastructure. Under-capacity of the bridge relative to vehicular traffic growth is therefore one consequence.

Other measures, such as prohibiting some vehicles from plying congested routes on specific days or during specific hours, are more draconian than the capacity-switch system proposed here. Lane switching can alleviate the perennial hardship faced by motorists pending the actualisation of Lagos’s plan to build a 38 km Fourth Mainland Bridge. However, at the core of getting this right – like every public-administration issue in Nigeria – will be good governance of the system. This will require advance publicity, effective commuter education, adequate signage along the entire route, redesign of exit lanes and all other such measures required to create a well-functioning, dynamic and easily understood traffic optimisation system on the bridge.

Piloting this system could allow for another big transformation in Lagos’s traffic management: the creation of a small but uniformed corps to monitor motorists’ adherence to the temporary lane-partition system. This will help deter some of the notorious habits that slow down traffic on the bridge, especially the hundreds of slow-moving vehicles that stay in the fast lanes and obstruct faster moving vehicles. Poor education of motorists over the years, and a general lack of awareness of the drawbacks, has led to “lane-hugging” contributing probably as much as 30% of the traffic build-up, with increasing vehicular entry onto the bridge inevitably slowing down finally to a crawl. The bridge corps will also need to oversee a robustly implemented network of makeshift lanes marked by cones placed at one metre intervals. This will safely partition the two directions of travel. The cones will come into place an hour before the start of the lane expansion at peak-periods in either direction.

A bridge safety corps

While the bridge is a federal road, piloting a state traffic monitoring corps there could help lay the foundation for a dedicated bridge and highway corps. It could gradually grow into a specially trained unit within the Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA). Diligent planning and a smooth roll-out will be important to maximise benefits and mitigate potential risks in the system. A careful spatial redesign at specific points is needed to facilitate entry and exit onto the convertible two lanes on the proximate side of peak traffic. This redesign requires some investment but the likely gains for commuters will justify the expenditure.

Even as the fine points of the design and implementation are worked out, extensive precautionary measures will need to be in place to guarantee safety and achieve the intended goal. First, clear signage should be erected well in advance. The bridge corps officers must also be stationed at the entry and exit to the makeshift lanes. They will display information on placards reminding motorists of possible exits if using the two extra lanes.

Second, core components of the system should be carefully piloted before the actual roll-out. One possibility is to dedicate the two extra lanes during the mornings to only those motorists exiting at the Osborne and other ramps further into the island. Another option is to allocate one of the makeshift lanes for the exclusive use of commercial passenger vehicles, which is probably viable given the general shift to longer routing with fewer stops by commercial passenger vehicles.

Third, Lagos is notorious for the large number of motorists (particularly the commercial operators) who ignore road signs, routinely endangering the safety of other road users. Oversight systems and physical barriers will therefore be needed to compel all drivers, for example those needing to exit the bridge earlier at points such as the Oyingbo/Adekunle ramp, to opt for the normal four lanes from their point of entry onto the bridge. Continuing public education and clear and adequate signage throughout the route will guarantee public trust and buy-in for this dynamic-lanes system.

In the longer term, solutions focused on spatial reordering in Lagos will complement short-term tinkering of traffic lanes on the Third Mainland Bridge. In particular, creating safe and well-maintained business clusters and parks in strategic axes on the mainland will help to reduce workers’ commute through congested traffic. Even as city planners pilot such redesign and structural solutions, Lagos stands to derive immediate and sizeable efficiency benefits from switching the existing bridge lanes to aid decongestion at peak traffic hours.

Policy recommendations

  • The Lagos state government needs to explore bolder innovations in traffic management, including the redesign of lanes along major commuter routes and arteries to optimise carrying capacities, even as planners work on longer-term solutions.
  • Lagos should leverage the dynamic-routing experience of commuter cities such as Tokyo and Los Angeles. A scheduled switching of the eight-lane, Third Mainland Bridge to form a 6+2 lane system during peak traffic will help optimise flow and  expand the bridge’s carrying capacity. This should partially alleviate morning and afternoon traffic congestion.
  • More calibrated infrastructure investment is needed in Lagos. An explicit bias towards boosting commercial property development, security and business-enabling amenities on mainland Lagos is needed. Businesses should be incentivised to relocate from the island business districts to modern business parks situated close to working-class neighbourhoods on the mainland.
  • In a next step, a holistic spatial redesign of the city should be pursued within a new city masterplan that gives careful thought to decongestion, commuting, and access to services and infrastructure on a more inclusive, sustainable basis. This will create a better urban experience and deliver efficiencies in terms of integrated transportation, housing and commercial zoning.
  • A bridge corps should also be created to police makeshift lanes demarcated by cones placed at intervals, better to guarantee partition of the travel directions.
Dr Ola Bello, @drolabello holds MPhil and PhD degrees from Cambridge University and is the Executive Director of Good Governance Africa Nigeria (GGA). Copyright©2018 Vol 4, No 9. GGA Nigeria. All rights reserved.

Rewriting the rule book

Omoyele Sowore Photo: ‘Fisayo Soyombo

With every new election cycle, Nigeria is inching closer to producing its own Emmanuel Macron or Justin Trudeau. That hope is fuelled by the confidence with which the younger generation are aspiring to the highest Nigerian office.

A quick run through of the names and ages of candidates currently campaigning to take President Muhammadu Buhari’s job in 2019 is illustrative: Omoyele Sowore (47), Fela Durotoye (46), Thomas-Wilson Ikubese (47), Enyinnaya Nnaemeka Nwosu (40), Ahmed Buhari (40), Charles Udeogaranya (46), Mathias Tsado (41), Eniola Ojajuni (39), Olu James Omosule (48) and Tope Fasua (47).

Although there are some individuals in their fifties or sixties in the mix, the lineup of youth in the presidential race is heartwarming. Nigeria is a country where age — rather than such values as competence, moral presence or strength of character — often forms the main basis of respect. But youth are no longer the leaders of tomorrow; in Nigeria, young people want to be the leaders of today. And it appears they’re well on course.

Taiwo George, the 34-year-old editor of TheCable, Nigeria’s third most-followed online newspaper, puts this down to a “rising youth consciousness to quit the blame game”. Now, young people want to influence political events from the centre. “Nigerian youth are becoming conscious of their role in politics,” He told Africa in Fact. “Unlike before, when they screamed from the sidelines, now they’re actively involved … They’re entering the political arena to contest, and they’re involved in advocacy as well.”

The call for change is gaining momentum. Next year, 30-year-olds will be eligible to contest the presidential election. Similarly, 30-year-olds will be eligible to contest some of the 36 state governorship seats on offer; 30-year-olds can now be senators, while 25-year-olds can win seats in the Federal House of Representatives and the state houses of assembly.

The age limits for these positions, in the order in which they have been listed, used to be 40, 35, 30, 25, 25. But in 2016, a coalition of youth groups united together to launch the “Not Too Young To Run” campaign — based on the principle that anyone who, at 18, isn’t too young to vote shouldn’t be too young to be voted for. An ambitious, if not audacious, target indeed. Yet considerable progress has been made. With 25-year-olds now eligible to seek legislative office, it is only a matter of time before the 18-year-old target is met as well.

After initial opposition from the upper and lower chambers, the “Not Too Young To Run” Bill was passed in July 2017. Two thirds of the 36 state assemblies followed suit in February this year to satisfy the legal requirements for turning the Bill into law. All that’s left is for Buhari to put pen to paper, and the deal is sealed.

In fact, Nigerian youth have always been involved in politics and elections, says ‘Sola Fagorusi, the programmes and media manager of Onelife Initiative, a non-profit organisation aimed at bringing sustainable social change to young people, but now their methods of involvement and the demography involved are changing.

Until recently, it was uneducated youth, largely living in villages or the outskirts of cities, who featured as party agents or aides to politicians, Fagorusi says. “Today, we are seeing youth engage in peer-to-peer mobilisation for voter registration and collection of the permanent voter card.”

An important part of this has been the capacity offered by the Internet, particularly as regards communication. Fagorusi, 35, attributes the success of recent youth campaigns to “the online amphitheatre, where unending conversations (both deep and shallow) about electoral issues are happening”.

The development has even influenced young people’s participation in primary elections, which were previously little more than “intra-party affairs”, he says. “Young people are also now starting political parties. There is the ANRP, for example – a political party by young people embracing both the elite and deprived. Young people in Nigeria today are doing more than just acting as the electoral umpire’s ad-hoc staff; they are claiming a stake simply by seeking positions within the party structure.”

But some young people are urging caution. The expectations created by the Not Too Young To Run excitement must be tempered with patience, says Rotimi Olawale, executive director of Youthhubafrica, a youth-led, non-profit organisation based in Nigeria that advocates education for girls and engaging in policy debates that impacts young people in Africa. Only when presidential assent is secure, he says, can youth truly start dreaming big politically.

“The most defining agenda for young people in Nigeria today is to crash the party,” Olawale says. “The success of this constitution amendment will see a lot of young people take up the challenge to run for office.” Meanwhile, he says the national, youth-led campaign to encourage young people to register to vote” has been “impressive”, and he is also excited by the rise in the number of “unconventional” political parties, which are providing a platform for youth political expression.

Sowore, one of the youngest 2019 presidential aspirants, recently launched an appeal to raise $2 million “via a clean, transparent and open manner to advance our movement and fund our election into the presidency without the interference of godfathers and godmothers”, as he puts it on his page on the site.

Although he started out as a rank outsider in the race to Aso Rock (Nigeria’s presidential villa), Sowore’s ambition to take on the country’s old guard sits well with the youth. Young people are either promoting his gofundme campaign or contributing to it, and by the time of writing in late May this year, some 575 people had contributed over $49,000. The old guard, meanwhile, sometimes lets its guard slip, and this does not go unnoticed. When Communications Minister Adebayo Shittu recently branded the 47-year-old “inconsequential” on live radio, young people leapt to his defence, saying the minister’s comment was “a slight” on the youth population.

A Sowore victory would have huge implications for the federal ruling class. His campaign machinery is manned entirely by young people, and his election would surely usher in a reign of Nigeria’s youngest-ever ruling elite. But even if he does lose, just the fact of his well-supported campaign will give momentum to efforts by young people to take the central political stage.

Nigerian youth no longer want to be the stooges of politicians or to be cannon fodder for them — useful during election time, but expendable once in power. They do not object to being the governed, but their condition for that is that they too can aspire to, and achieve a role in government. In short, Nigerian youth are discontented with their role as political spectators. Now, they aim to be direct players in the political space.

degree in animal science from the University of Ibadan. He was pioneer editor of TheCable (, Nigeria’s third most-followed online newspaper, between April 2014 and January 2017. He is editor of the International Centre for Investigative Reporting (ICIR). An opinion contributor to Al Jazeera, his writings have been translated into German, French and Arabic. Soyombo has won numerous journalism honours, the latest being the Wole Soyinka Award for Investigative Reporting (online category) in December 2017.

Forging their own paths

Image: Graeme Williams

Is Africa ready for the future? Is the continent ready to tackle the technological disruption and challenges of a rapidly changing world? Importantly, are its young people ready to take up the mantle of change?

Africa’s youth have moved from relative obscurity in political deliberations to centre stage in continental forums and conferences from Cape to Cairo. This new focus stems from concerns about how to educate and employ the millions of young people in Africa and so improve their livelihoods.

There are also concerns around the question of how to counter the potential challenges for social, economic, political and security policy from a large, restive youth population.

Firstly, it is important to note that the gap between modern economies and African markets is growing. Leaders talk about the challenges posed by the fact that some 60% of Africans are under 30 years old, but they seem unable or unwilling to recognise that this has real implications for their countries. This is despite the constant reminders from scenario planners, technology buffs and consultants. A new world is upon us – one in which traditional sectors and jobs are being disrupted by technology and replaced with artificial intelligence and robots.

This trend has been given a name – the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The term was coined by the World Economic Forum to describe a digital age in which technology is disrupting existing business models and sectors and, importantly, jobs. Meanwhile, much of Africa is viewed as being stuck in the Second Industrial Revolution, with governments prioritising industrial programmes and skills that will be disrupted, and even marginalised, by current technology trends, which present both huge opportunities for tech-savvy young entrepreneurs but also major challenges for employment for millions of unskilled young Africans.

There are pockets of Africa – sectors rather than countries – that have leapfrogged into the Third Industrial Revolution, in which the technologies of ICT and electronics are the drivers of change. Africa’s underdevelopment has provided a clean slate for technological innovation that bypasses traditional models to address longstanding challenges.

Energy is an example. With millions of Africans still far from a power grid, renewable energy innovations are reaching across the continent. An initiative in Kenya, M-Kopa Solar, has in five years connected more than half a million homes to its pay-as-you-go solar solution for rural and low-income households. It is now rolling out in Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana. In another example, the mobile revolution has highlighted the enormous appetite for technology and entrepreneurship among Africans, particularly the youth. Africa has seen the highest mobile phone growth of any region over the past decade.

According to the Mobile Ecosystem Forum, the continent has a subscription penetration (percentage of the population) of 82%, which is expected to reach 100% by 2021. Much of this growth will come from the new generation. This is also increasingly being shown in the banking sector. According to the UN, 12% of adults in Africa have mobile bank accounts as compared with 2% of adults globally.

In Kenya it is as high as 58%. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty has coined the phrase “new-collar jobs” to describe work that doesn’t require a traditional degree but does require high skills levels in areas such as cyber security, data science, artificial intelligence and the cloud. This describes workers who sit somewhere between “blue collar” and “white collar” on the traditional work spectrum. She first raised it in 2016 in an open letter to then president elect Donald Trump, detailing ways she felt Americans could benefit from advances in technology.

The private sector, recognising the potential opportunity – and challenges – of Africa’s demographic, has stepped in, focusing efforts on these “new-collar” jobs. For example, IBM has, with the UN, launched a $70 million initiative to create jobs in Africa, focused on digital literacy. It aims to train 25 million youths over five years, kicking off in five countries – South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s Digital Jobs Africa initiative offers skills training and linked job opportunities for Africa’s young people. More than 150,000 youths have already been trained and 455,000 connected to jobs. There are many other international initiatives of this kind. But these efforts are not limited to international interventions.

Africans are also coming to the party. A leading player is Nigerian philanthropist and businessman Tony Elumelu, chairman of Heirs Holdings. His foundation is spending $100 million on entrepreneur training programmes in Africa. Africa’s youths are its future and their fate cannot be left to chance, he told Africa in Fact. “Africa’s development will have at its heart young African innovators and their transformative ideas. Only they will create the millions of jobs Africa needs.”

The African Development Bank Group (AfDB) has launched a “Jobs for Youths” strategy to create 25 million jobs over 10 years. African millionaire Ashish Thakkar, chairman of pan-African investment firm Mara Group, is a member of the AfDB’s Presidential Youth Advisory Group. He says it is vital that Africans acquire the right skills sets for the future.

“With artificial intelligence and everything else that is happening, the reality is that what we are training our youth for today may not be relevant in 10 years’ time,” he told Africa in Fact. “So it is important to see how we can create systems and thinking to get them to learn, unlearn, and relearn when necessary.” Similar initiatives are gaining traction. Technology hubs are driving innovation across the continent. According to the mobile operators’ association, GSMA, there were 314 technology hubs in 93 cities across 42 countries in 2017, and the number is growing.

Non-governmental organisations are playing a key role in delivering innovation to communities around Africa. But the initiatives currently in play are a drop in the ocean compared to the need. Meanwhile, the continent’s leaders, who might have been expected to take a lead in such an important matter, appear to be stuck in redundant ways of thinking that have not delivered development over the past few decades, let alone knowledge-based economies.

The continent’s developmental challenges are still enormous. Out of the 37 countries listed in the 2017 Low Human Development category of the UN Human Development Index, some 31 are African. This is what young people stand to inherit. The popular view that rising labour costs in China will lead to millions of low-skilled jobs relocating to Africa is optimistic, given the automation of work globally and the lack of skills and low productivity in Africa.

There is a concern that digital transformation could increase Africa’s income gap even further, given the challenges in education. The new skills and competencies required by 4IR are not being taught in schools in Africa, where thousands of children don’t have classrooms, let alone computers. Connectivity in Africa still trails behind at 21% as compared to the global average of over 40%, and more than 70% in the European Union, according to the International Telecommunications Union.

Rather than stimulating entrepreneurship, policymakers are regulating it. A general lack around the continent of enabling policy in this regard is acting as a handbrake on progress. Governments in Africa don’t understand the integral role that technology can play in an economy, according to Ghanaian Bright Simons, president of digital company mPedigree Network. They treat it as a marginal factor, and fail to see that it is a transformational sector that, properly stimulated, could increase economic inclusion and growth.

Africa is not short of young entrepreneurs with good ideas, ambition, energy and talent, which can be harnessed to drive more inclusive growth. Young people are also impatient for change. As their access to information increases, they will gain more power to hold their leaders accountable, and to push for a new political agenda that will allow them input into the processes and policies that shape their lives.

But digitally savvy young Africans across the continent are mostly being left to forge their own paths through a rapidly changing world. If Africa is to realise and build on the opportunities presented by 4IR, a radical mindset change at the policy level will be necessary. Policymakers should be seeking every opportunity to support, and not hinder, the modernisation of African economies. Young people are increasingly recognising that this is the only way to build a decent future for themselves, and one day, their children.

DIANNA GAMES is the chief executive of business consultancy Africa @ Work and a regular columnist on African issues for Business Day newspaper. She is and a regular columnist on African issues for Business Day newspaper. She is a fellow of the GIBS Centre for Dynamic Markets in Johannesburg.