Lagos and Life Expectancy | Sayo Aluko

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“…A crazier fact is that, after enduring this excrutiation of traffic on major roads, most Lagosians in places like Ikorodu and Alimosho for example, are further subjected to the writhe of bumpy inner roads leading to their respective homes. This stress accrued from the typical Lagos traffic affects the trinity of human existence — body, mind and soul; and just to put it mildly, a majority of Lagos roads, be it in size, usage or access, are not wellness-friendly…”

Life expectancy (L.E), according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is defined “as the average number of years that a person or animal can expect to live, or the average life span of an individual”. It is derived for each country or state by considering living and working conditions/standards therein.

The World Health Organization (WHO) puts this figure at 52 years in Nigeria, while biblical (and probably also quranic) tenets procure 70+ years for every faithful.

Unfortunately, for a majority of Lagosians, it seems improbable to attain these quite relatively low figures, simply because, both living and working conditions set in present day Lagos produce one major thing — unabashed and unabating STRESS, and expectedly, an even lower life expectancy for Lagosians.

As it said in this part of the world, Lagos is a “happening” place, a vastly cosmopolitan city that truly has a lot working for it, especially since the turn of democracy in 1999. The city has seen arguable improvement in the delivery of governance and has developed a booming self-sustaining economy for itself.

But, there remains these 3 inter-reliant and interwoven harbingers of STRESS that make life considerably unlivable in this mega city. Traffic, Incompatible Population Explosion, and Pollution, three inter-reliant but highly solvable challenges.

Lagos deservedly counts as one of the world’s busiest and biggest cities such as New York (L.E 80.5), Hong Kong (L.E 83.48), Beijing (L.E 76.1) and Tokyo (L.E 80.21), where there occurs a steady influx of people and services almost on a daily billing. Howbeit, thanks to the application of definitive governance and the metronomic advent of 21st century technology, heavy vehicular and human traffic have since ceased to be the signature trait of all these cities except Lagos, because unfortunately, unerring traffic is still the city’s cynosure. It has remained a hellish reality to say the least.

Be it inside a factory-fitted air-conditioned car or inside the “Halloween locomotives” otherwise known as Yellow buses or Danfo, one must just feel the hit and heat of Lagos traffic.

Official figures from a reliable data company puts the amount of human hours lost daily to traffic by an average Lagosian at a minimum of 4 hours on a normal day. It adds that the figure could be as high as 8 hours, especially for 80% of Lagosians whose places of work are at least 7 kilometres away from their abodes. This infers that some Lagosians spend more time in traffic than the hours they actually spend at work.

A crazier fact is that, after enduring this excrutiation of traffic on major roads, most Lagosians in places like Ikorodu and Alimosho for example, are further subjected to the writhe of bumpy inner roads leading to their respective homes. This stress accrued from the typical Lagos traffic affects the trinity of human existence — body, mind and soul; and just to put it mildly, a majority of Lagos roads, be it in size, usage or access, are not wellness-friendly.

The population explosion in Lagos, though totally precedented, is unfortunately premature and incompatible — too much influx of people, with too little facilities to cater for such.

Lagos, despite being a megacity of note, still suffers from an infrastructural deficit; the speed of influx is not compensated with accelerated development typical of a megacity, and this quite explains the jungle-like jostle for virtually everything, mostly, space.

From breathable air, to safe and affordable shelter, health facilities, electricity, road access, and even to deeds as simple as pedestrian port, can be unnecessarily herculean to get in Lagos, especially when the city rears its ugliest head.

Furthermore, while half of the pollution source in Lagos is self-inflicted (a majority of Nigerians are indiscriminate and undisciplined litter agents), the other half is due to the demerits of traffic and overcrowdednesss, underlining the inter-reliance highlighted above.

The Fashola administration did its bit to curb pollution, but a visit to a rough, scraggy and crowded Obalende, Idumota or Badia, or even parts of the city capital, will give an insight into this overpopulation-derived pollution. The fumes emanating from the countless generators also count here. And, the fearful thing about this kind of systemic and endemic pollution is that, it ushers stress to a deeply cellular level in humans, causing gradual and invisible damage of internal organs.

Speaking critically, this endless cycle of stress hauled at Lagosians is clearly undeniable and has surely threatened the possiblity of a relatively tenable life expectancy in a megacity of Lagos’ worth; this is even excluding the other national stress markers same Lagosians are also pelted with.

Quite sadly though, just like the proverbial Meerkat who believes it possesses the muscle of a Rhino, most Lagosians have been infected by this strange and self-styled redefinition of ‘hustle’, to erroneously believe that stress is adaptable, that that stress they encounter almost at every turn, is (part of) “hustle”.

Unfortunately, the truth is that the human body cannot “adapt” to stress, it can only “accommodate” stress to a certain threshold before it bucks. In fact, a handful of scientific studies have also proved that stress is apoptotic, that is, it causes human cell death when unchecked, I’m afraid, as it is with most Lagosians — stress unchecked.

What can be done?

Frustrating, yes, mostly immobile, yes, but perhaps, the word that best describes the pain of Lagos traffic is “avoidable”. A lot can be done rightly within the dictates of good governance to truly avoid traffic, save people its trauma and then, stymie its stress effects.

First, I think the Lagos state government must embark on ingenious, massive and audacious road-network construction and maintenance reforms in order to reduce traffic to a barest minimum. The ongoing Mile 2 Light-rail project and the Ojo-Badagry expressway expansion are both commendable; but more needs to be done.

There are easily identifiable areas within the state, where new or more flyovers, axial roads and/or alternate routes, will do the magic.

A think-tank in Lagos has continuously called for the construction of a 4th Mainland Bridge to lessen the burden on the 3rd; that is another plausible solution that should see light of day without political delay.

I believe it is high time government dropped the over-beaten rhetoric of insufficient funding and get audacious with more construction in Lagos. The Chinese recently built the longest over-the-ocean bridge in the world, 26 miles, over a period of 4 years and with “just” 1.5 billion dollars. That’s enough cue for any serious-minded government poised at eliminating stress factors in this great city. (The 4th Mainland Bridge is expected to be roughly 4 miles in length ….pls, kindly do the maths)

Secondly, more cars will be taken off Lagos roads when urban transit systems get elite-friendly, especially the government-powered ones. In addition to the expansion of the relatively successful BRT scheme, the introduction of reliability, security, precision, timeliness and technology, will make more elites identify with and patronise the scheme; such move will fill Lagos roads with lesser number of vehicles and reduce the susceptibility to traffic.

Also, stricter enforcement of transport/traffic laws is imperative to traffic management. Most of the traffic logjam in Lagos is hinged on Danfo nuisance that is mostly displayed in the form of lawless parking, greed-grade bus-stops, and wanton disregard for driving rules. The Lagos State Transport Management Agency (LASTMA) must just do better in maintaining order on Lagos roads. The LASTMA officials themselves should be retrained to understand true order, the thin lines between overzealousness and forthrightness, and the difference between official thoroughness and brute behaviour; they need to master these traits in their charge towards productive gridlock prevention and traffic management.

In addition to the suggestions above, one probable way to fix that challenge of the unbridled influx of people is by building new and economically-viable cities within Lagos, employing the method of urbanization. This will cause an almost even redistribution of the congested centre, across the 5 major divisions in the state, improving living and working conditions of Lagosians in the process.

The need to decongest the main towns is at its all-time high, and Lagos needs to act. Why can’t we have another LUTH/LASUTH in Ikorodu or Lekki, or another 1004 estate in Badia or Alimosho? Why can’t there be a decentralisation of state ministries also across the divisions?

Truth is, the city’s skeletal architecture seems already built, but the possibilities of restructuring are quite endless, if the option of intelligent town planning is fully explored.

Lastly, I suggest strict punitive measures for indiscriminate waste disposers to further consolidate efforts against pollution. Furthermore though, for a clean Lagos, the magic will be achieved also through decongestion. Decongestion is the way to make waste management more effective and less incinerative in Lagos state.

For sense’s sake, the Lagos megacity can be beautiful, livable and damn fine. It just boils down to a few but massively promising steps all inclined against the gradient of stress — fluent accessibility, accountable security, accelerated development, urban remix, rural upgrade and thorough restructuring.

I choose, at this point, to drive home a point. I don’t know if it is pride or mere “agidi”, but whatever it is, I believe it is high time we dropped it and copy the Chinese model for making things work. Those guys are performing wonders especially as touching accelerated construction and development, and they’ve got 1.4 billion reasons (China’s population) to do so.

As said above, timely (re)construction is one of the core solutions to the stress in Lagos, in such a way that without doubt, the Chinese steel and precast engineering revolution for example, will be of mammoth help and also accommodate the complexities associated with it. I mean, these Chinkos recently built a 57-storey housing estate in just 19 days!

Ki la wan wa kii? (What then are we looking for again?)

I’m quite optimistic about the chances of Lagos becoming more livable for the human cells under this new dispensation that has fervently relayed its promise to make Lagos safer, cleaner and more prosperous.

For now, be it at 52 or 70, the attainment of better life expectancy will simply remain elusive in the city of aquatic splendour if there’s no awakening against the threats posed by stress, that has made itself synonymous with the city.

Oh surely, there are exceptions — Lagosians who have lived long enough despite the city’s stressing setbacks; but, that is merely what they are, exceptions, and it shouldn’t be so. Should it?

[This article was first published in October 2015.]

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