Assistant Inspector General of Police, Christian Akioja Olakpe rtd, joined the Nigeria Police Force in 1982 and traversed various commands including Bayelsa and Plateau where he served as Commissioner of Police before he retired in 2014. A graduate of Sociology and Anthropology from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Alumnus of the prestigious National Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, Jos.
Olakpe, is member of the International Association of Bomb Technicians (IABT) and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (ICAP). He once served as Deputy Commandant of the Police Academy, Kano and Commissioner of Police of the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit, Lagos.
In recognition of his style of administration, he was recently appointed as the Chairman/CEO Lagos State Traffic Management Authority to manage a key cardinal programme of Gov. Akinwunmi Ambode, in strong response to the consistent complaints by the public on the situation of traffic on the streets of Lagos.
In this interview with our team the quintessential, Chris Olakpe, speaks on the task of traffic management in Lagos State, as it affects road users. Excerpts
How huge is the management of traffic in Lagos?
It is not only huge, but complex. Lagos has grown from a mere cosmopolitan city to a mega one in the likes of New Delhi in India, New York in America, London in United Kingdom and Beijing in China. On the average, because of the attraction it holds for many, over 3 million or more persons from within and outside the country come to Lagos daily to do business, in search for employments, greener pasture, hold social and economic meetings, conferences, sporting activities and for many other reasons. When we talk about traffic management, it entails human and vehicular movements. Lagos is the only city in Nigeria, where on average; 2 million vehicles ply 9200 roads almost daily. Every section of the state has its own peculiarity that has to be managed differently. Take Apapa area as an example, where there are large volumes of oily and goods movements from the ports. From all these you can see clearly, that traffic management in Lagos-State is very huge very complex.
Can you imagine what our roads would have been without LASTMA?
The picture should best be imagined because it will be undesirable. The panorama would be anarchy, disorderliness and gridlocks all over the State. The Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA) is a plus for Lagos State and her people. Kudos must go to the mentors, precursors and pioneering staff of the outfit; particularly, the indefatigable, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu who magnanimously and intelligently used his position to have created LASTMA.
Specifically in which areas would you say traffic has improved?
Every new day, we find more vehicles coming into the roads carrying goods, services and people. These movements, if not well coordinated would have had, negative consequences on the security, economic political and commercial activities of the State. But, with LASTMA traffic has improved and has positively affected these key sectors. Let take the security of road users as an example. Hitherto, before our advent, there were daily reports of hoodlums and robbery attacks on our roads because of massive traffic. Then, once there are gridlocks thieves and robbers will start robbing people of their valuables while in their cars. But that is rare now. Similarly, we reduced the number of hours used on the roads to the barest minimum. The more you waste time in the gridlock the more one losses money. A man that has a 9oclock appointment to meet and cannot meet up with the appointment because of traffic would have lost money. So if measured with these two indices; security and less time in traffic. The impact is total. Wastage of man-hour is money and correcting it holistically is very important in an industrial State like Lagos.
What are the causal agents of traffic gridlock and what can be done to minimise it on Lagos roads?
As I told you, Lagos has about 2 million vehicles plying just 9200 roads and if one can do the arithmetic summation one will understand why there must be traffic. Asides, there are the unruly behaviour of road users, breakdown and abandoned vehicles, nefarious activities of hawkers and other hindrances The things that have to be done is to have : Rail transportation like the light Rail from Badagry to Marina, Park and ride system where one can park ones vehicle and ride buses like the BRT to a destination . This will encourage Lagosians to leave their vehicles at homes and ride on buses. Water transportations; like Apapa to Island, Ikorodu to Island and even to and from Epe. You can park your car and join the ferry to your places of work and back with the ferry, pick your car and go back home. The ongoing rehabilitation of Lagos roads is a welcome development and it will go far in making our roads more free.
Are there synergies with other stakeholders to manage the traffic?
A cornerstone of my 9 point agenda to succeed in my job is creating platforms for collaboration with all government and quasi agency that has to do with traffic management. Recently, we left Lagos for Abuja on collaborative and synergy build up with the provost Corps Marshall of Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) for a more responsive relationship between us and Lagos State FRSC commands and its men. Synergy is keyed. We are building up traffic management collaboration with FRSC, the Nigerian Police Force, the Nigerian Civil Defence and the State Service, towards a traffic free Lagos. Lagos traffic is not the only responsibility of LASTMA and the Nigerian security agents but the responsibilities of all Lagos road users.
What do you mean by Holistic approach to traffic management?
Holistic in totality of actions to achieve our set goal, this is a traffic free Lagos. It is an approach, where all the hands of the public, the drivers, pedestrians, road users must be on deck, to avoid dangerous driving, drinking and driving, driving on the influence of drugs which are common with commercial vehicle drivers. free motor garages of dangerous drinks (paraga, Sepe, Alomo bitters etc) and ensure, every user of the roads, play his or her part, to make the roads friendly. The synergies we created are part of the holistic approach to traffic management. For example, we go with the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency to free the garages of dangerous drugs and drinks, such will have positive effects on road users.
Sir what brought the civility in the operations of today’s LASTMA?
The civility you observed is in line with the democratic wind that started blowing in the country since 1999 and part of our holistic approach to traffic management. When I came on board I made it emphatically clear that the era of bullying, beating and use of force to arrest traffic offenders is over. The people they used to bully are the tax payers from where government pay our salaries. Rather, than be rude, the officials are now re-orientated to say Sir Can you please stop or Sir Can you be on the queue, or Sir be careful on the roads. It is a change that touches their mannerism, social outlook and general attitudinal behaviour to the public.
What are the challenges for LASTMA?
One major challenge is the man power. As of today, LASTMA, has about 2,000 men to manage the 2 million vehicles and 9200 roads in Lagos. Imagine, 2000 men for 2million vehicles? But with the Governor’s, listening approach to governance, we might give employment to another 1,300 staff. Training is another challenge, especially in the use of ICT, ticketing, which will reduce fighting, bickering and arguments between the officials and the road users. Some of our equipment and machinery are going obsolete. We need more motorbikes; the motorcycles bought years ago are no more effective and powerful. We need cameras on the major roads to capture the character of Nigerians and to make job easy for our officials.
Sir is the Welfare of staff that performs this feat paramount to the management?
Let me enlighten you. I have been a policeman for 35years and I know what welfare should be in a paramilitary organisation where the shoulder should talk before the mouth (ranks). If I should compare what we have in the Police where promotion sometimes comes between 10 and 15 years, I can say in LASTMA, welfare is so juicy because here it is every three years ;if he has good record and pass his exams to go to the next level. Salary are paid as at when due here and in the case of death, insurance payment is made also as at when due to the next of kin and if injured the oraganisation foots the bill. Hazard allowances are paid with their salary for their exposure to hazards on the roads. We also have public awards for those of them that do good jobs.
Sir how much is paid as hazard allowance, because, there are complains unlike the previous 25 percent of a staff salary?
I cannot tell you that. If the Government pays extra amount like N3000 or N5000 naira to add to your money for the time been is that not okay? Since this is in addition to other largesse, promotion hospital bills, free uniforms and good booths to wear.
Why is LASTMA imposing outrageous fines and penalties on offending motorists?
Yes, we do so as to deter, road users who might want to take things for granted. For example, N50,000 naira is for a trailer, bus, loading trucks that breaks down while N10,000 naira is for cars. The fines are imposed when the breakdown is of nuisance to the road users. For example, a vehicle breaks down and instead of you to look for assistance to push it off the road, you abandon it to go and buy the spare part at Ladipo market. That is irresponsibility. If your car breaks down and you stand by it making effort to get it fixed or push away, no rational being will impose a fine. Arbitrariness cannot be an issue. They operate within the ambit of the Law. If you may know, it is not all the time, we tow for a fee, especially if it’s for the good of all road users. On the third Mainland Bridge for example, on both sides, it is a free towing. I said free towing, once you are not asking the towing vehicle to tow your vehicle to your mechanic workshop, but to any other place deem fit by the towing vehicle and you don’t further impede traffic.
The perception of the Public differs, what is LASTMA doing to up its Public enlightenment so as to change public perception?
We have a robust public relations and enlightenment units. Our approach is multidimensional. Aside from a medium like yours that comes to ask questions, we have taken enlightenment, to religious grounds and organisations like NASFAT, Churches, Mosques and to schools and motor parks.
Do you not think a day should be set aside to publicise your activities, honour good road users and pray for victims?
Thank you. That is good idea. We can put something in the template to remember those who die in road accidents and call on living Nigerians to be more careful on the roads, with slogans like ‘Don’t Drink and Drive’, ‘Don’t Paraga and Drive’ etc. Already, there is a United Nation entrenched World Traffic Day on which day such can hold.
Between this assignment and the previous which one is more demanding?
Traffic management is just an aspect of policing. Policing is more robust and expansive with discipline and command structure well entrenched. When you go to police training school, the first thing you will be taught is how to listen to word of command. That is why when you shout Order everyone will carry it out simultaneously, unlike in LASTMA, where I am just trying to enforce discipline amongst the men and officer. We have started teaching them full drill, self esteem, courage and team work. This new direction paid off when recently Lagos held a world Marathon race and to the delight of many, including top military officers our men fall in line by 4am and take full control of human and vehicular traffic.
As an expert on bomb matters what do one do in the case of bomb blast and your message to Lagos road users?
Bomb blasts are of two dimensions. You lay flat on the ground, once you are not touched by the first dimension. The first blast is what we call ‘come and watch’ because when people are running the next one will go off and the casualty rate will be high. When the first goes off you have to remain on the floor and observe, the ‘soak time’ which is about 25 to 30 minutes. Really what kills is the sharpen that usually flies about 4 feet or some meters above ground level. If you are on the floor the hone will pass over you. They are so bad that they can behead, dissect and destroy anything that is standing on its way. For the road users my message is to thank them for keying into our enlightenment programme and to tell them to avoid dangerous driving, be their brother’s keeper, always take a track and move the track, avoid shunting; it leads to traffic disorder. Let us be patient on the road; we shall all get to our destinations . Thank you very much.