By Osby Isibor, Isioma Nwabasha and Doyin Ojosipe
Since the creation of Abuja as the capital city of Nigeria, the Federal Government through the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) has made concerted efforts to develop the city in the areas of infrastructure and service delivery. Successive administrations over the years have at one time or another, executed projects and implemented policies toward the transformation of the city, thereby making life more meaningful for residents.
However, in the course of implementing these policies by government, some of these projects are either executed in a haphazard manner or outrightly abandoned, and nobody cares what happens next. There are reports of millions of verifiable abandoned projects dotting virtually all the 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
Since 2009 when infrastructural development peaked in Abuja, the city has witnessed continued award and re-award of contracts in public infrastructure development and an extinction of existing ones.
A few weeks before the exit of the immediate-past administration of the country, Abuja witnessed the sudden germination and maturing of traffic lights planted by the FCT administration. The development had got many thinking, of reasons why the FCT Minister had waited till the last minute before putting the lights in place. For many Nigerians, it was no doubt a welcome idea as it was going to make things a lot easier but as diverse as the races and colours so are the many opinions of different Nigerians.
The installation of solar- powered traffic lights at several intersections in the Federal Capital city is one of such projects undertaken by the FCT administration. The traffic lights were installed in the Federal Capital City (FCC), Gwarinpa District, Kubwa, Utako District and other areas of the town.
Since the commencement of the project in April 2015, controversies and mixed reactions continued to trail the exercise. Many viewed the action of the authorities of Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to provide infrastructural facilities in the FCT at the twilight of the administration’s tenure, as a last minute bid to cover up its tracks.
Before that time, most traffic lights in Abuja were not functional and this was worsened by the epileptic and unreliable power supply. Most times, they were only stable in highbrow areas of the city. In most satellite towns, there were no traffic lights, and where they existed, they were mere decorations on the highways. And in most areas, the poles were either vandalized by hoodlums or pulled down by careless motorists.
This was the concern of Abuja residents who expected government to have taken prompt action in addressing these issues. So, when the former FCT Administration commenced installation of new traffic lights within the city at its twilight, it was seen as a welcome development. But to some residents, the action came rather too late.
The residents described the project as ill-timed and opined that the FCT administration commenced the installation of the traffic lights as part of efforts to hurriedly complete some abandoned projects in the nation’s capital before the May 29 handover date. They were of the view that the administration was embarking on last minute projects’ completion to mop up funds before the exchange of guards.
Though the FCT authority had given an official statement that the project was a donation by the Chinese government, economy watchers said the administration was using the project to retire funds and balance its accounts.
According to the former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed, the installation of the new traffic lights was a collaborative project with the Chinese government and the project was to gulp N861 million.
Addressing State House correspondents then, Bala said the contract was packaged in 2012 by the National Planning Commission as a collaborative project between Nigeria and China.
The minister explained that while China funded the contract with N780 million, Nigeria provided N81m as counter-part fund.
He described the allegation that the project was aimed at siphoning funds as a campaign of calumny and mischief against his administration. “Of course, China is bearing the whole cost of the project at the cost of N780m and as usual, with this collaborative project; they nominated the contractor, which is doing the project from China. The only thing we’ve done is to make sure that we provide the counterpart funding for the project totaling about N81m that we’ve provided as a territory and the supervision.
“So, it’s not true, it’s deceptive and it’s misleading for anybody to think that something that we’re getting as a collaborative and multilateral assistance is something we’ve conceptualized as a last-minute bid of a project for us to go away with. This is a project I believe the incoming administration should be very happy with,” the former minister stated.
Even though the minister tried to pacify the people and give clarification that the installation and rehabilitation of the traffic lights were not a case of an attempt to complete an abandoned project, many questions were still begging for answers.
For instance, why would the FCTA authorities embark on a project few weeks to the expiration of the administration?
A resident, Mr. Johnson Monyem, who lamented the rate at which the traffic lights were being erected in the affected districts, said the administration was using the project to retire funds and balance its accounts. “They just want to rush the project to retire money that was not spent before the new government comes in,” he said.
According to another resident who did not want his name in print, many abandoned projects in the FCT were now being worked on so that the contractors can have their certificate of completion to claim their money from the incoming administration.
“There are many projects within and around the city and contractors want to do the work to a level where they can get their certificates of completion, so that the new government can pay them,” he said.
Anita Usman (a commuter), said even though the intention of those who installed the traffic lights was to ease movement and reduce unnecessary gridlock, in reality the reverse is the case. “Most of them are even malfunctioning. Last week on my way to the bank, an accident occurred at Maitama due to the conflicting signals from the traffic light. It showed the green colour at the same time on lanes that were not supposed to move at the same time.”
For Josiah Rabo, (civil servant), “the new traffic light is something that should have been done earlier, but I feel the administration has not done enough in putting the lights together because if you look at it, they are just within the city, other parts of Abuja are yet to have traffic lights; I think something is wrong, also monitoring the project that cost about 80 million suggests it might be fraud, I have not seen much to require such an amount of money. Government needs to sit up, do the right thing at the right time and we need these traffic lights in other satellite towns too, we need them in Karshi, Kuje, Bwari, these places need them.
“If only, people can be patient, waiting for the traffic light signal should not be problem at all; if people obey the traffic it will ease friction and commuters will be able to move freely.”
Mrs Odera (motorist) said: “I don’t think most of the traffic lights were installed by those with the required expertise even though I am a layman, I don’t see why traffic lights should be installed in an estate (Gwarimpa). Since their installation, the traffic situation in the mornings when people are rushing to work and in the evenings has become hellish. The estate roads are not too wide with many intersections and cars parked at the roadside, these lights have only increased traffic jams.”
Another respondent who identified himself simply as Mr. Sunday, expressed dismay over the inconsistencies of the traffic lights.
He said: “I have been complaining about it; there are some certain confusion with the new traffic lights; sometimes, the yellow and the red lights come on at the same time and we seem to be lost on the message or signal; for me I don’t just understand, what it says; at times some vehicles who are obviously lost just move and this is beginning to cause some accidents, the old ones are just okay; I don’t have any objection on the delay, what matters most is just patience, the government has tried though it didn’t place the light on time, but there have been traffic lights before now, only that it took time to spread; and it has to be gradual, even Rome was not built in a day. My only problem is that it should be adjusted and done properly; the rush hour work is annoying.
According to Ahmed (Commuter), the installation of traffic lights in most traffic-prone areas in the FCT is commendable even though the timing was suspicious. “But be that as it may, the location of some of these lights smacks of ignorance. Their number in Asokoro is unbelievable. The most unfortunate aspect is that some of them malfunction to the extent that they cause accidents. Recently, a cab I boarded to Central Area almost had a head on collision with another vehicle close to the Garki General Hospital, the traffic light showed the green colour on all the stands at the same time resulting in a maddening rush. Even though the initiative is laudable, but let the grey areas be addressed.”
For Niyi (Taxi Driver), the traffic lights in almost every junction in the city centre are causing untold hardship to motorists and commuters alike. “There are places that do not require it because of the low volume of traffic. The city is becoming chaotic during rush hours, it is also time wasting. There are places that have up to three lights at a stretch coupled with most drivers’ impatience.”
Furthermore, an IT worker, Levi Peters said the action seemed like a round up so payments could be made before the former government finally elapsed.
In his words, “it is a good development, these set of lights are good; those on the pedestrian can cross without fear because the traffic lights have stopped the cars; just that Nigerians are not patient enough, you’ll see some of them still bypassing the traffic lights and it is quite absurd. The timing is also funny because it seems the contractors were just waiting for the outcome of the elections and now that Jonathan was unable to return, they just wanted to rush up everything so they could get their pay, that’s the scenario I see. This is something that should have been done before now, street lights should not only be built in Abuja, what is happening in the other 36 states, when you travel out you see street lights too everywhere.”
Chidera Okonkwo (motorist), said the installation of the traffic lights was a welcome development. “Abuja is now being seen as a Federal Capital City. Also, it will ease traffic jam. I haven’t seen anyone that is malfunctioning. Why most Nigerians are complaining about it is because they are impatient, they are always in a hurry which always results in accidents.”
For Victor (Corps Member), “they are good but they are not being coded well, the seconds or intervals between the ‘GO’ and the ‘STOP’ are so short, the time frame was set at 30 seconds though some are not even up to that, I think they should have noticed that a particular route does not have much traffic while others could have heavy traffic yet they are being stopped even before a minute and at the end of the day, it generates more traffic jams than normal.
Ugochukwu (Motorist), said the new traffic lights were causing a lot of gridlock, especially during rush hours. Most of them were not properly situated. Where is the wisdom in putting about three traffic lights on a street? For example, Mississippi Street in Maitama, has about four traffic lights. The traffic situation there coupled with the many intersections can only be imagined.”
But Mohammed Isa (Driver) said whichever way, it was a relief for drivers and traffic warders.
He said, “the traffic lights are good, the holdup is always much, the policemen are not also resting because of the absence of traffic lights, so it is really a good development, there is no serious problem with the period of erecting the lights, there have been traffic lights in other places just that it just got to some places though I still think it is just part of the last minute job they should have done earlier. The traffic light is better than the yellow fever man and any time the traffic warder is not there, because he has to close and go home to his family, the traffic jam becomes very annoying, so even if it is at the dying minute, it was done any way, at least it will minimize gridlock and plenty quarrels on the road.”
Taiwo, (Taxi Driver), said, “please help us tell the government to remove some of the traffic lights because instead of easing traffic hold up, they are compounding it. The lights are too much and they are affecting our work; anywhere you go they cause unnecessary gridlock. There are places that do not require them. So let the relevant authorities look into this problem, as it is obvious they were hurriedly installed without adequate planning. Instead of these unwanted traffic lights let them install street lights all over the city so that drivers can see well at night which will help prevent accidents.”
Mr. Daniel, who is a businessman, said it’s a kind of farewell package from the former government. “If you notice, there were some working traffic lights before this set, just that these new set seem better as they do not include direction for both cars and pedestrians like the old ones which was very confusing and dangerous then; these new ones are just strictly for cars and it’s better that way. Though the time delay is there but I think it is better especially for Abuja drivers; they are very reckless when driving and when they bash other people’s car in the name of trying to beat time, they still want to claim right, so traffic light at every junction is better for Abuja drivers.”