Traffic problems in Lagos: Marching against the New Tollgates On 19th October, 2010, another type of traffic streamed towards the controversial Lekki road tollgates-a group of protesters holding placards marched peacefully on the road. They were members of The Change Initiative, a hitherto unknown group of young professionals who formed an alliance to address issues of government that affected the populace. This was the second time members of the public had marched against the proposed plans of the Lagos State government to mount three tollgates to pay the Lagos Concession Company. The government had contracted the LCC to expand the 10kilometre Lekki-Epe expressway, and had entered into an agreement with the company to pay them through tolling of the road for the next thirty-five years. Most members of the public had come out in the news media to express shock at such an arrangement. The Change Initiative was formed by some friends who regularly met to brainstorm on the problems of governance in the country. The men and women who marched out in protest live in the Lekki-Epe axis, either in one of the several estates along the road, or in privately owned properties. The protest march was organised to take the government by surprise. Members distributed fliers to motorists when they marched out from the Lekki Estate roundabout at about 8.30am. The protesters were escorted by a police truck of men and security detail from the Lagos Concession Company and an ambulance from a locally owned hospital. The fliers started with these words-‘we are bound by the desire to leave a better country for our children’. This opener suggests that the group will go beyond Lagos State to address more nationalistic issues. Frank Orbih, a member of the group says they decided to use this protest as a first statement of intent-a project that will continue into the future to stimulate public opinion on government policies and development programs. Members of The Change Initiative decided to leave work for about two hours to be heard by the public. The nine-count flier that they distributed to passing motorists and passengers asked, among other questions, how the toll will be managed; what will be its implications for residents living in the Lekki-Epe axis; if there are plans for alternative routes and provision of access to estates located along the road; and how the construction has affected the lives of every family member. Motorists parked to join in on the protest, and picked interest in the group. According to some sources, the protest was covered by all the television stations and FM radio stations in Lagos, but, as at the time of writing this story, no newspaper had published the protest. The organisers suspect the Lagos State government suppressed the media coverage of the protest. The protest march was peaceful and well-articulated, with many members of the public enthusiastically stating their support for the protest. Hopefully, the state government will act accordingly to address the questions asked by the Change Initiative, and not remain passive to the plights of the common people, as it has, in regards to past protest marches; and in its handling of the present strike of medical staff of hospitals. It looks like the Change Initiative has quite a handful to deal with in Lagos State alone, which is densely populated and the most culturally diverse state in Nigeria. In tackling the problems of Lagos and Lagosians alone, The Change Initiative will be impacting the lives of about nineteen million Nigerians, according to the last national census.
Anthony Nsofor, Artist/ Freelance Photographer, Lagos, Nigeria, 26/10/10