Sitting right beside the smelly and loquacious bus driver, Gloria observed the traffic through a cracked windscreen. She watched the assorted vehicles, all of which were stretched out along the pothole-ridden road and moving at snail’s pace. And then she heaved a heavy sigh, overwhelmed with worry just as she glanced at her wrist watch for the umpteenth time. It was minutes past 8 am and the young woman was nowhere near her workplace. She worried that she might lose her job.
On a normal day, Gloria would leave her house in Egbeda as early as 5 am in order to be at work by 8 am. Just like the hundreds of thousands of Lagosians who live on the mainland and work on the Island, this is the best way to beat the traffic and be punctual at work. But Gloria’s early morning routine had to change when last month her neighbour —who also used to leave home early for work — was kidnapped, robbed, and murdered by criminals who pretended to be commuters and a bus driver.
As I sat beside Gloria, who was between the bus driver and myself, I continued to engage her whilst the traffic persisted. She works as a personal assistant to a certain female CEO/Founder of a small cosmetics company. She dislikes this job very much, no thanks to her “bitchy boss” and the poverty pay she receives every month. But she said her greatest challenge is the traffic she faces every day as she commutes to and from work.
Understanding the problem and the challenge it poses
Despite its status as one of the world’s megacities, Lagos suffers major infrastructural deficits. Much like the rest of the country, the city’s transportation system is in urgent need of improvement. And for as long as the Government continues to do very little to solve this problem, the estimated twenty-one million residents in the city will continue to bear the brunt of the challenges posed by it.
According to a civil servant who pleaded for anonymity,
“The Lagos metropolis is replete with the old and decayed infrastructure that was built by the colonialists years ago. As it appears now, the Government doesn’t seem too keen on fixing this mess. Of course, we the people suffer for it.”
Indeed, one of the worst things that could happen to anyone in Lagos is being stuck in traffic during early morning rush hour. Unfortunately, this is a reality most Lagosians deal with every day. And they might have even gotten used to it, especially the mild drama that typically unfolds in a Lagos bus — passengers arguing with the bus conductor/driver, and someone trying to sell a drug that can supposedly cure every ailment imaginable, including HIV/AIDS.
But no matter how much one gets used to the entertaining aspects of commuting to work in Lagos, the truth remains that nothing makes up for being stuck for hours in traffic. According to Mr. Akin who works in the FMCG sector,
“there is something utterly uncomfortable about being in a crampy, stuffy, and slow-moving bus filled with many strangers. You would inhale different types of cheap perfumes, sweat, and exhaust fumes, all while worried that you might just get to work late and get queried.”
How traffic affects workers’ productivity and overall organisational output
After spending about one hour thirty minutes in traffic on the way to the office, it is understandable that workers may feel a little tired and even cranky when they clock in. Therefore, before they can get into the right frame of mind to work, lots of minutes go by. Mind you, this means less time spent working. According to Ms Bunmi Oni who works in Human Resources, this is how traffic affects workers’ productivity.
My first 30mins when I arrive work is very unproductive cos I have to rest first before doing anything, all because the stress of driving through Lagos traffic! Journey from Ogba to Island without traffic is 35mins, with traffic it is now 2hours30mins🤯
— Mabunmi O. O. (@olumabs) September 28, 2018
How are companies dealing with this problem?
As expected, many companies have long identified the challenge posed by the peculiar traffic situation in Lagos, whilst taking various unique measures to address it in their own ways. For instance, some companies have a policy never to employ potential candidates no matter how qualified they are, except such candidates live close to where the job is located, usually on Island. Cynthia, who now works with a PR firm in Ikeja, said her job application was once clearly turned down because she was living in Amuwo Odofin.
Other companies (especially the bigger ones) simply pay their staff more money in order to encourage them to live closer to where the work is. Some of these companies also ensure to provide their own buses which will typically pick up staff members from strategic locations across the city and convey them to work.
Yet, a vast majority of Lagos workers like Gloria, mentioned earlier, must find their way to work every day. Her company is not interested if she must risk her life by leaving home as early as 3 am just so she’d resume early at work. As a matter of fact, companies like the one Gloria works for simply do not care about the distress employees go through to be at work. All they care about is that employees must deliver at all costs or risk their jobs.
Now, let’s examine the negative impact and economic importance of Lagos traffic
A few years ago, outgoing Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, said that the Government loses an average of N42 billion per annum due to the perpetually bad traffic situation in the city-state. While it is unclear how the Governor arrived at this figure, it seems plausible enough because the traffic crisis in the city is indeed a full-blown one. The question though is, what has his administration done over the past four years to address the problem?
But despite the challenges posed by Lagos traffic, the interesting thing is that it does have its positive aspects. For instance, quite a lot of Lagosians make their living selling things to commuters who are stranded in traffic. Along Bank Anthony Way, which leads from Ikeja to Maryland, these hawkers can be seen all day selling everything from cold carbonated drinks to phone chargers and household utensils. One of them told me that he prefers selling to motorists because he cannot afford to rent a shop.
Meanwhile, not every Lagos worker is affected by the traffic problem
It is important to note at this juncture that although this problem may seem like a widespread one, not everyone in Lagos is affected by it. This is because asides those who can afford to live close to where they work, there are also those who always commute against the traffic every morning and evening. Examples of these ones are those who live on the island part of Lagos but work on the mainland. This is because while the heavy traffic moves from the mainland to the Island in the morning, the reverse is the case in the evening, thereby making it possible for Island residents who work on the mainland to commute the Third Mainland Bridge without stress.
What are the likely solutions to this problem?
To be fair, managing the city of Lagos must be quite the task. The city has an estimated population of more than twenty million people; more than the entire population of some Northern European countries. That notwithstanding, we all know that one of the ways to get the city to function efficiently is by fixing its infrastructural problems.
It is high time those in charge of administering the affairs of the city began to put in more efforts to address the issue of infrastructural inadequacy. Roads should be repaired/widened, even as alternative means of transportation like water and rail must be developed.
Meanwhile, companies should consider more humane approaches to dealing with this issue and the challenge it poses to employees. According to Mr. Jude Adigwe, an HR professional, one of such humane approaches is to come up with more flexible working hours. In his words
“I think we should take a more humane approach to this. We may want to revisit resumption time or possibly come up with flexible working hours. That’s more practical than offering loans to bring people to live closer to the workplace.
“Lagos is a peculiar state and one needs to look at the challenges peculiar to living in it. That said, I won’t soft-pedal on KPIs. They must achieve their performance goals.” -Adigwe
In the meantime…
It is interesting to note that while the problem persists, some Lagosians have figured out better ways to cope with the traffic in the city. For example, a Nairametrics Twitter follower named Izzi Boye said he tries to “learn/improve on productive skills” during his commutes in Lagos traffic.
Since traffic is inevitable in Lagos, I try to make good use of it. I try to learn/improve on productive skills. During my NYSC in 2016, on my daily commute, I learned digital marketing using @Google resources and following their course track. I only did this during my bus time.
— Izzi Boye (@izziboye) September 28, 2018
Others also read books on their android phones, or simply watch YouTube videos to keep their minds at peace. This goes to show how resilient Nigerians are and how they can withstand the daunting challenges they face as they pursue their daily activities.