What will the traffic situation in Anambra State be like in the next 20 years? If nothing is done today, another Lagos may be in the making.
In spite of the high number of Anambra indigenes who live outside the state, Anambra is the second most densely populated state in Nigeria. Only Lagos beats it in that regard. But ironically, except for the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway (that is currently in ruins) and the Onitsha-Owerri Expressway, all other roads that link one town to another town in Anambra are two-lane single carriageways.
The reason is that most of the roads in Anambra were carved out by the locals. People built their homes on their ancestral lands and created roads themselves. So the roads were narrow and winding. This is the opposite of the usual town-planning practice of mapping out a virgin area and creating the roads (wide and straight) before people move into the area to build.
Compare that with Lagos State where the Federal Government created wide roads like Ikorodu Road, Western Avenue, the Third Mainland Bridge, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Badagry Expressway, Agege Motor Road, Abeokuta Expressway, and Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. On some of these roads, four cars can run side by side at the same time. Some of the roads are not even dual carriageways but four carriageways. Just imagine if these wide roads were not constructed in Lagos decades ago. By now, Lagos would have been completely shut down by gridlock. Naturally, indigenes and landlords don’t like to release any inch of their land for roads. And no community would, by itself, take a large expanse of its land for the construction of a dual carriageway. So, it is only the government that can make a road a dual carriageway.
One of the most difficult things to do in Anambra State is to drive a car. Anambra is the home of motorcycles. In Anambra, motorcycles are manufactured, assembled, imported, sold, used by many residents even when they have cars, and also used as commercial means of transport. Imagine driving a car in Onitsha or Nnewi with hordes of bike riders, cart pushers and pedestrians all plying a narrow single carriageway with potholes or roadside sellers of goods on the sidewalks. Interestingly, each road user believes he or she has full right of way on the road. If you hoot your horn, none of them would make any effort to move away from the middle of the road to the side of the road. Every minute, you would think you would either run into someone or that someone would run into you. You are also afraid of having a head-on collision with vehicles coming from the opposite direction.
Then, there is the big headache of traffic jam. It is sad seeing traffic jams in some Anambra towns especially during the rush hour (morning and evening) on a daily basis. Then, during the Christmas season, it is a lockdown on most of the intersections in different towns. Those who know their way around in such neighbourhoods usually know which way to take to avoid the junctions or crossroads. But those who know only the major roads usually get trapped for hours at such trouble spots. A few of such spots are Ezi Elias in Enugwu-Ukwu, Nnobi Junction in Nnobi, and Izuchukwu Motors Junction in Nnewi.
There are two issues no Anambra State governor has focused on. The first is widening of the state’s roads and converting many of them into dual carriageways. The second is embarking on the construction of roundabouts at such junctions or crossroads across the state.
Former state governors, Dr. Chris Ngige and Mr. Peter Obi, were more concerned about paving the roads that had been long neglected. They succeeded in making Anambra one of the states with the highest number of paved roads in the country. The current governor, Chief Willie Obiano, has continued in that tradition, even though he needs to do more in terms of spreading the road projects to all parts of the state. But one thing lacking in all the three governors has been the courage to expand Anambra roads. The fear that they would have to pull down the walls of some people’s fences to make the roads wider has kept them back. They have assumed that such an action would create a bad name for them or even make them lose re-election. But that is not the reality. As governors of Lagos and Rivers states respectively, Mr Babatunde Fashola and Mr Rotimi Amaechi were bold to pull down walls to expand narrow roads to dual carriageways. It gained them popularity, not a backlash. Nobody knew that there was enough land to convert a road like Ogunlana Drive in Surulere into a dual carriageway.
The second point is that of creation of roundabouts. When a road runs across another road, creating a crossroads, it makes no sense to leave it like that. It causes traffic jams and accidents, especially when there are no traffic lights or wardens around. The most sensible thing to do there is to construct a roundabout. Beyond helping to create orderliness at the crossroads, the roundabout helps to beautify a city. Flowers can be planted within it. A statue or ornament can be erected there. Interestingly, it does not cost too much money to construct these roundabouts. It is surprising why Anambra cities have very few roundabouts. France is not foolish to hold the record of having half of the world’s roundabouts (more than 30,000 by 2008).
Efforts should also be made to ensure that roads have sidewalks and that such sidewalks are free of potholes, gullies and roadside sellers. This will make it easy for pedestrians not to be competing for space with motorists on the roads.
Anambra is growing fast. In the next 20 years, Onitsha and Nnewi will have expanded to meet each other at Oba and form one continuous mega city. Currently, along the road between Onitsha and Nnewi, one cannot find 300 metres of unoccupied land. The cost of property is skyrocketing with a house selling for as high as N200m in Nnewi Central Business District. People are buying up every available piece of land, including in remote areas that nobody was interested in some five years ago.
Anambra is a state that a visionary will be delighted to govern. It has an abundance of the most important resource in life: high quality human resource. In academics, it is in the front line in Nigeria, and that is why it usually gets the highest cut-off marks in secondary and tertiary school examinations. In addition, it is one of the states with the highest number of millionaires in Nigeria. The two major markets in Onitsha (which extends to Obosi, Nkpor and Ogbaru) and Nnewi make the state highly liquid. In May 2013 when the Central Bank of Nigeria was sensitising the nation about the cashless policy, it named Anambra among the six states plus Abuja that controlled 90 per cent of cash transactions in Nigeria. The other five states were Lagos, Rivers, Abia, Kano, and Ogun.
Therefore, Anambra needs to be prepared for the future. It also needs to have a diversified economy. For example, it should be made to attract those who seek entertainment and holiday-making. The time to plan for the future Anambra State is now. If it is not done now, in the next 20 years when the state has exploded in population, structures and business, it will be hard to start demolishing property so as to create room for road expansion, tourist sites and the like. As the Igbo will say, Ta bu gboo! Meaning, the time to begin anything is now.