Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 07, 2016

Go-slows in Nigeria

Can you hypothesize reasons for the inability of the government (state capacity) to act in the face of such huge problems on the streets of Lagos?

Beatings and bribes: the corruption behind Lagos's traffic jams
The activity at Oshodi motor park (bus station) is almost dizzying. The
yellow Danfo buses have no queues – just crowds… in the thick congestion of people, demand far outweighs supply.

But it’s not just bus drivers and passengers here. Lagos motor parks are also the staging grounds for a carefully calibrated hierarchy of officials – some more official than others.

At the top are the Lagos State Traffic Management Authority (LASTMA), the city’s road conductors. Wearing their uniforms of bright cream shirts and red trousers, they brandish long sticks, beating the sides of the buses to encourage them to move out…

Simultaneously, however, the National Union of Rail Transport Workers (NURTW) parades the area, its men charging drivers a levy for passengers… Many are “area boys” – Lagos slang for hoodlums.

The management of traffic is an almost overwhelming challenge in Lagos. Poor road quality, overpopulation and a lack of alternatives have made the city’s car traffic legendary for being among the world’s worst… As well as the Danfo buses, the roads are jammed with Maruwas (three-wheelers) and Okadas (motorbike taxis)…

Bus rapid transit (BRT) has been operational since 2008. The coaches are cheaper than their smaller counterparts and drive in a separate designated lane – but other motorists frequently intrude if there’s gridlock. Enforcing traffic rules is a key challenge…

The area boys of the NURTW, however, remain entirely unregulated. The union enjoys a murky relationship with the state government. Though the levies they charge are theoretically meant to maintain motor parks, the majority of those motor parks remain squalid…
NURTW at "work"
The NURTW’s shady autonomy is protected by politics – some groups of the organisation are loyal to the current All Progressives Congress government, others to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) or other parties. Fights between rival factions are common…

“During election periods the NURTW acts as a kind of support base for political parties,” says Temi Templar, a journalist from the Guardian Nigeria…

In other words, they help bring in votes. They embezzle the money from levies to pay young men to be particularly zealous at election time: canvasing for votes, attending rallies, tampering with election procedures and outright intimidation…

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