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Before Abuja turns to another Lagos on traffic

George Santayana, essayist and philosopher, is reputed to have said that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. Fact! A nation that fails to interrogate its mistakes is condemned to keep running around in circles. There will be a lot of motion but no real movement, and many lost opportunities to take to flight.

In 2017, Lagos was ranked the second least liveable city in the world. Lagos has amassed many city planning challenges that are neither easy nor cheap to fix. The expectation is that Abuja, a city that was built from scratch, should have made significant efforts to avoid the mistakes made in Lagos. This has not been so except for the years when Nasir el-Rufai was the Minister of the FCT. Today, it appears that Abuja is in a desperate race to outperform Lagos in repeating all the same city planning mistakes.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of being on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on any of the days when the Redeemed Christian Church of God hosted an event knows that the trauma is unforgettable. When hundreds of thousands of churchgoers clog up that main traffic artery into and out of Africa’s most populous city, the gridlock can last for up to six hours. Today, in response to the anguish of many road users and residents of the city, the Federal Government has pledged to take on the extra cost of constructing a huge interchange (bypass) to prevent the gridlock.

On Saturday, November 24, 2018, as I drove from the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport into the city of Abuja, I had flashbacks to the unfortunate day I got caught in the “Redeemed Traffic”. Dunamis, a Pentecostal church, was opening the recently constructed 100,000-person capacity church.

This mega structure was built so close to the Abuja airport road that many of the devotees who had come for the inauguration had to park their cars and high-capacity buses right on the expressway. Although I was on the other side of the road, parked cars and human foot-traffic crossing the expressway had created some light traffic. Even in my frustration, I knew it was nothing compared to the commuters who were stuck in the standstill traffic on the other side of the road.

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Why are we like this? Why are we not able to interrogate our past mistakes and decide never to repeat them again? Why do we keep doing the same things and expect to ever lift off as a country? Someone in Abuja’s Development Control Department approved the plan for a 100,000-capacity church to be built close to the main access road to the international airport in Nigeria’s capital city. The church is not yet in full session and the traffic has already spilled out on the expressway.

Such high capacity places of worship, entertainment, or trade centres should be built in parts of the city with ample land and where their activities would not inconvenience other residents. Such high capacity places of worship should be located out of areas of dense population. If your God could walk to Calvary for your salvation, you can ride out of town to go and worship him. Such facilities must have ample parking facilities on their grounds or approvals should be withheld. Wherever it is located, it should be sufficiently far from any major thoroughfare such that the traffic from the facility does not impact the flow of traffic on the expressway.

Can you imagine what commuters who live in that part of Abuja have to deal with on days when there is a church service? Being a Pentecostal church, you bet there will be church events on at least three days every week. Can you imagine the gridlock when Abuja records the population growth that is bound to happen in the next few years as the economies of the various states continue to tank?

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I can understand if, as a nation, we fumble a problem we have had no prior experience with. Understand, not excuse. But I can neither understand nor excuse an action that we know what the detrimental consequences would be. If I were the FCT minister, I would shut down that worship centre until they submit a plan that shows how its operations would not impact traffic flow in its vicinity. More than likely, the minister will not do it because he may have allowed himself to be lulled into that “touch not my anointed” hogwash.

I am not holding my breath for action from either the government or the people. As with other challenges in Nigeria, we will accept this new one in our ever-expanding capacity for tolerating rubbish.

The church will commence operations after its opening. Commute time on that expressway will increase but who cares about those poor souls in the sweltering buses and taxis. We will adjust ourselves to this new level of inconvenience even as we hold our breath and wait for the next aggravation to be unleashed. Unthinking frogs in boiling water.

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