Coronavirus in Lagos: Reflections on Mobility and Transport Poverty
Assistant Lecturer, Urban and Regional Planning and Member of Pro-Poor Research Development Cluster, University of Lagos
Lagos is the epicenter of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic in Nigeria. Data results from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) statistics shows that the state has recorded almost 50% of cases; 176 with 5 deaths, as at April 12, 2020. The Covid-19 Regulation, 2020 was signed on April 6, by President Buhari declaring Coronavirus a dangerous and infectious disease in accordance with Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Quarantine Act (Cap Q2 LFN 2004). This Act provides the legal framework for the cessation of movement in worst hit states; Lagos, Federal Capital Territory and Ogun State.
In Lagos, local impact of the virus and attendant lockdown has been quite telling on the environment, physical wellbeing and mobility patterns of residents. The situation in Somolu, a densely populated, busy residential suburb is such that while some residents deny the existence of the coronavirus, others exhibit an optimistic confidence of immunity from virulence. Nonetheless, there has been reduction in social and commercial activities, as well as increased police surveillance to enforce the lockdown. The lockdown has also revealed changing mobility patterns of residents.
The Lagos state government has directed commercial transport operators in the state to ‘carry not more than two passengers on a row and the use of gloves, masks, sanitizers and thermometers should be enforced at motor parks”, in order to achieve social distancing for commuters. Since the lockdown, the dominant transport means (commercial buses (danfo), seven sitters and tricycles) were practically off the streets of Somolu, and the few still plying in the Ilaje axis operate at full capacity. Furthermore, private cars (kabukabu) and motorcycles have been seen operating commercial services for short trips also at full capacity. However, transport fares have risen significantly as the operators claim the need to compensate security officers who relax lockdown enforcement procedures, especially in the evenings when commercial activities increase. Since the lockdown, makeshift markets have sprung up on many street corners, providing everyday essentials and food items.
The cost of transportation has compelled many residents to embrace walking. Many residents are seen on the streets at various times of the day, even though social distancing and personal health protections (use of facemasks and gloves) are not strictly adhered to. A resident – Mrs Lilian – stated that “Since the outbreak, I am forced to go out (more) than normal to the makeshift markets to get food stuffs. I get there by foot as I have no vehicle and the few commercial motorcycles on the road are ready to exploit this little opportunity to make quick money. A bike trip from Fola-agoro round-about to Somolu Market is now N250 – for a trip that should cost no more than N100”.
Another resident- Moshood said that “For me, I really get tired of trekking, so the lockdown has made me spend more on trips. I have spent N3, 000 so far on bike trips in the last two weeks because I am into sales and delivery of goods.
COVID 19 in Lagos: Threat or Opportunity?
With the situation in Somolu reflective of many other communities in Lagos, it highlights some urban management challenges in the city, where health considerations are not prioritized in planning and decision making. Even though the Covid-19 virus could impact people living in Somolu significantly, especially because diseases tend to spread faster in densely populated communities, the containment of the virus is hampered by weak enforcement, low awareness of severity, and the quest for daily sustenance.
The situation in Somolu also raises the question: Is transportation the weak link to COVID19 containment, seeing that commercial transport operators are choosing to ignore public health recommendations for a daily wage? When an individual in a community tests positive, and one fails to practice social distancing, there is a likelihood of an exponential spread of infection through transportation modes.
Covid-19 may exacerbate transport poverty in Lagos (mobility, accessibility, affordability and externality (health & wellbeing) issues). However, given the situation in Somolu, it may also be a pathway to achieve sustainable transportation. Is COVID19 an opportunity to embrace non-motorised transport, especially since residents of Somolu have embraced walking in the wake of the lockdown. The Lagos state draft non-motorised policy encourages increase in walking and cycling, especially in residential neigbourhoods. However, to leverage this, there will be need for the reconceptualization of the community as a ‘Walkable City’ and commensurate infrastructure upgrades.
As the planning community looks at unbundling Covid-19 impacts, it is imperative that studies pushing for urban resilience, disaster management, public health advocacy, urban governance and local community development are prioritized for Lagos.
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Nigerian Tribune (2020, March 22). Coronavirus: Lagos, transport unions agree on loading capacity for big, mini buses. https://www.google.com/amp/s/tribuneonlineng.com/coronavirus-lagos-unions-agree-on-loading-capacity-for-big-mini-buses/amp/
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the Centre for Housing and Sustainable Development University of Lagos, Nigeria.