Fears over safety bridge
THE woman, Mrs. Anu Jegede, had a baby strapped to her back while a toddler of about three or four clutched her right hand.
They were returning from Anthony Village and had to cross the Oshodi pedestrian bridge to get to their Afariogun Street home.
But, mother and kid had stood at the foot of the bridge the last 25 minutes or more waiting.
When The Guardian on Thursday enquired from her why she would not continue her journey across the footbridge, she answered:
"There are too many people on the bridge. There is hardly enough space for people to walk. People shuffle and step on each other's toes or feet and it takes longer than necessary to get to the other side.
" For one thing, the crowd is so thick I am afraid they can suffocate my children.
"Secondly, there are so many people on it at the same time, I am worried that the bridge may collapse. I do not know whether it can carry such weight."
Many other Lagosians who have observed the Oshodi pedestrian bridge go from underused to the present situation where it is always overcrowded, also share the woman's fears.
"When street traders were at the rail tracks, not many bothered to use the footbridge that linked the two sides of Oshodi," a transport union official, Kunle Adebayo, told The Guardian last Thursday.
"It was more convenient to cross the rail lines. But that is no longer convenient because the Environmental Task Force and Kick Against Indiscipline (KAI) officials always arrest those who do not use the footbridges. "People have also realised it is safer and better to use the footbridge, which has led to overcrowding and fears that it may not be able to carry the weight."
The scene that has led some Lagosians to still prefer a dash across the highway, as was obvious on Thursday.
The crowd was so thick people got stuck for several seconds, standing where they were.
Movement came to a standstill, leaving the pedestrians pushing to give themselves breathing space. Even as some people were pushing from behind, others were shoving backwards from the front. Some who could not withstand the pushing and shoving, fell down.
"It was a miracle nobody was trampled to death," Adebayo later said.
Such fears forced Mrs. Jegede and others to call on government to intervene before a tragedy occurs.
" Many people who witness the jam decide to wait until the traffic eases.
But usually, instead of easing, the number continues to swell as more people in their haste to get to their destinations rush in and worsen the chaos," Adebayo said.
Not even the presence of one or two traffic wardens at both ends of the pedestrian bridge was able to stem the rush.
Worst hit were those who carried heavy loads while children strapped to their mothers' backs were crying because of the heat and stuffy atmosphere?
Many regretted having ventured on to the bridge at all since they could neither move forward with ease or even retreat and get off the bridge, heightening their worries that the weight may be too much for the structure.
As if aware that pedestrian traffic on the bridge would increase tremendously, the Lagos State government soon after driving away traders from Oshodi, reinforced the bridge with several pillars.
But neither the pillars nor the presence of traffic wardens seem to have brought much confidence to many users who want a controlled movement across the bridge.
"It is possible to regulate the flow of people across the flyover, one of the traffic wardens told The Guardian.
"Everybody knows Lagosians are impatient, but that notwithstanding, the safety of lives is more important than reaching wherever one is going to a few minutes later."
One of the pedestrians on Thursday, Kelvin Ekedi, said even with the newly constructed pillars, he still did not consider the bridge strong enough to carry such an enormous crowd.
"The people are too many and how do we know the weight won't be too much?
Do you not see that they added some pillars?
That shows the pedestrian bridge may already be weak or too old. Let them find a permanent solution," he said.
What is happening at Oshodi and elsewhere may signify a growing acceptance among Lagosians to use the footbridges across the metropolis and thus, avoid the fines slapped on them by KAI officials.
Pedestrian bridges at Ojota, Cele Express, Onipanu and Palm Grove, Yaba, Orile and Five Star Bus Stop are now being put to use by Lagosians.
However, students of Lagos State Polytechnic at Iyana Isolo have called on the government to provide them the pedestrian bridge they had been clamouring for in the area.
Although there is a provision made on the fly over across the expressway for pedestrians, most people make a dash for it, which has caused several casualties.
According to one of them, Taiye Olorunwa, "It is true that there is walkway on the flyover but if government can drop a pedestrian walkway on both sides of the flyover at both end of the expressway, then most of us will use it rather than face the daily risk of crossing the expressway."
In a similar vein, Peter Ogachi, a trader in Oshodi has also called on the government to construct a pedestrian bridge at Oshodi Oke saying: "It is imperative that a pedestrian bridge be built at Oshodi Oke.
Several people had been killed while trying to cross the road"