Most residents of Lagos State have agonising tales to tell about the many hours they spend in traffic for journeys that should have lasted minutes. DEJI LAMBO examines the impact of unending gridlock on the people’s health
To escape the torment of gridlock, residents, especially business men and women on appointments, usually put their lives in harm’s way when they leave their various homes in the early hours of the day to enjoy a hassle-free commuting to their destinations.
While some opt to explore the aquatic splendour of the state by commuting in ferries to avoid gridlock on the roads, others fast-track their movement by using motorcycles to evade the hardship occasioned by gridlock that has become commonplace in the commercial nerve centre of the nation.
As a result of the various options being taken to avoid gridlock, countless accidents resulting in injuries and loss of lives have been recorded.
Deaths, injuries and loss of property during traffic robberies in the early and late hours are also recorded, with residents always at the receiving end.
Reports of commuters and motorists’ suffering in gridlocks in areas such as the Ikorodu Road, Badagry Expressway, Lekki-Epe Expressway, Third Mainland Bridge, Apongbon area, Apapa Expressway and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, among others, usually floods the media space on a weekly basis.
Investigation revealed that some of the causes of gridlock in the state included ongoing and abandoned road construction projects; bad and narrow road network; commercial motorists abruptly stopping at non-designated areas to drop off or pick passengers; and mounting of gates at interlinking streets that could have eased the pressure on major roads, among others.
Narrating his ordeal, a ride-hailing driver, Akin Aladesanmi, lamented once spending six hours between Yaba and Lekki area of the state due to gridlock.
He said, “I can never forget the day I was conveying a customer from Yaba to Lekki and I spent six hours on the trip because of gridlock. Normally, the journey shouldn’t last up to 25 minutes. We didn’t even get to our destination in Lekki when the customer paid me based on the calculation on the app and disembarked from the vehicle to start trekking.
“My rider was already late for her appointment and I saw as she was losing composure because of the prolonged delay; no human being will undergo such an experience and remain composed. She was frequently on the call with the person she had an appointment with and when they finished talking, she would start nagging. She was very sad and almost cried. Gridlock is getting out of hand in Lagos and it has given the state a bad name.”
A motorist, John Ajayi, said driving for hours in gridlock exposed drivers to health complications.
He said, “Gridlock has a very terrible effect on our health and psychological well-being. Most of us complain a lot about back pain and general body ache, because driving for over four to five hours for a journey of 30 minutes is very frustrating.
“It also affects us mentally because for a business you do on a daily basis and you make about N10,000 to N12,000, but for the gridlock, you now make N2,000, can be frustrating. Can the N2,000 take care of your domestic bills? Can you use that to feed your wife and children?
“Psychologically, it affects you because you won’t be able to think straight and you will become frustrated. In some cases, your health is affected and you still need to spend money on drugs to treat yourself. So, when the business is not bringing the desired income, rather it is taking from you through medication, it affects you mentally.”
Experts, however, link the many hours spent in gridlock to health and mental breakdown triggering frustrating behaviours and medical complications among residents.
A psychiatrist, Dr Jibril Abdulmalik, said spending hours in gridlock was damaging peoples’ immune systems and putting hypertensive patients at risk of suffering a stroke or other health complications.
He stated, “The constant gridlock in Lagos State makes residents to wake up early to beat the traffic. But our brains have been conditioned to sleep for six to eight hours in a day. It is when we are asleep that the brain repairs any damaged nerves and takes a break to rest.
“So, what happens when we are deprived of sleep? It is like having a laptop working with 20 windows opened that you never shut down; after some time, the laptop will hang and stop responding. We don’t want our brain to shut down or freeze before we know that we should allow it to rest.”
Abdulmalik added, “Gridlock also causes irritability and stress; it is stressful because you have to be alert to prevent someone from crashing into your car. Looking left, right and centre while driving for hours every day increases stress, which causes our body to release stress hormones.
“This stress hormones make your heart beat faster, keep you alert and your muscles will be tense, which is supposed to help you in dangerous situations and for a short period of time. But what happens now is that you are experiencing stress not for a short period of time, but for a prolonged period of time, which weakens the immune system.”
Abdulmalik stated that people abuse drugs and alcohol to relieve them of the stress caused by gridlock, adding that it also causes road rage among motorists.
He said, “Prolonged stress affects our emotional well-being, it causes anxiety and depression, and some people take drugs and alcohol to cope better with stress and this leads to increased levels of drug abuse. Gridlock also causes frustration, feeling of helplessness and lack of control. You have an appointment for 2pm and you are in gridlock since 11am and you end up missing the appointment.
“You become angered and transfer the aggression on someone else by driving roughly or getting into a fight. Some people transfer the aggression to their colleagues or employees when they get to the office, and it leads to increased work tension. Some transfer the aggression on their innocent children and spouses.”
Another psychiatrist, Dr Abayomi Olajide, said gridlock causes sleep disorder and impaired judgement.
He said, “It is crystal clear that long hours stay in traffic and the unnecessary man hour loss that occurs during traffic has a lot of health implications on individuals. It ranges from physical challenge, to psychological, emotional and physiological challenges. Gridlock is a social anomaly occurring in our society; anything that can destabilise the physical, social and emotional well-being of people, it is factually a thing of distress. It is not ideal in a sane society.
“The first challenge that gridlock poses is stress. Stress is a psychological and physiological response to a stimulus, which alters body equilibrium. The stimulus is a long stay in gridlock and it comes with its attendant problems. When you are on the wheel, a lot of social interactions are ongoing and we find people that have been overstretched.
“When people are overstretched mentally, they have poor concentration; they can also have memory lapses and their judgment is already impaired; a good number of them are irritable and have short fuses. Some of them could develop some form of eating disorder, anxiety disorder, panic disorder, depression, primary or secondary sleep disorder, acute stress disorder, traumatic stress disorder and also mood disorder.
“It could lead to financial hardship for a good number of people, who go through this hustle on the road as the driver is burning so much fuel. There are also traffic robberies and extortion. The physical health of people is also at stake; in a sane society, you are permitted to drive for a specified number of hours, but in our environment, there are no regulatory bodies to check the excesses of drivers on the road.
“Most drivers are driving under exhaustion; they have fatigue, body ache and headache, and it leads to drug abuse and abuse of medication not prescribed by doctors.”
Abdulmalik advised victims of gridlock to perform breathing exercises to regulate their heartbeat and reduce the anxiety level.
He stated, “If you have music or something pleasant that you like, you can play it in your car; and if you are not in your car, you can listen to music that you like on your phone or listen to a podcast or audio tape of a lecture to transform the time to a learning process.
“The government needs to also improve roads, repair places that are bad spots to make traffic flow easily, mobilise more resources and men to direct traffic and ensure that traffic is moving smoothly and traffic does not build up.”
Olajide urged the government to create alternate sources of transportation to conform to urbanisation requirements.
He said, “People need to know how to manage stress. If there are people we have identified as major causes of our stress, or we need to identify how to deal with them. We need to strike a balance between positive and negative stress, and explore coping strategies. It is important to ask for travel advice before setting on any journey.
“There are a lot of radio stations that give opinions about what is happening on the road; our phones too can also be a good companion through the use of Google Map to tell us when there is heavy traffic and when there is not. We also need to prioritise our movement; if it is not an important journey, we can postpone it. We need to also look at some of these logics. We should also explore alternate sources of transportation.
“Government has a responsibility for creating alternate sources of transportation in line with urbanisation. They should explore mass transit alternatives. When these are not managed very well, there will be loss of manpower hours on the road; there will be absenteeism and low productivity, and people will not be able to give their best to society.”