Emeka, his three children and wife boarded one of the popular inter-state commercial vehicles in Okota, Isolo, Lagos for Imo State on December, 27, 2020. They were travelling to celebrate the festive period in their village, Okwelle, Imo State. But they did not get to their village home till December 28, the following day.
Their 15 seater- bus left early at about 7am for the supposed 9 or 10 hours journey on the fateful day. They got to Asaba at about 4pm with hope of getting home early on that day. Unfortunately, they ran into traffic, initially thought will take maximum of an hour to clear.
They crawled and meandered through the gridlock and arrived at the Niger Bridge at 9pm, that is 6 hours on the hold up.
Surprisingly, the driver announced that he cannot continue the journey on security reasons. All the passengers, including Emeka and his family who were going to celebrate the Festive season with their loved ones agreed with the driver. They parked at the Asaba bus terminal of the company till the following day.
Within minutes, other buses numbering about 18 of the company that were equally held by the traffic joined to wait till the following day on the same security reason. All the passengers, numbering about 120 including Emeka, his family and other families made beds with their clothes at the company’s lobby, while others slept on the visitors’ chairs and bare floor. They finally took off by 5am the following day to their various destinations.
The gridlock last festive period was simply painful and frustrating. Travellers who got to Asaba about 4:30 pm, between December 22 and 31 spent an average of 6 to 7 hours on the traffic.
Many of the travellers, especially those from Lagos, Ibadan and Northern parts of Nigeria through Asaba to East of the Niger did not get to their destinations the same day. Some travellers who got to the bridge at about 11 pm due to the traffic either slept at Asaba or risked late night driving to their destinations.
The gridlock stretched over 12 kilometres from the bridge and a few traffic officials in the area were really overwhelmed by the exasperating situation.
While reckless driving by motorists heading towards Onitsha and the much vehicular movement during the festive period could be blamed for the excruciating traffic which caused passengers headache and exhaustion, extortion by touts and uniformed men at the bridge at Onitsha end was linked as major cause of the gridlock.
From Asaba, many motorists that were in a hurry to escape the vexatious traffic created three extra lanes in the already two lane road. All the five lanes culminated into a single lane on the bridge.
The scorching point of the traffic started at the tip of the bridge in Onitsha end, where motorists, especially un-branded trucks carrying various items including manufacturing and agro products were stopped by touts and uniformed men on the single lane for all manner of forceful ‘checks’ and different ‘taxes’ or tips ranging from N5,000 upwards which must be paid. As this happens, the traffic continues to build up to the disregard of the touts and uniformed men with guns who were after themselves.
The motorists were compelled to part away with the money as they are delayed, harassed, or intimidated sometimes with guns. This caused the gridlock as the delay occurred in the single lane that leads vehicles out of the bridge.
The situation was made worse as there weree many vehicular movements through the Bridge during the festive period.
Many residents in the Eastern region who were travelling for occasions during the period took their fate in their hands without asking questions or demanding corrections. You will hear murmurings inside the buses about traffic congestion as it constituted challenge to the public.
Many travellers expressed their dissatisfaction over the scourge as they want traffic agencies to be proactive in dealing with the situation during festive periods.
Some travellers even think the situation is deliberately created to frustrate Ndigbo, who are yet to produce Nigeria’s President in over 45 years. This thinking is given bite as there are many checkpoints on the Lagos-Benin-Onitsha road leading to Niger Bridge. Also little efforts are made either by authorities concerned to minimise the gridlock during the festive period.
Days leading to the Christmas, Methodist Bishop of Onitsha Diocese, Anambra state, Biereonwu Onuagha, according to a report called on Governor Willie Obiano to urgently address the traffic gridlock along the Onitsha head bridge ahead of the Christmas and New Year festivities.
He described as excruciating the pains travellers encounter annually, including cooking, eating and sleeping on top of the bridge notoriously known for heavy human and vehicular movements especially during the yuletide.
The Prelate made the call because according to him, “Anambra state is the gateway to this side of the world to the east. The Niger Bridge has become and already very insufficient for the type of traffic flow that comes in and out of Anambra”.
Others have equally called on President Buhari who has gone far on the construction of the second Niger Bridge for the completion of the project to ease movements to and from South Eastern parts of Nigeria.