Seconds after Kenechukwu Ejiogu had swung his rickety motorcycle away from the sidewalk at Cele bus stop; an articulated vehicle lost control and swerved into the crowd of commuters standing where he had just picked his passenger. Four people were killed on the spot (including a fellow commercial motorcyclist), while five others were reported to have sustained injuries in that September 26 tragedy.
“My brother, in fact I don’t know what to say,” he said, obviously shaken as he relived the memory of his close shave with death.
Cele bus stop has frequently been in the news for series of accidents, usually involving articulated vehicles that regularly ply the Oshodi-Apapa expressway.
“Any junction that links four different roads is a cursed spot, so I am not surprised that a lot of accidents happen there,” said Nnachi Uduma, a trader in the area. “In the old days, and even some places now, sacrifices are made at such junctions. I am always extra careful when crossing that place because I know anything can happen.”
Olunfunlayo George, a psychologist and worshipper at the Celestial Church of God (which gave the bus stop its name), dismissed Mr Uduma’s claims.
“We Nigerians are always prone to attribute misfortunes to some higher powers,” she said. “What is evil power? What is God’s favour? Forget about all those rubbish. People should learn to do things the right way; drivers should ensure their vehicles are road worthy; pedestrians should use pedestrian bridges, simple! Let us do our own part first, before blaming the devil.”
Avoiding the bridge.
Hyacinth Obianozie, a truck driver for Imenia Haulage Ltd, said he plies the Apapa-Oshodi route once a week.
“Apart from the places wey don spoil for the road, another wahala we de get na people that cross the road even when they see you on high speed,” he said.
Most of the respondents who chose to dash across the expressway instead of using the pedestrian bridge said they were constrained by the traffic that builds up on the bridge during rush hours.
“I only climb the bridge when there is not much crowd on it,” said Morenike Subomu, a restaurateur and regular commuter on the road. “I am usually in a hurry, especially when I am going to open my shop, so if I see too many people I will simply cross the road.”
Another regular commuter, Desmond Ohazuruike, is undeterred by the fact that he had been apprehended by officials of the Itire/Ikate local council development area task force on defaulters of pedestrian bridge usage twice.
“I have been caught by them two times, each time having to pay them, but I still prefer to cross the road when I am sure they are not around,” he said. “I don’t like seeing the beggars that are stationed all over the bridge.”
Avoiding the bus stop.
Commuters opt to stand on the sidewalks, off the service lane, at the foot of the pedestrian bridge to wait for buses; thereby neglecting the actual bus stop located a few metres down the road.
Spokesperson for the Lagos Ministry of Transport, Sina Thorpe, said the state government was involving private sector participation in the building, and renovation of bus stops; and urged commuters to stop standing on the service lanes near Cele.
“People who stand at places not designated as a bus stop should know they are courting traffic congestion and accidents,” he said. “Commercial bus drivers stopping indiscriminately along the expressway pose a danger to traffic. People should learn how to do the right thing; and not wait for law enforcement agents to start hounding them.”
A black spot.
Cele has also garnered the unenviable reputation of being a hotbed of criminal activities. It will be recalled that hip hop star, Tuface Idibia, was shot at that spot in 2007 by suspected assassins. The popular bus stop was featured in a list of black spots released by the Lagos State Police Command recently.
“Even Ijesha (the next bus stop on the Mile 2 bound section of the expressway) is a no go area late in the night,” said Teslim Sotimirin, a businesswoman and regular commuter. “My husband was robbed at Cele around midnight [sic] last two months, and after that one the yeye boys collected my phone at Ijesha (a week ago).”
For Mr Ejiogu, life must go on at Cele bus stop. “Na there I dey make my daily bread, wetin man go do nah,” he said while hustling for passengers a few metres from the blackened wreck of the truck.
This post was published in NEXTonSunday.