The Lagos State government declared Thursday, March 29 as a work-free day in the state to enable residents to turn out en masse and welcome President Muhammadu Buhari who was on a two-day visit to the state. This declaration of a public holiday followed a similar experience in Plateau State where a public holiday was declared because the president was on a visit to the state.
According to the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Kehinde Bamigbetan, the work-free day was to ensure a smooth, safe and secure visit by the president. As a result, a number of roads were closed while some diversions were made on other roads. There were temporary road closures and diversions in the Ikeja, Maryland, Agege Motor Road, Victoria Island and Ikoyi axes. The consequences of these closures and diversions were a virtual lockdown of the state for one day.
Many of the closed roads were critical to moving around the city. Thus, for those not in the formal sector, the difficulty in movement slowed down activities. At the best of times, Lagos is a logistical nightmare. The hold-ups in Lagos are legendary. The city’s traffic management ranks among the worst in the world. Thus, locking down the state by closing such critical roads further put residents under undue and avoidable stress. Many individuals could not make it around the city during the day. Many residents had to trek long distances from one point to the other within the metropolis.
Worse hit were the poor and vulnerable, especially those who strove to eke out a living by daily earnings in the streets. For these people, the challenges only served to portray the government as callous, given its refusal to take advantage of alternative transport and logistic arrangements to move the president around the city. Individuals who had flights to catch at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport had a hard time. Some missed their flights. This was because the roads connecting the airport from their homes were closed or the diversions extended the mileage they had to cover.
Analysts estimated the economic cost of President Buhari’s visit to the state at N1.28billion, arising mainly from the closure of major routes in the state and the consequent shutdown of business activities in major parts of Ikeja, the state capital.This particular visit brought untold hardships to residents of Lagos. The visit was to enable the president to participate in the birthday colloquium of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, an All Progressives Congress (APC) chieftain and a former governor of the state and to open the bus terminal built by the Akinwumi Ambode administration in Ikeja. Both events did not warrant the declaration of a holiday, considering a cost-benefit analysis of the rationale for the holiday and the lockdown of the city.
Although the president needed a secure and smooth movement during his visit, this should not have been done at the expense of the comfort and convenience of ordinary citizens. The president could have been moved by aircraft around Lagos. There are a number of choppers in the presidential fleet and the police could have been deployed to ensure a smooth visit within Lagos. There are also private charter companies who offer such services in Lagos for others who may not have access to the government’s intra-city air services. But the president did not take these alternatives. The government preferred to inconvenience the people. In several countries, presidential visits are done without a holiday or the lockdown of cities. This was clearly one holiday that was unwarranted.
Nigerian Tribune Editorial