When Europeans first arrived Benin City in pre-colonial times, they marvelled at the ingenuity of the city’s planners, who in designing the streets, roads, landscapes, and alleyways of the sprawling kingdom, developed a masterpiece that rivalled some of Europe’s best cities.

The Guardian Newspaper of the United Kingdom, in a recent feature on the story of cities, wrote of Europeans’ perception of Benin City and called it the “Great City of Benin,” at a time when there was hardly any other place in Africa the Europeans acknowledged as a city.

Indeed, they classified Benin City as “one of the most beautiful and best-planned cities in the world.”

One of the defining features of the great city is its metropolitan nature, which often helps the mass of people, who are either settling, visiting or commuting through the city to other towns or city centres navigate it effortlessly.

And so, from being the toast of all in those times due to its elegantly planned cities, Benin City, the heart of Edo State, has morphed, in the 21st century, into a sprawling hub for transportation. This has called for efficient traffic management that requires a coordinated action plan to ensure that the movement of people and goods are managed in such a way as to eliminate loss of man hours and other resources.

When His Royal Majesty, Omo N’Oba N’Edo Uku Akpolokpolo, Oba Ewuare II, the Oba of Benin, inaugurated the revamped Edo State Traffic Control and Management Agency (EDSTMA), on August 31, in Benin City, it bore some historical undertones. It was almost a playback to how the best of hands were recruited into elite guards to guard the city walls.

Just as the great Benin Monarch ably took on the task of inaugurating the initiative, so had the officers of the agency undergone a stringent selection process that started in May this year and culminated in the best hands being thrust with the mandate to oversee efficient traffic management in the state.

Reminiscing on Benin City’s envious town-planning heritage, Oba Ewuare II, said “the city has always had a well-designed layout of roads; feeder roads, streets and lanes since pre-colonial times.” He observed that “over the years, the increase in vehicular movement coupled with bad roads and poor traffic management resulted in chaotic traffic situations, made worse by some motorists with a penchant for disregarding traffic rules.”

The imperative for revamping the EDSTMA is in recognition of the central role Benin City plays as a nexus to different parts of the country. The state is also home to a number of notable transport companies, which grew from nurturing their businesses from Benin City. Hence, increased activities from these companies and the large haul of passengers put immense pressure on roads, leading to traffic congestion and the need for proper calibration and management.

As with many traffic agencies, EDSTMA, when it was first introduced, came into force to control traffic, maintain decorum and curtail the excesses of drivers and other road users. But with time, many complained that the agency lost its way because of the antics of its officials, who were accused of harassing road users and hassling them for pecuniary gains. To change all that terrible narrative, the Governor Godwin Obaseki-led government decided to retool the agency for optimal performance, with the thinking that better results can come from a reformed institution.

“The officials of EDSTMA must not see their appointments as an avenue for enriching themselves by accepting bribes from motorists who may want to undermine traffic rules. I am glad that the government deemed it appropriate to create a Public Complaints Department for the agency, where members of the public can lodge their complaints. It is hoped that such complaints will be addressed speedily,” the Benin Monarch cautioned.

So, when it was time for the state governor to deliver his address at the re-launch of the traffic agency, he was quick to note the historic role the Oba of Benin was playing at the occasion, stressing that the monarch’s presence not only showed the support of the royal father for the agency’s reform, but was a sign of the cordial relationship the government enjoys with the Oba.

In his speech, Governor Obaseki expressed his delight at the presence of the Oba of Benin, which he described as an official royal visit and an honour to his administration. He said the rebranding of EDSTMA became necessary considering the fact that the state serves as a transportation hub to the country with heavy vehicular traffic.

“This re-branded EDSTMA is made up of trained men and women who are more civil, operate within the ambit of the law and citizens are to relate with them as such,” Obaseki said, assuring Edo people that, with the establishment of a Public Complaints Unit, they would not be exploited by officials of the traffic control agency.

He commended the immediate past governor of the state, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, who had the foresight to create EDSTMA to manage vehicular traffic in the state. The Managing Director of EDTSMA, Oloriegbe Dennis Ade, said the agency would adopt unique and advanced strategies to overcome the challenges that they may face.

What has happened so far

The presence of the EDSTMA officials have not only brought sanity to roads in Edo State, it has provided jobs for the teeming youths in the state. Standing sentry at traffic hotspots in the state, officials of the agency have now brought a new sense of dread to those who hitherto broke traffic laws. Hence, areas that are traditionally chaotic have been given a new lease of life by the watchful eyes of traffic officers.

People in the state have started feeling the impact of the change of guards. They are basking in the new lease of life that has greeted the ever-busy roads in Benin City and its environs. Many commuters are delighted at the new state of things. A bus driver at the New Benin area of the city, Mr. Eghosa Omoruyi, hailed the presence of EDSTMA officials, stating that the reformed agency would instil fear in “bus drivers who are always in the habit of disobeying traffic light. I hope to see changes with the new EDSTMA that was commissioned by our Royal Father, the Oba of Benin. I believe they will be different from the EDSTMA of old,” he said.

Traders, who ply the roads, are also upbeat about the state of the roads. Abubakar Sahidu, who trades at the New Benin Market, said not only was the state government deserving of praise, but the reformed agency would make living and trading in Benin City a delight.

Osagie is the Special Adviser to Governor Obaseki on Media and Communication Strategy