Category Archives: Lagos, Nigeria

Smarter Cities Challenge (Lagos): Our Final Recommendations

Our three and a half weeks in Lagos flew by  very quickly. We were busy working, understanding the local culture and challenges, meeting with many people, and experiencing the transportation systems on our own. The last few days were a furious sprint to get our presentation finalized and validated by key stakeholders. Ultimately, we felt good about the recommendations we made to the Lagos State government, and they were well received.

The final 24 hours were a true test of stamina, mental strength, important meetings, press briefings, a few ours of sleep, our final meals together, and finally, our long journey home. When it was all said and done, we felt that we uncovered some new ideas for the Lagos government to consider, with a clear path for how to get it done.  We had a wonderful opportunity to present our recommendations directly to Governor Fashola, a local hero and a man who is trying to improve life in Lagos.  Based on comments during and after our meeting, the Governor and his team were impressed with our recommendations and appreciative of our efforts. Here’s the press release announcing our project and recommendations:

There’s also been some press coverage, like this story:

Now for a very brief summary of our presentation. We started by highlighting the opportunity for the Lagos State government to address many of the challenges they’re currently facing by improving their transportation system. Having a more efficient and far-reaching transportation system can have a positive impact on the environment, the economy, and general quality of life.

We went through some of our findings through an online survey we conducted, interviewers with various types of commuters, existing research/studies, and from our own observations while using the various modes of transportation.

We then quickly moved into our set of recommendations, broken into three main categories:

1) Major new capacity improvements

2) Improving efficiency of existing capacity

3) Creation of an Intelligent Transportation System

For the first category, much of this work is underway already. Things like completing the new rail and bus lines, completing the new ferry system, and other initiatives underway to improve and expand capacity.

For the second category, we provided suggestions for how to make the current infrastructure more efficient. This includes things like synchronized traffic lights, improving law enforcement on the roads, and creating and enforcing car pool lanes.

But the majority of our focus is on the third category, creating an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). While it’s a bit difficult to follow just by looking at this chart, here’s a visual depiction of what that system would look like:

lagos vision

The general idea is to (starting at the bottom) collect vast amounts of data from various sources (cell phones, cameras, social media, etc.) and analyze and use that data to help with planning, rerouting of traffic, providing commuters with real-time updates, and to create a system that is constantly being optimized based on current and future (predictive analysis) conditions.

At the heart of this ITS system would be a central command center where all of the government agencies (traffic management, police, fire, etc.) would be tapping into and sharing the same data. Today, their data is not centralized which makes for difficult planning.

As part of our final presentation, Rob Wilmot led a discussion on the key areas of the proposed ITS. We had already reviewed this with the key stakeholders, so they were familiar with it during the final presentation. The Governor and commissioners had some good questions during our final presentation, which led to a lively discussion on how to start implementing this type of long-term vision.

Our presentation concluded with a very detailed road map, showing where to start, and how each project feeds into the next. So they walked away with a plan that can be executed, step by step. One key recommendation for the city is to create a centralized organization, along the lines of New York’s MTA or Port Authority, to help with the planning, organization, project management and budget components.

As we concluded, our team had a few minutes to chat with Governor Fashola. He applauded our efforts but had a lot to say about the need for local skills in Nigeria to implement and maintain a system like this. He agrees that they need it, but it’s also something that requires a cultural shift when it comes to things like law enforcement on the roads. But when it comes to the skills needed for data analysis, and even planned and predictive maintenance, he feels strongly that these are skills that need to be developed. Maintenance of roads, overall infrastructure, and buses needs major improvements. That’s an area where the Governor would like to see major improvements. Here are photos of the team chatting with the Governor after the presentation:

team with governor team pose with governor

The end of our trip was a bit chaotic and bittersweet. We left the Governor’s house, where our meeting was held, went back to our hotel, packed up, and went to the airport. The scene at the Lagos airport on a Friday afternoon is even more hectic than usual. So we all scattered a bit and ran off to our flights. Four of us went to Atlanta, so we had a few minutes on Saturday morning for some brief goodbyes.

It’s an amazing experience. You meet four colleagues for the first time in Nigeria, work/eat/live together night and day for 3 weeks. Then it all comes to a sudden end, and we’re back with our families and heading back to our jobs. But I can personally say that this was another one of those life and career changing opportunities. We all have high hopes that the city of Lagos will follow our recommendations and build a smarter transportation system for the future.

Aside from the working relationships, we met some amazing people, some friends for life, I hope. I will look back on my time in Lagos with some fine memories, and I’m proud of the work we did to hopefully help create a better future for Lagos, and the people of Nigeria.

For a final post, I’m going to gather some of the thoughts (and photos) from the team after we’ve all had a chance to digest it for a few days. So much happened in three weeks, and we saw so many new things. It’s a bit overwhelming to now sit back and try to remember it all.

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Finalizing our recommendations for Smarter Transportation in Lagos

With just a few days left to go in Lagos, our team is busy finalizing our recommendations and final presentation for the Governor and key officials. We’re continuing to validate our proposal with IBM transportation experts around the world so we’re confident that the solutions we’re suggesting are going to address the traffic congestion challenges in Lagos.We’ve met with all of the key government agencies to be sure we’re addressing their specific needs, and that they’re confident that they can actually implement the solutions we’re proposing. We had an opportunity to preview our presentation with the local IBM team, and other IBM leaders across Africa. The team has been extremely supportive of our philanthropic efforts, and helped make sure that we are addressing all of the challenges that they experience everyday.

One of our last visits was to the Lagos State Drivers Institute. This is where commercial drivers get their licenses. This group goes beyond truck and bus drivers. In Lagos, many “business” people have their own drivers for several reasons: Parking is nearly impossible in the central business district, and with hours of commuting time, this allows people to make calls, do work, or handle personal matters while on the road. It was interesting for us to understand the local laws and guidelines that all of these drivers need to abide by.

Here are a few photos from the institute. They have a great simulator for drivers to use in many different scenarios: Rain, fog, traffic, highway and other conditions:

simulator drivers

To enforce the use of seat belts, they have each driver sit on this accident/impact simulator. It simulates an impact at 40mph so people can understand just how dangerous it is to travel at that rate of speed with no seat belt:

rob seatbelt

Then just a few random photos from the past few days. We visited an orphanage for teenage girls and gave them some IBM MobileFirst shirts:



It’s rainy season in Nigeria which means that it rains (quite heavily) just about every day. It will go from sunny skies to dark clouds and pounding rain in a matter of minutes:



Here’s a view from the highway. What you’re looking at is actually a mass of rooftops over a market area:


This is a long line at one of the local bus stops. It’s one of the reasons we’re suggesting more buses, and better scheduling and route planning:

bus line


Lastly, here is a photo of a sea of “danfos” which are the unlicensed mini-buses which account for the majority of vehicles on the local roads in Lagos:

Part of our proposal is to remove the danfos and introduce more public transportation — buses, trains, ferries, and cable cars — which will ultimately be safer, more reliable, and less expensive than the danfos. The State of Lagos wants to hire many of the danfo drivers to work for the city as bus drivers and other transportation jobs. This is already happening in small pockets. There are people who own several — up to 10 or more — danfos, and the city is trying to franchise the city buses to people like this.We’ll be closing out our presentation and taking it to the government later this week. We’ll report back with a summary of our proposal, and the response from the government officials.

#smartercities Challenge

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Cars, Buses, Trains, Cable Cars + Technology: A Powerful Combination

For most of our team, the extent of our transportation expertise includes driving cars, riding trains and buses, and reading about how some cities are building incredible new transportation systems. But after the past few weeks, and the past few days in particular, we’re really starting to understand how these different modes of transport complement one another, the potential costs of running these systems, the revenue you can expect to generate, the data you can collect from running these multi-modal systems, and so much more.

Once in a while, I still try to step back and think about the great (and fun) opportunity we have in front of us: Helping a really crowded city plan a transportation system of the future. Where are the best places to run the trains, how many buses do you need at each ferry terminal, and where can you place GPS and other data collecting/sharing technologies in an effort to use data to predict traffic flows, and ultimately streamline the overall system?

Today (Monday), we continue to share specific parts of our plans with the key government agencies to get their feedback and support. Little by little we are finalizing sections of our recommendation. This Friday we will present the complete recommendations to the Governor and key officials.

We’re trying to embrace every moment during this final week. While it’s gone very quickly, we have learned a lot and hope to have a positive impact on the quality of life for the people of Lagos.

#smartercities Challenge

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Building Constituency & Gaining Stakeholder Support

We’re two weeks into our assignment and are well into building our recommendations for the Lagos State Government. We will present these recommendations, and a smarter  transportation road map, to the Governor and top government officials next Friday. As part of our planning and strategy, we want to be sure that each key stakeholder/government agency supports the recommendations we’ll be bringing forward.

Yesterday, we started meeting with the individual agencies/leaders (Ministry of Transportation, Science and Technology, etc.) to be sure that we’re addressing their needs in the plan, and proposing solutions that they’re confident they can implement. We also want their candid feedback on what should and shouldn’t be part of the final presentation to the Governor. Ultimately, we want them to feel that we are presenting a plan and road map with, and on behalf, of these agencies. Along the way, we’re also looking for opportunities to help align certain agencies as they’ll need to take an integrated approach to bringing this plan to reality. For example, if the transportation department is going to commit to building a new ferry service, the Physical Planning agency needs to be supportive of building a new ferry terminal and roads to the terminal…..and the bus organization needs to be prepared to run new routes to/from the ferry terminal. For every project, there are multiple agencies involved and we’re trying to connect those dots, now.

Yesterday, we met with Frederic Olandeinde, Technical Advisor of Transport Planning for the Transportation agency. He and his team gave us extremely valuable feedback on key areas to focus on with the Governor, certain topics he won’t be interested in, and even political issues to avoid.

Here’s a photo of Rob Wilmot, one of our team members, presenting to the Transportation Agency.


We have more of these meetings on Monday and then will start finalizing our recommendations in preparation for Friday’s meeting. But we’re realizing the value in allowing the individual stakeholders to have input on what we will be taking forward to the Governor. Having their feedback and support, and also starting to connect the various agencies, is turning out to be a critical step in our assignment as part of the Smarter Cities Challenge (#smartercities Challenge) .

Today is Saturday and we’re off to visit a local orphanage and some other local visits. More on that later.

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Lagos Command Center: Vision for Building a Smarter City

Yesterday our team had an opportunity to visit the current “command center” in Lagos, Nigeria. This center is where any citizen in Lagos can call for help whether it’s related to fire, police, traffic, environmental issues, or general inquiries. For those in the New York City area, think of this as their version of the “311” system. Our host told us that they can receive as many as 40,000 calls per day, many of which are non-critical issues. But for those calls needed immediate assistance, there is a room filled with people answering calls and routing the call to the appropriate department. Here is a view of the call center:

Lagos command center

They also showed us how the process works, from the call coming in, to the routing to the appropriate department, to the tracking of that issue, and eventually closing out the case.

team command centercommand center preview

Part of the challenge is that beyond the call center, the individual agencies (police, fire, traffic, etc.) are located in different areas of the command center. But they are starting to build a centralized location within the command center to bring the various agencies together:

new command center

It’s encouraging because the government officials we’re working with share the same vision of having an intelligent and integrated operations system that links together all of the key agencies in an effort to build a smarter city. The end goal is to improve the quality of life for the current and growing population, respond more quickly and efficiently to emergency situations, and stay ahead of potential maintenance issues based on historical and real-time data. Several of the local leaders have attending IBM Smarter Cities events and understand the vision. In fact, one of the officials we’re working with (Abdulahmed Mustapha, Director General of Lago State) recently moved back to Nigeria from New York. For the past ten years, he worked on the New York City emergency response team. So he is very familiar with the technologies and techniques available today. I conducted a short interview with him and will post it shortly.

Lagos is in a unique position where they have the basic infrastructure and organizations in place. They have the vision to use technology to improve their current operations, and they have some key leaders with the knowledge and experience it takes to build an intelligent operations system, and ultimately a smarter city (#smartercities Challenge).

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Our weekend in Lagos, and beyond

Our team took a short break from our transportation project this weekend to help the local community. One of our local IBMers is part of a group that helps feed disabled and needy people in Lagos each Saturday. So our team helped deliver 500 meals to people who really need them — including a community of blind and disabled people. They also took us to somewhat remote sections of the city where people typically live on $1 a day.

This also gave us an opportunity to see how many people in Lagos live, everyday. I think we all knew that it’s a difficult situation in Lagos in terms of poverty, but it’s very different when you see it first hand. Below are some photos of the people/neighborhoods we visited and delivered meals to. They were all extremely grateful, and even given their surroundings, many of them have smiles on their faces.

Local family disabled man cute girl 2 mom and girls  kids with mom boy in blue neighborhood mom and baby men food little girl kids with candy happy kids grandma working fish on head feeding woman

On Sunday, we took our first trip outside of the city. We visited a national park type area called Olumo Rock and the nearby town ,Abeokuta. It was nice to get outside of the city and see some of the natural beauty of Nigeria. But we also got a hard lesson in the traffic congestion challenges here. It took us roughly 90 minutes to get there, and nearly 5 hours to return. The traffic coming back to Lagos was bad, but it seems that the people here tend to make it worse.

Since the traffic heading into Lagos was practically at a standstill, people simply started moving to the other side of the road/highway. Just imagine this in the U.S. or other parts of the world. Traffic is backed up, so cars start moving into oncoming traffic until they take over that side of the road as well. Play that out in your head. At some point, there was total chaos where the traffic flowing in the CORRECT direction (out of the city), met the ILLEGALLY flowing traffic, head to head. All of those cars on the wrong side then had to merge onto the correct side of the road. Police were there, but there wasn’t much they could do beside try to get cars flowing in the right direction.

It’s Monday and we’re back to the task at hand…..working with the local government to build a smarter transportation system. Before they get too sophisticated, they do need to address some of the basics like potholes, and chaotic situations like we were part of last night.

Here is a view from the top of Olumo Rock:

view from rock

And our team with some of the locals there:

team with women

#smartercities Challenge


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Lagos Transportation: Putting a strategic plan in place

We are just wrapping up our first full week in Lagos and we have met so many interesting people, and have learned a lot. The problem is clear: Simply too many people, cars, trucks, buses, vans, and other modes of transportation crowding the city. What’s encouraging is that the government agencies are well aware of the dire situation, with population expected to double in the next ten years (to 40 million) , and have started laying out a strategic plan. Some of the new projects are already underway. In fact, the city opened a brand new bridge this week to span two key parts of the  city. The Ministry of Transportation shared their vision for building a smarter transportation system, current projects underway, and their plans for the next several years. Here is an illustration of a new dedicated bus lane they are creating to help move the hundreds of city buses through the city:

lagos bus

Here’s a view of new rail track being installed:

lagos train

They are truly thinking about every mode of transportation. There is one section of the city that has an extremely high concentration of citizens, and because of waterways and other terrain challenges, it can take people 2 hours to travel a mile or so. In this area (circled in red below), they are planning to build a series of cable cars:

cable car

As we meet with the various government officials, bus riders, other commuters, and some of our local colleagues, we’re hearing some common themes. People want safe, reliable, and comfortable transportation alternatives. The majority of people either drive in a car to work or school, or take one of the unlicensed vans (danfos) running all over the city.

Beyond focusing on improving transportation within the current city limits, the government also wants to use transportation options to literally expand the city limits. By building rail lines and bus services well outside the current “city,” people and businesses will be encouraged to start moving into those areas. They will live and work in less congested regions, but still have the ability to get into Lagos by bus, train, ferry or other modes of transportation. This can be good for the citizens, good for businesses, and improve overall congestion in the region.

Here are some random facts we picked up on this week:

– All houses and businesses run on their own generators. There are no power lines with electricity. Generators power the city.

– Only 30 percent of city buses are operational due to maintenance and other issues.

– The city of Lagos has 87 traffic lights today (not all operational) and plan to have more than 300 in the next few years.

– Most people carry several (2-6) mobile phones. When one carrier is down, they use a different phone.

– 20 million trips are made each day (a trip is a single person traveling to work, school, or wherever they’re headed). That is expected to double in the next 10 years too.

– More people are taking to the waterways. Ridership on the Lagos ferry system has quickly grown from 300,000 per month to 1.5 million per month. People simply want to get out of the road traffic at any cost.

What’s exciting is that the locals and government officials have truly welcomed us and are eager to have us help. So we have an opportunity to influence the improvements being made now and in the future here in Lagos. It’s exciting to be part of something that can have such an enormous impact on so many people, all part of  IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge (#smartercities Challenge). Here is a photo of our team with the key government officials:

team with govt

We have some interesting plans arranged for the weekend. We will be working with a local organization to pack meals and deliver them to people who really need help.

On top of it all, it’s been great getting to know my teammates: Shelly Lowe, Rob Wilmot, Brad Gibson and Marc Segre.

To close things out, just a nice photo I took on our way to the office this morning:


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