Sunday Magazine

Lagos/Ibadan expressway: Unending agonies, tales of sorrow of construction

For many travellers on the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway, plying that road is just a dose of agony. With tales of job losses, deaths and frustration occasioned by what is deemed an avoidable gridlock on that road, nothing, they say, indicates a ray of hope anytime soon. In this piece, LADESOPE LADELOKUN writes on the pains of travelling on one of Nigeria’s busiest roads

 

Ordinarily, the plan to reconstruct an important road for a smooth experience for road users is expected to elicit positive vibes.

But, for a great number of commuters that ply the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway, it is lamentations galore as they almost on a daily basis tell tales of nightmares.

The 127.6-kilometre-long expressway, which is said to be vital in many ways as it is the major route to the southern, northern and eastern parts of the country, has, Sunday Telegraph observed, gained notoriety for energy-sapping traffic snarls, fatal accidents, highway robberies, among other sources of worry.

In separate interviews with Sunday Telegraph, a number of road users bashed the Federal Government for what they deemed a deliberate plan to license a contractor, Julius Berger, to inflict untold hardship on Nigerians with actions said to be far below in international best practices. They also wondered why the Nigerian government looks on while businesses are destroyed and road users groan daily.

According to the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, in an interview on Channels Television, the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is expected be completed in December 2022.

“The expected completion of this road will be in the last month of this year. We are hoping that we will be done before Christmas and that is subject to a lot of variables,” he said.

But, for some observers, following what they considered a chain of broken promises on the date of completion of the road reconstruction and the slow pace of work, the minister’s optimism can only be taken with a pinch salt while concerns mount of over daily loss of productive hours on the road.

Like many road users, who lamented how they spent 8 to 15 hours on the road on Monday, September 12, 2022, Adeola Ajewole, wondered why road reconstruction would cause so much pain. “I left home around 4:00 am because I had thought leaving Mowe at that time would make me resume work early. But, lo and behold, I got to my office in Marina at 2:00pm. Tell me, what would I do again in the office? How can one travel on this road every day and live long? It’s baffling how the concerned authorities allow this to go on every day without a solution.

We want a better road but this pain is completely unbearable,” she told Sunday Telegraph. Another road user, Kola Anjorin, bares his mind: “We are dealing with people who don’t know or fear God.

So, it’s hard for their service delivery to be excellent except in their abode where everything works. Give the project execution/contract management to a competent private sector consultant company, and you will see how  road users will heave a sigh of relief. Those who want to pray should do so. Three to six hours from Ibafo every day to Lagos from now till December?

Calculate the man hours lost. It is a challenge from the pit of hell, and you should know the source. Man hours lost, frequent servicing of our cars, frequent repairs, burn outs, health risk from car pollution, theft from road robbers, name it. These are the things we now live with because of this avoidable pain.”

Worried by how long the reconstruction work on the expressway has taken, a business woman, Eunice Ajibike, said: “See, we can’t continue to suffer just because we are told by the government that this will end one day. This project does not look like one that will be completed. For about 10 years now, they are still on it. These people are playing games with our lives.

Some have died on this road; people have been robbed; some have been kidnapped; many have lost their jobs. And let me shock you, homes are being destroyed. Do you know some women have lost their husbands to other women because they already have an excuse not to come home? This cannot be the normal way to live.” Expressing optimism that the hardship faced by road users would soon be over, an architect, Frday Ohida said: “They will definitely complete the road.

The problem we have is the fact that we don’t have alternatives to our roads when the major ones get dilapidated. “I don’t think it’s convenient for them to work on the road while we use it.

And having to work day and night also has security implications. The site engineers could be kidnapped at night. We all know the security situation in Nigeria now. I don’t think it’s wise taking that risk. This is a country where policemen and soldiers are kidnapped. So, let’s see what happens in December. I believe something positive will happen.”

 

No pain, no gain

Appealing to road users for understanding, the Acting Federal Controller of Works in Lagos State, Mrs Forosola Oloyede, said the general public would be the ultimate beneficiaries as there’s no gain without pain. “It is a known fact that there is no gain without pain. It is thus our utmost belief that the general public would be the ultimate beneficiaries of the world-class road infrastructure that the government plans to deliver through the on-going reconstruction works on the road.

We, therefore, appeal for the cooperation of the general public towards this end,” Oloyede said. While apologising on behalf of the Federal Government for the difficulty faced by road users due to construction works on the Berger-Opic axis of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and announcing plans to improve on traffic management, Oloyede urged motorists to observe safe driving rules, avoid driving against traffic and obey all dedicated road diversions along the road, in order to prevent unnecessary delays on the road.

Her words: “There is also provision for tow trucks along the road should there be any breakdown, road users should be patient by not driving against traffic and  obeying stationed road traffic officers in order to allow for free flow of traffic.”

In the same vein, the Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Dr. Frederic Oladeinde, assured Nigerians that the project, on completion, will deliver a word class transport infrastructure that will put a stop to traffic congestion on the expressway. “The governments of Lagos and Ogun states have been working with the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing to ensure that the congestion experienced at Opic-Berger on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway between Friday 26th and Saturday 27th August, 2022 does not reoccur.

“The on-going work on the Berger-OPIC Axis is geared towards the timely completion of the reconstruction of the expressway to deliver a world class road that will make driving on the expressway a smooth experience.

“As highlighted in a statement released by the Federal Controller, Engr. F. Oloyede, the public should note that the massive gridlock was due to the impatience of some motorists, who drive against traffic at the slightest excuse, thus causing enormous hardship to other motorists.

“As agreed by all parties, the contractor has been directed to block all illegal road diversions, especially between Magboro and OPIC. This is to prevent the illegal U-turn at OPIC, which also acerbates the gridlock within that axis. Lagos and Ogun Traffic Management Personnel are available to ensure free flow of traffic. Motorists who drive against the traffic (one-way) or make a turn at unauthorised junctions will regret their indiscretion. They will be prosecuted.”

For rights activist, Bruce Temeno, urging Nigerians to bear the pains experienced on a daily basis because they stand to benefit a lot when the reconstruction of the road is completed is unacceptable and wicked. “There are internationally acceptable standards of going about these things.

The best international practice for the reconstruction of a highway of this type is to create temporary roads at critical points to alleviate the suffering of the road users. So, the stories that you must bear the pain is wicked because this pain is simply avoidable. “You see, all that the Ministry of Transportation and the Federal Ministry of Works said is not acceptable. In the planning stages, there was provision in the budget for temporary roads. The road markings were an afterthought. When the wicked rules, the people will mourn.”

Knocks for Julius Berger

Despite complaints about what they call government’s insensitivity, some Nigerians have expressed displeasure over the operations of the contractor, Julius Berger. Speaking with Sunday Telegraph, Olamide Ogundele narrated how avoiding traffic congestion on the expressway because of an important business deal made his neighbour a beggar.

“I know someone who had an accident with a bike on this same road. He survived it but he spent eight months at home. Someone that was giving turned to a beggar. Although I blame him ,at the same time, I blame Julius Berger.”

Meanwhile, a civil servant, who spoke on condition of anonymity has some questions for the construction giant: Is this the same Julius Berger I knew while growing up? Is this the best practice in other countries you know very well? Do you go back and forth, doing road markings after construction?

 

Is it that Julius Berger has not done good work on the bridge ? The joints have been repaired many times and I am sure this one will not be the last. Could be it that the bridge was not designed for heavy trucks, high volume of vehicles plying it ?

Enough of this trial and error.” Stating his observation, a private school teacher, Titi Asunloye, opined: “I have long noticed when you climb on the Kara bridge outwards Lagos, you experience a ‘gbim’ sound on the joints, signalling impairment, and I know it’s a matter of time that we will be subjected to another round of harrowing traffic for its repairs. The same bridge joints at Kara for both road sections that were done specially last year? ‘

 

Enough blame to go round

On how security agents and members of the public add to the agonies of commuters, an engineer, Bode Akele, says Nigerians are sometimes the architect of their suffering: As early as 5:00 am, policemen had started collecting bribe in the Warewa area from motorists who ply one way.

But if road users take the normal route, there would be no need to bribe anyone. Some road users are bad citizens. They just want to have their ways through bribing and cheating. This is how we make life difficult for one another,” he said.

 

Also, a teacher, Tayo Falobi, shares his thoughts: “The problem is you and I. We see and know that this thing is bad and we keep doing it. For the police, we are the one as well. If we follow through the right path, there won’t be any “toll gate fee. It’s actually not easy but we can do it, make it happen and achieve it.”

Blessing in disguise

While Nigerians share their agonising experiences on the Lagos/Ibadan expressway, there are people who prefer the status quo to remain because it swells their bank account balance.

At the Mowe bus stop, motorcycle riders, otherwise known as Okada riders, charge between N1,500 to N2000 to take a passenger from Mowe to Berger. An Okada rider who simply identified himself Wasiu, said he had never had it so good. “I know how much I made a day before now and I know how much I make now.

The highest I’ve made all my life since I started this work is N10,000. My brother, my daily income now hovers around N20000 and N25,000. We don’t wear suit o like you people but we thank God.”

For plantain chips hawker, Faith, on Long Bridge, it’s boom time. Her words: “I struggled to sell 20 pieces a day. But I can’t complain now. The worst I’ve sold so far is 50. My supplier is happy. Of course, I’m also happy. That’s all I can say. ”

We can’t dish out directives to Julius Berger, we didn’t give them the job – Lagos Govt

The Special Adviser to Governor Sanwo- Olu on Transportation, Toyin Fayinka, says apart from the collaborative efforts with the Ogun State government and the Federal Government, there is very little the state government can do to bring relief to Nigerians, who on a daily basis waste productive hours on the Lagos/Ibadan expressway owing to traffic congestion.

Asked what the Lagos State government’s plans to do differently to bring relief to motorists since it does not appear like the said collaborative efforts is yielding results, Fayinka said: “Ogun and Lagos state governments and the Federal Government have made a statement.

I’m sure you know why we’ve the traffic jam. We are working on it. Federal Government awarded the contract, not Lagos State government. Can you give what you don’t have?

Instead of you to channel your questions to the Federal Government and the contractor…is it because Lagos officials are always available to talk? “Lagos State cannot go to Julius Berger and be dishing out directives to them. You say you’re from Telegraph, do you have control over what the editor of The PUNCH or that of The Nation writes?”

Asked if it’s not the responsibility of governments at all levels to bring relief to suffering Nigerians, he said: “That’s why the Lagos State government came on air to clear the air. One, to apologise.

Two, to seek people’s perseverance. Three, to say the Lagos State government is mounting pressure on the Federal Government to make sure they finish the work in good time. We did not give them job. I cannot sit down here and give you false information. I wasn’t part of the contract signing.”

There could be more pains if… – FRSC Sector Commander

Speaking with Sunday Telegraph, the Lagos State Sector Commander, Segun Ogungbemide, said there was need for the members of the public to cooperate with the contractor handling the reconstruction work on the Lagos/Ibadan expressway, stating that there could be a problem if the current situation persists.

 

“The one truth that we all need to live with is that the traffic on Lagos/Ibadan expressway, either inward or outward is heavy.

Secondly, the narrowing down or reducing four lanes into two lanes at the construction point is quite demanding and that is the one that’s giving major pressure to the road user and traffic management operatives. The length of the construction points is another major critical issue.

We have various points where construction is going on. We have long bridge/OPIC axis. We have Berger and we have at Otedola. So, that long stretch of construction site has been a major challenge.

So, it takes longer time for the narrow road to be opened up. I think it’s opened up at kilometre zero end. Imagine the stress from Berger to kilometre zero end. The construction company said they were operating under a mandate to finish the job on time.

“My responsibility as a road safety boss is to make sure that men are on ground to do the needful, which we know that it is quite overwhelming. But things could have been simple if not for the misconduct of some of our road users.

 

A situation where we see people going against the traffic compounds the problem .

 

The construction company has given their word that they are trying to expedite action because it’s even better now. By the time we get to the peak of December, if this continues, it could be a major problem. That’s why we need to give them the cooperation we can give for them to round off the project on time.”

Bear with us, we mean well – Fashola

Reacting to the questions on the pains and untold hardship suffered by commuters as a result of construction works on Lagos/ Ibadan Expressway on TVC , Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, appealed to Nigerians for understanding and patience, stating that the Nigerian government was not oblivious of their plight. “You must understand that construction materials like laterite and granite that we use come from Ogun State.

So, the construction vehicles have to make way and come back there. They are part of the traffic. It’s not an easy choice and I just want to appeal that people bear with us. We mean well. We are aware of the problems. If we are all patient, this thing will go away and the reward will be better.”

Commenting on what has been described by some motorists and commuters as the slow pace of work on the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway in an interview with Sunday Telegraph, Nigeria’s former Minister of Works, Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe, had said no significant improvement could be recorded in infrastructural development until the government goes into partnership with the private sector to develop infrastructure across Nigeria, saying Nigeria is a very poor country. “Every administration has a policy.

The policy at that time was public private partnership. That’s why I went to Harvard to study and when I came back, infrastructure concession council was set up so that we can give partnership on all infrastructure because government didn’t have enough money to complete projects.

 

“That was what we did and that was what everyone should be doing now. Government cannot fund all these things. You know, the person that is there now is my brother. Anything I say now will appear like I’m criticising him. And I don’t want to do so…ah! Government cannot do everything alone. That’s why we’re in this problem.

“There’s no money. Nigeria is a very poor country. We don’t have money to fund infrastructure. Federal Government has no money. Nigeria as a country has no money.

We don’t have money to fund infrastructure. It’s not possible. The best approach is to go into partnership with the private sector. As long as we want government to do everything, we’ll never move forward because there’s no money.”

 

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