Sunday Magazine

Unending agonies of construction of Lagos- Ibadan expressway

Despite being a major artery linking Nigeria’s commercial hub, Lagos State to other parts of the country, the Lagos-Ibadan expressway has been a source of pain and frustration for a great number of road users, who daily ply the road. This is due to severe traffic snarls, robbery and other crimes. LADESOPE LADELOKUN writes on the plight of road users and the need by the Federal Government to expeditiously conclude work on Nigeria’s busiest road

 

At first, Kunle Awopeju was too dazed to come to terms with what hit him. Tongue-tied, words momentarily left him as shock kept him glued to his seat. Like many helpless Nigerians with gory tales, who got trapped in the nagging traffic problem on the Lagos/Ibadan expressway, Awopeju got his dose of a sad drama that saw traffic robbers cart away his phones and other personal effects, leaving him with injuries earned from heavy pummelling.

 

In the full glare of other motorists in broad daylight, the gentlemen of the highway, at the Isheri portion of the road, he said, broke his window screen and beat him black and blue for not willingly allowing them access to his car before robbing him and vanishing into the Isheri River under the bridge.

“It was just like a drama. I couldn’t believe it,” he told Sunday Telegraph. “I was too shocked to talk several minutes after I was robbed. Those guys could have killed me and people were just minding their businesses and the next thing? They jumped into the river before I could even say a word.

 

It was after they had left that other motorists came. People shared similar stories about how the Isheri river provided an escape route for traffic robbers. They talked and talked but the damage had been done.”

 

Adjudged in some quarters as the busiest inter-state route, like Awopeju, a great number of commuters and motorists tell tales of nightmarish experiences on the ever-busy road and recurrent gridlock occasioned by its reconstruction.

 

For some observers, the failure of the government to complete the 127.6km road in over two decades when the idea was first mooted smacks of a government lacking in gravitas as they lament being served a sandwich of broken promises. Only last month, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said in an interview on Channels Television that the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway would 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,” But, following what they deemed slow pace of work on the project, some residents and motorists plying Lagos-Ibadan Expressway have raised doubts over the 2022 date for the completion of the road, stating that no serious step had been taken on construction of some key infrastructure planned for the project like bus stops, toll gates, laybys and, paedestrian bridges.

 

Sunday Telegraph gathered that the features of the new design include a fly-over at the Redemption Camp area, new inter-changes, new drainage system, recessed service areas, lay-by for emergency parking, trailer parks, weigh bridges, foot bridges in heavy paedestrian areas and electronic traffic control/ informative signs.

 

Earlier, Sunday Telegraph had reported how residents of Ogunrun Ori, a community in Ogun State, said to be in existence since 1837, were in panic mode over the planned construction of the Lotto Interchange Bridge along the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway.

 

They argued that the entire community could be wiped off after over 800 buildings were re-portedly marked for demolition. Meanwhile, for many business owners who transport goods ranging from electronics to automobile, industrial to agricultural products, the road is not just another road as it is identified as one pivotal to the survival of businesses.

 

A diary of heartbreaks

In a televised presidential media chat in 2012, the then Nigerian president, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, had lamented the state of the road, stating that it would be irresponsible to continue to allow Nigerians to suffer untold hardship. Promising to fix the road, the Goodluck Jonathan government terminated the concessioning of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway granted to Bi-Courtney consortium on May 2009.

 

He said: “As a responsible government, I don’t think we can allow Nigerians to continue to suffer. All of us in government, we feel pained that the country is held to ransom because of a transaction that probably was not consummated properly because of some kind of issues. But we cannot continue like this. We will intervene on that road.”

 

Shedding more light on why the Federal Government had to terminate the concession of the road to Bi-Courtney, the then Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, said the Federal Ministry of Works had engaged the services of Julius Berger Plc and R.C.C Nigeria Limited to commence work immediately on the reconstruction of the expressway.

 

“The Federal Government today terminated the concession of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway granted to Bi-Courtney Consortium on 8th May, 2009. “The termination of the concession agreement by Bi-Courtney consortium and especially the failure of the company to reach financial closure as provided for in the agreement.

 

Due to the senseless carnages on this important expressway which is part of Arterial Route A1, the Federal Government has also decided to embark on the emergency reconstruction of the expressway. Consequently, the Federal Ministry of Works has engaged the services of Julius Berger Plc and R.C.C Nigeria Limited to commence work immediately on the reconstruction of the expressway.

 

“While Julius Berger would handle Section 1: from Lagos to Shagamu interchange, RCC Nigeria Limited will be responsible for section II: from Shagamu to Ibadan. The Federal Government wishes to assure Nigerians that while it will continue to uphold the sanctity of contracts entered into by the Federal Government, it will not shy away from implementing provisions of the contract agreement dealing with non-performance on the part of the contracting party,” he said.

 

According to Jonathan, the reconstruction was expected to accelerate the economic development of Nigeria and that the government would mobilise the necessary funds to ensure the completion of the project in 30 months, even when the contractors had been given a 48-month timeline to complete it.

 

But a time frame of three years was initially given for the completion of the road in 2016 when the contract was re-awarded by the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government. In what concerned stakeholders described as a show of crass irresponsibility, checks revealed that the executive allocated N30billion to the project in the 2017 budget  but it was indebted to contractors to the tune of N15 billion.

 

But members of the National Assembly would eventually cut the vote to N11 billion- a development that, observers said, crippled work on the project that year.

 

However, in December 2018, the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos, Mr Adedamola Kuti, announced the extension in the completion of the road till December 2019 to accommodate additional works on the road, which was just approved by the Federal Government “The end of 2018 is no longer feasible; what we have is that the government has awarded additional work that is not part of the original contract.

 

When the contract was first awarded, we did not take into consideration the religious organisations that are springing up rapidly in the area. “So now, we have to make provision for toll gates, flyovers and plazas among other additions. So, the completion date has been extended.

 

We need additional one year to complete the work that has been added,’ he said. Also, Coordinating Director, Highway Construction and Rehabilitation, Funso Adebiyi, had said that the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway would be completed and totally opened to traffic in December 2021.

 

More tales of woe
Narrating how the frequent traffic snarls on the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway has compelled him to relocate to Lagos during week days, returning to his family only at weekends, a banker, Adeolu Kehinde, said: ” Working in Lagos and going back to my family at weekends is a tough decision I had to take to continue to provide the immediate needs of my family.

 

When I relocated here two years ago, I resumed late at most of the time in the first two weeks. I had to find a church to stay temporarily before I got a single room apartment to rest my head during the week. Since I have no other job, whatever I can do to keep my job, I do it.”

 

For his part, a businessman, Ajibade Okanlawon, described the road as the most unpredictable road in Nigeria.

 

“This minute, the road is free and the next minute it’s occupied. And in course of getting to their destinations quickly, some just throw caution to the wind and ply inappropriate routes just because they are in a hurry. In one of such cases, a hit-and-run driver killed a commuter, who was completely unaware a commercial bus was coming behind him.

 

Road safety officials really need to do more than they are currently doing on that road. They are supposed to enforce the law but sometimes, they are the law breakers. Recently, a commercial bus driver was not supposed to ply a particular route but knowing they could bribe the FRSC officials and two soldiers on dutý, they did with just N500. Only God knows how much they would go home with that day.”

In a chat with Sunday Telegraph, a lawyer, Peter Ofili, said it was insensitive of the contractors, Julius Berger, to take two sides of the road simultaneously in the name of road rehabilitation without sparing a thought for road users. “Let me confess upfront that I have a knife that doesn’t leave my car in case some the hoodlums that are in the middle of traffic launch any attack. I also have a balm that’s always in my car for body pains due the regular gridlock on that road. It’s not funny.

 

Do you know you can’t be sure you’ll keep any appointment if you ply this road? I’ve been stuck here for a whole day; not once, not twice. And the sad thing is, you can’t just leave your car and mount a bike if you’re not in a commercial bus. I believe there should be a way we can make things easier for ourselves. That a road is under construction should not be a reason for people to go through so much pain.

 

“Why, for example, should the two sides of the road be closed at the same time in the name of road rehabilitation without sparing a thought? Why can’t Julius Berger create viable alternative routes to cushion the paralysing diversions that they impose on this busy road even at the most ill-advised moment? When you compare the experience at the Ibadan- Sagamu Interchange end of the highway, which is handled by Reynolds Construction Company (RCC), you wonder if the people here (Julius Berger)know what they are doing.

What’s improper planning got to do with it? – NITP

 

Baring his mind on the hardship and frustration said to be precipitated by frequent traffic snarls, a town planner, Bade Ogidan, said : “Some of the problems on that road are traceable to improper planning and poor adherence to land use control. We got it all wrong by allowing traffic and pedestrian attractions like church camps and developments at the adjoining villages close is a huge mistake.

 

The real problem stems from allowing direct access to an expressway without going through ramps, interchanges and exits .” For the Chairman of the Lagos branch of the Nigerian Institute of Town Planners, Ayo Adejumo, he has a contrary opinion. According to him, having the camps of religious bodies along the road does not smack of lack of planning, stating that workable traffic control measures can be put in place.

 

“I disagree that lack of planning is responsible for the problems people experience on that road. Yes, we cannot say religious centres cannot be there. Yes, they contribute. There’s no doubt about that. It’s the busiest corridor in Nigeria. You know Lagos, being the commercial hub, in Nigeria and that road is the most important road in Nigeria.

 

What I think government can do is to put in place workable traffic control measures and I think some of them have been doing that. What I think government can do is what they are trying to do, which is to widen the road to make it more motorable,” he told Sunday Telegraph.

 

However, the Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, said the incessant gridlocks on the road can be blamed on indiscipline on the part of road users. Speaking through its Public Education Officer, Ogun State Sector Command, Florence Okpe, the corps in a statement said: “Commuter activities along the corridor have also affected motorisation, coupled with traffic indiscipline by some reckless drivers that take advantage of gridlocks to attempt driving against traffic.”

 

According to the immediate past FRSC Ogun State Sector Commander and current Commander FRSC Academy in Enugu State, Clement Oladele: “The FRSC is working in concert with the construction company, Berger on introducing additional measures to cushion the hardship motorists are undergoing as a result of the construction efforts.

 

“This includes encouraging the construction company to speed up rehabilitation work and also open up areas that have been fairly completed for public use. Motorists are enjoined to cooperate with the FRSC and sister traffic agencies in ensuring the free flow of traffic while driving along the road corridor and other corridors in the country. Reports on traffic infraction and other traffic emergencies can be made to the Federal Road Safety Corps through the FRSC’s toll-free number, 122.”

We hardly get complaints these days – Police PRO

Reacting to complaints about high incidence of robbery on the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway in a phone interview with Sunday Telegraph, Police Public Relations Officer, Ogun State Command, Abimbola Oyeyemi, said: “On the long bridge, we’ve been having cases of robbery there ,especially when there was construction work going on there. It used to cause a lot of traffic jam on that road.

 

That’s the main reason the police team was stationary at that point. It’s a matter of handing and taking over. You’ll see policemen 24 hours at that long bridge all the time. .There might be opportunistic crime.

 

“There was a DPO there. The DPO was removed when two cases of robbery were recorded. There are cases where motorists’ vehicles broke down and policemen stayed with them till they fix their vehicles. Apart from the long bridge, we have police stations at other portions of the road.

 

We have Warewa that is covering long bridge. We have at Ojodu/Abiodun division that covers Berger/ Isheri axis. We have Ibafo division along the same road. We have Mowe division; we have the RCCG division. We have a division at Ogere. We have at Ishara. Ishara is covering up to Ogunmakin. And along that axis, do you know how many armed robbers have met their Waterloo? We gunned down five kidnappers and we recovered four AK 47 rifles.

 

You see, if there’s a robbery anywhere on that road and we’re not informed, there’s nothing we can do. “But when the road construction was ongoing at Long Bridge, we used to have complaints about robbery. We hardly get such complaints these days.”

 

Meanwhile, on August 9, 2022, eyewitnesses said suspected hoodlums attacked some motorists at the Long bridge and Kara ends of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, insisting that about 20 people were allegedly abducted. Narrating his experience in a Facebook post, Gbenga Obaleye, wrote:“This is not to spoil any tribe. Members in my church were coming from camp this morning at 5.30am.

 

The Fulani came out from Kara where they used to sell cows. 20 people have been taken into the bush- that little bush.” Also in the early hours of August 10,2022, a robbery incident was said to have occurred on the long bridge, near Warewa bus stop.

 

Confirming the incident, the Divisional Police Officer at the Warewa Police Station, Abdulfathai Ogunsanya, told a national newspaper (not Sunday Telegraph) that, “My men are at the scene of the crime now. We have not got any comprehensive report. So, we cannot tell you whether someone was killed or not.”

 

Govt can’t fund infrastructure alone – Senator Ogunlewe

Commenting on what has been described by some motorists and commuters as the slow pace of work on the Lagos/Ibadan Expressway, Nigeria’s former Minister of Works, Chief Adeseye Ogunlewe, said no significant improvement can 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 should be an agency of the Federal Government that we should hand over this infrastructural development to, so that they can invite private individuals to participate.

 

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.

 

Nigeria as a government has no money at all,” he told Sunday Telegraph. Asked if it’s true Nigeria is very poor or a case of reckless spending and looting in high places, Ogunlewe said: ” I’m telling you what we saw on ground. It’s not for an outsider to agree. What an outsider can do is to take the budget of the Federal Government and see how much has been allocated to each project and see if the project can be completed with that kind of money.

 

Where you have a project of N100 billion and you’re given N200 million every year, how many years will it take to complete that kind of project?

 

Reacting to his reported indictment and 12 other former ministers by the report of the Senate investigation into the alleged utilisation of more than N300 billion in the transportation sector during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Ogunlewe said: “I was praised by the Lokpobiri panel. How can they indict me?

 

During the period , there was nothing you could do without the due process certificate. Either to award contracts or spend money. So, how can anyone be indicted? How can you pay without certificate? There’s nothing to indict in that kind of administration. Government was run a lot more stricter then than now.

 

On his removal as minister, he said: ” It’s the person who appointed you that can remove you. What is the big deal there? It’s not a contract appointment. It’s just like a governor. He can appoint and replace you. You don’t have to do anything. He doesn’t have to give you any reason. Is it a full time employment? “

 

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