Because of elections, Lagos-Ibadan rail line scaled down to single-track

•We will deliver the project next week —Govt

As the one-year deadline set by the Federal Government for the completion of the Lagos-Ibadan standard guage rail line project elapses, AKINWALE ABOLUWADE, TOLA ADENUBI, OLAYINKA OLUKOYA and TYAVZUA SAANYOL write that there is still a long way to go in birthing the new initiative even as property owners in the rail line’s right of way are apprehensive of their fate.

When the Federal Government indicated its decision to construct a $1.5 billion standard guage rail line from Lagos to Ibadan in order to boost transportation, not a few people celebrated the news. And when it became public that the contractor handling the job had been mandated to complete the project within one year, several people felt exceedingly upbeat about it.

FG, states, councils share N649.198bn

However, as the deadline for the construction work being handled by the China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation expires one year after the project commenced, tongues have been wagging as it comes clear that the hope of finishing the project at stipulated time is dicey. At the time that Saturday Tribune visited the construction sites in Lagos, Ogun and Oyo states, indication emerged that there were still much to do on the rail project as work was about 70 percent to completion stage in some sections. This, critics and other observers have said, is a hit below the belt for the President Muhammadu Buhari administration which had wished to deliver it by the end of this month.

With encumbrances delaying the Lagos end of the project, the Federal Government has shifted attention to completing the project from Iju area of Lagos to Abeokuta before the elections.

During his last inspection of the project at Ijoko area of Ogun State, this week, the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, explained that works have improved from what was observed during the last visit which occurred about two weeks ago.

The Minister, who was represented by the Managing Director of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Fidet Okhiria stated that, “The contractor is presently doing 1.5km track laying per day, and from Ijoko in Ogun State where we are now to Iju in Lagos is 10km. So we expect them to get to Iju in seven days.”

It was observed that the contractor was trying to meet the February deadline of the project and concentration has shifted to laying of one-lane tracks instead of the two-lane tracks that was being laid up to Kajola area of the project in Ogun State.

“The minister wants us to deliver before the elections, so we had to concentrate on laying one-way section of the tracks for now.

“If you noticed, up to around Kajola area, we have laid the tracks on a two-lane basis. But due to pressure to deliver from the government, we have shifted focus on just laying one-lane up to Ijoko. We will continue on the one-way down to Iju so that a train ride from Iju to Abeokuta can be possible before the elections,” one of the workers employed as labourers on the project told Saturday Tribune on the condition of not been named.

At Abeokuta, close to the seat of government, the track laying ends at an underground tunnel where the train is expected to pass through. On the Lagos end, the track laying is expected to stop for now at Iju just before the level crossing. A train ride on the Lagos-Ibadan rail from Iju to Abeokuta is currently the focus of government for pre-elections purposes, while work will continue to other parts of the project after the elections.

The Managing Director of Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC), Okhiria Fidet, has however disclosed that the Corporation will commence the test run of the rail line in the first week of February 2019.

Saturday Tribune reporter who was part of the NRC team that inspected the site of the ongoing rail line on Wednesday revealed that the contractors (CCECC), because project of time factor, have decided to construct one lane from Iju to Agbado.

It is obversed that the laying of tracks, which is what CCECC is currently doing from Iju to Agbado can not go beyond Abeokuta before the end of February.

Again, there are doubts that the rail tracks will go beyond Iju into Lagos main city within this period where challenges like the Constain and Jibowu bridges and compensation on properties are confronting the project.

The laying of the tracks may not also go beyond Abeokuta due to the constraint of personnel and equipment on the side of CCECC.

Amaechi had on several occasions pleaded with the contractors to bring in more personnel and equipment hence they were the one to also construct Port-Kano rail line, this plea has yielded little result.

On the 3rd of January, when Amaechi inspected the project, he asked the contractors to bring in more personnel and equipment to ensure that the Iju-Agbado section of the Lagos-Ibadan rail project was completed in the next two weeks.

The Minister, who spoke to the media after supervision in Abeokuta said that “the contractors argument is that they had issues excavating within that section due to lack of equipment but I think they are done with  that and it remains earthwork”.

Amaechi, who was obviously not happy with the pace of work on that particular section of the project  lamented that “Nothing has changed much since the last time we were here” adding that CCECC was not getting enough materials and personnel to do the job.

The Minister stated  that the test running of the project will start in the next three weeks. “Getting to Abeokuta, you will see that there’s an improvement but the problem they have now is the civil work between Agbado and Iju which is critical to me because I don’t think passengers will go to Agbado to join the train.

“I believe that the closer we are to Lagos the better for the rail and that is why I had to tell them to tell me what they will do about this before the next two weeks, although there’s a huge improvement up to this point (Papalanto). I want them to speed up the construction from Iju to Agbado.

He said part of the solution to the congestion around Lagos sea port is an efficient rail line. “ You can argue that the narrow gauge is there but it is not efficient. But the moment you fix this then those goods will be transferred to the rail and then the logjam will disappear.”

Amaechi noted that  “the moment we do the section from Iju to the sea port, then most of those goods, especially the ones gong to Ibadan will be on the rail lines,” he stated.

On his  part, Xia Lijum one of CCECC engineers  said: “the Minister has his own plans and we just have to cooporate. Nobody is comfortable, the pressure is much because we are working 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week,” he concluded.

Another bone of contention is that the ongoing rail project which, hitherto was celebrated by many, is now a source of worry to some communities where houses and other property would be affected.


Compensation for property owners

Athough the Minister of Transportation had said the 1,400 houses marked for demolition on the new rail’s right of way would not be demolished so as to save the Federal Government about N2.8 billion projected for compensation, many are still worried that some structures would still be affected.

Findings showed that some property owners  at Omi-Adio and Ologuneru areas in Ibadan, Oyo State are currently running helterskelter to save their marked property from demolition. Messrs Adio Gbadamosi and A. Javeh whose properties are  in the railway’s right of way said it has been traumatic to learn that their properties may give way to the project.

Mr Gbadamosi said: “I earnestly pray that the promise that the Minister gave that houses would not be demolished in order to cut cost would be kept. Our houses are results of many years of toil and self denial and it would be disastrous to render us homeless. To this end, all of us that are affected by the decision made a representation to the Oyo State government towards the end of last year to appeal that the affected properties be spared.”

One-lane track.

As things are, most of the structures standing on the way of the Standard Guage Rail line that are due either for relocation or demolition (as the case may be) have not been cleared.

Although at the conception stage the Standard Guage Rail line project was  scheduled for completion within three years; it was learnt that the Federal Government later reduced the tenor to one year to ensure that it becomes operational before the general election holding in February and March this year.

Plan to complete the three-year project, whose first phase commenced from Lagos to Ibadan, under 12 months was concretised as the Minister of Transportation took over its monitoring in order to fastrack the work.

The new rail line, which is the flagship project of President Buhari administration, is scheduled to connect the seaports to major cities and towns for easy and mass movement of goods and services from the ports down to the interlands, from south up north. However, despite the successes recorded in the Ogun State axis of the project where a 32km test run of the rail has already been completed, not much has been achieved in the seaports area.

Findings by Saturday Tribune indicated that while construction works in Ogun and Oyo states are already about 70 percent completed, the construction company still has a lot to do in the Lagos axis as a result of need to relocate some facilities that are on the construction path of the rail project.

For instance, some gas pipelines and other critical installations of economic importance in and around the Lagos Ports at Apapa that are marked for demolition and removal are yet to be worked on.

According to the minister, as a result of their delicate state and importance to the economy of the nation, a cautious approach is being applied for their relocation.

He said, “These encumbrances have slowed down the Lagos-Ibadan rail project at the ports, thereby forcing government to look at alternatives ahead of the general elections. In the words of the  Minister during one of his routine inspection in 2018, “If we cannot link the ports before the close of the year, we might as well look at taking off the project for now from Ebutte-Metta Junction.”


Lagos flyovers as encumberancies

Another major encumbrance delaying the Lagos-Ibadan rail in Lagos are the major flyovers in the city. One of the flyovers links Ikorodu Road to Ojuelegba in Lagos. While the Federal Government and the Lagos State government have agreed to pull down the bridges, construction of proposed alternative routes to avoid traffic chaos in the area is yet to be executed by the contractor. Another flyover marked for demolition at Ijora/Constain has also not been demolished due to absence of alternative routes for motorists.

With all these encumbrances, the contractor is yet to commence track laying in many parts of Lagos. Aside the train station location which is being built in Ebutte-Metta, no track laying has commenced as many of the encumbrances still remain.

It was gathered that painstaking strategies are required by the contractor to address the challenge in order to guide against possible backfire effects that may arise in the course of the exercise.

Even though flyovers, oil and gas pipelines and port structures still pose a challenge at the Lagos end of the rail project, encumber like the Military Signal formation in Yaba has been demolished. In densely occupied areas like Mushin, many buildings, mostly residential, standing in the way of the project have also been demolished. Also, at Ebutte-Metta where a massive train station is proposed, many structures have been pulled down, including structures belonging to the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC). The demolition exercise has swept through many Lagos towns, including adjoining Ogun State towns like Agbado where the entire railway station and many structures were demolished.


Critics not impressed

However, while many people have described the standard guage rail project as commendable, critics have noted that the decision to reduce the construction tenor of the rail project was a needles decision taken merely to score cheap point during a presidential campaign.

The spokesman of Afenifere, Mr Yinka Odumakin, for instance, described the ongoing rail project as one of the several failings of President Buhari’s administration going by the failed timing.

He said, “most of the projects under the President Muhammadu Buhari’s government are more of propaganda. Like someone once said –show me one of the projects by this administration that was completed. Their government is known for blatant lies and promises cancelled. Their government is challenged. It would have been surprising if they had succeeded.”

In Oyo State, the new rail project runs through Eleso village, Omi Adio through Ologuneru. Unlike in Lagos and Ogun states where several buildings and other sensitive facilities were initially billed for demolition, fewer structures fell within the right of way in Oyo State.

In Oyo, the rail line is already being fixed in some areas but the slippers have not yet been laid. During Saturday Tribune’s visit to Ologuneru, the residents said it would be too early for them to take appreciable step on the matter since the state government has not responded to their letter of appeal.

A journalist living at Eleso community, Ibadan, Mr Joseph Okwuofu, said, “The people in my community are really excited about the ongoing rail project. Definitely, it would attract activities to the community. Much as one is happy about the project, it may not be possible to complete and launch it before the elections judging by the stage of work”.

Meanwhile, at the Abeokuta end. Saturday Tribune noted that the first phase of the tunnel construction has been completed, work on the second phase is at advanced stage.

When our correspondent visited the site at Laderin area of Abeokuta which is about a few metres away from the State Secretariat, earthwork on the second phase of the tunnel was ongoing.

Information available to Saturday Tribune shows that the work might soon be completed in Ogun State going by the level of work being carried out at the site so far.

It was gathered that work has been completed along Ifo, Itori and Obada corridors.

There was no one at the site to comment on the pace of work on the project during Saturday Tribune’s visit.

In view of the coming elections, the contractor was mandated to ensure a train ride from Iju in Lagos down to Abeokuta or Ibadan is feasible before the elections. In the words of a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Timothy Callistus, “If only the rail can be completed in good time, difficulty in movement to and fro Lagos hinterland and mainland, which is associated with traffic congestion on the roads will become a thing of the past.

“For somebody like me, I work on the Island but live in Iju. Every day, I go through traffic hassles on Lagos roads just to get to my work place. The same thing plays out in the evening when coming back home. I think the rail initiative is a good idea, if only it is completed in good time, and not abandoned irrespective of the outcome of the general elections.

“While we read in the news that track laying has started in some parts of Ogun, here in Lagos, no tracks have been laid. We hope work continues on the project irrespective of the outcome of the elections because it will ease traffic congestion  experienced in Lagos.”

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