LAST week, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, gave the Federal Government’s latest excuse regarding the perpetually ongoing reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. According to him, the project is suffering delay because of the drainage channel being constructed across the road by the Oyo State government in its Ibadan axis. Speaking in Abuja at the inaugural edition of President Muhammadu Buhari government’s Scorecard 2015-2023 Series organised by the Ministry of Information and Culture, a series which features ministers and top government officials and is designed to showcase the achievements of the government as it winds down, Fashola averred that the 127.6km expressway had recorded a lot of progress and appealed to motorists and commuters to endure the delays being encountered at the Ibadan and Lagos axes. His words: “The Oyo State government is building a drainage channel across the road, so we are having difficulties because the contractor has slowed down and we have to slow down too. We do not want to finish the road and come back to destroy it for the drainage channel construction. On the Lagos axis, we are working on the last six kilometres into Lagos; that is a very highly densely populated area.” The minister said the two axes were the last finishing touches to the completion of the project and pledged that it would be delivered soon.
But the minister had given exactly the same excuse in July. Speaking on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics, he had indicated that the road project was expected to be delivered by December 2022, specifically before Christmas. Noting that the Berger part of the road in Lagos being handled by Julius Berger Nigeria Plc had about 6km left to be completed while the Ibadan part of the road being handled by the Reynolds Construction Company (Nigeria) Limited had 15km, the former Lagos State governor had said that there was a challenge that had slowed down the pace of work in the Ibadan part of the road. According to him, the Oyo State government was constructing a drainage facility around the Ojoo part of the road and this had significantly slowed down the pace of work in that area. He, however, revealed that he was already in talks with the Oyo State governor, Mr. Seyi Makinde, to resolve the challenge.
The minister’s statement is baffling given the reality of the road reconstruction from the Ojoo end to the point where the Oyo State government is carrying out its bridge construction. It beggars rational belief that the Oyo State government could have virtually held up the project, especially as the construction companies handling the two divides of the Lagos-lbadan expressway have been seen to have broken down their constructions into phases. Fashola’s claim would only have been tenable if the Ojoo end of the expressway had been done to the point where Oyo State government is carrying out construction works.
Besides, Fashola’s July statement was more revealing than the one made last week. In the former statement, he referred to an interface with the state government on the issue. But in the latter, no notice was given on the results of the talks with the Oyo State government. The impression is given, perhaps inadvertently, that the Federal Government is interested more in a salad of excuses than in the completion of the project according to its promised completion date of December, and specifically before Christmas. Indeed, as we noted four years ago, when, in his national broadcast to herald the New Year, President Muhammadu Buhari restated the commitment of his administration to expediting action on the immediate rehabilitation and repair of a number of major highways across the six geopolitical zones of the country, he left out the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Nigeria’s busiest and most strategic road. We noted that while the 127.6 km Lagos-Ibadan Expressway remained the major route linking Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve centre, to other parts of the country, attempts by successive administrations to fix the 44-year-old road have been largely unsuccessful.
We have not been persuaded to change our view that the road has suffered from political intrigues and sheer lack of will even when the gains of completing it, including boosting trade and travel, reducing auto crashes and the attendant loss of lives and giving a big boost to the government’s drive for internally generated revenue, can hardly be quantified. The project has recently generated a controversy between the Federal Government and the Senate in the face of public agitations and outrage over the continued delay in its completion. In a perverse move, the National Assembly slashed the N31 billion initially budgeted for the project to a meagre N10 billion, and contractors had to suspend work before the release of the budgeted N10 billion. And in the course of the raging controversy, the government approved the contract for the expansion of the road, and that of the Abuja-Kano Expressway, to the tune of N155.7 billion. And now, the controversy is between the Federal Government and Oyo State, and it is needless!
In July this year, we drew the government’s attention to one adverse consequence of its foot-dragging on the project: the regular accidents on the road leading to the loss of lives at an alarming rate. As we noted, if vehicles are not running into one another, they are somersaulting and veering off the road in horrible incidents; petrol tankers explode at will, destroying everything in sight and causing endless gridlocks, and the pictures of road users burnt beyond recognition or damaged for life following tanker explosions are usually gory and infinitely disturbing. There is no reason to continue fostering this terrible state of affairs.
President Buhari, we intend to hold you and your administration to your word on completing the Lagos-Ibadan expressway before Christmas. Christmas is two months away and there is nothing to suggest that with determination, you cannot fulfill your pledge. We state once again that the huge number of people using the road and its linkage of the rest of the country to the most strategic ports should make it of utmost importance to quickly complete it and save users from further hassles and accidents. Since according to the Works Minister, a toll plaza is expected each in the Lagos, Ogun (Ogere) and Ibadan parts of the road when completed, there is no reason to delay such a potentially rich means of revenue for the government any further. We thank you in advance, Mr. President.
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