By all accounts, the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway is the busiest inter-state expressway in the entire African continent, spanning a total of 127.6 kilometres (79.3 miles) dual carriage expressway connecting Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State through Ogun and Lagos States, all hosting some of Nigeria’s largest cities. It is also the major route to the northern, southern and eastern parts of Nigeria. The expressway is the oldest in Nigeria, commissioned in August 1978 during the military era.
Legally speaking, every government has the statutory responsibility to provide roads for its citizens. In this regard, section 15 (3) of the 1999 Constitution provides as follows:
“3. For the purpose of promoting national integration, it shall be the duty of the State to:
(a) provide adequate facilities for and encourage free mobility of people, goods and services throughout the Federation.”
This was what prompted the All Progressive Congress, in its manifesto, to covenant with the people of Nigeria, that APC shall:
“Embark on a National Infrastructural Development Programme as a PPP that will ensure the (a) construction of 3,000km of Superhighway including service trunks and (b) building of up to 4,800km of modern railway lines – one third to be completed by 2019.”
In the last four years, some measure of enforcement, has been accorded this promise, in some parts of the country, but that has eluded the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Former President Goodluck Jonathan flagged off the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway in 2012, but the road was thereafter abandoned. Even in its own records, this must be the longest road construction for Julius Berger, which can now no longer be referred to as the construction giant. The APC inherited the road construction in 2015 but also could not complete it as promised, until its first term expired. Traveling from Lagos to Ibadan is now like a journey to hell, with the attendant dangers to life and property. The road construction has been described as one of the most expensive in the world, with periodic variations by the contractors.
Last week, Nigerians were saved another round of suffering, when the planned road blockage, earlier scheduled for August 3, was shifted to September 2, when most pupils and students will be returning to their various schools. The questions to be asked are just too many: why should any road at all, take more than seven years to repair? What is the cost of this repair? Who is actually in charge of it? What will be the end result of the repairs, as presently now, the sections that were said to have been completed have started to fail, in many parts, especially in the Sagamu axis. Now the main puzzle is why the contractor has not deemed it fit to construct an alternative road as a form of bye-pass to enable it concentrate on the repair and make it durable.
The Lagos-Ibadan expressway has become a death trap for many, with long hours of traveling experience for motorists and road users alike. We have heard of very heart rending stories of how a one-hour journey from Lagos to Ibadan turned into several hours of nightmare; we read about the experiences of people who departed Nigeria for London and got there ahead of those traveling from Lagos to Ibadan. What about couples and their guests who got stranded, pregnant women that delivered whilst on the road and other emergency situations.
In September 2018, about eight friends took off from Italy, en-route Benin, for a grand wedding ceremony. Their only error was to go through the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, as the bus in which they were traveling collided with another vehicle and many of them died. Not long thereafter, a luxury bus conveying youth corps members from the East rammed into a stationary truck close to the Lagos end of the expressway and several of them and other passengers lost their lives. These are just few examples. Some years ago, Chief Rufus Giwa was on his way to Lagos and had called his wife to prepare pounded yam for him, but he never made it to Lagos, as his car ran into a deep pothole a little after Ibadan and after somersaulting many times, he died. The deaths keep occurring on a daily basis, virtually due to the same errors.
Now, let me ask the real question, what will happen in the event of the planned road closure? I have been informed that Lagos to Epe by road has broken down in many portions of it, no thanks to trucks bearing materials to a massive project in Ibeju Lekki area. And even when you finally make it to Epe, the road from there to Ijebu-Ode is like signing your death warrant, given that only trucks and SUVs can ply the road successfully. So then, how do we handle the spill-over effect of the planned closure of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway? The road from Ijebu-Ode to Ibadan is collapsing and it is not constantly manned by security men. So, how do we move around during the closure, as most nearby destinations of Abeokuta, Ibadan, Osogbo, Ekiti, etc, have no functional airports?
What then exactly, is the problem with the busiest highway in Nigeria? Every year, the completion date is changed and shifted with no hope of completion in sight. If you ask the Minister of Works, he will point to the National Assembly; if you ask the contractor, Julius Berger, it will point to the federal government. Then you couldn’t help but wonder: is this the same Julius Berger that built all the roads in Abuja, the same Julius Berger that built the Stadium in Akwa Ibom, the same company with roots in Germany, that is building a major road in Nigeria at such snail speed! What exactly is going on? Should we be building any major road at this time, without functional lamps to illuminate and guide the users? With all the security challenges all over the place? So, why has the Lagos-Ibadan expressway become so intractable? What is so special about a 127km road, considering that the amount of money and time that have gone into it?
I join other Nigerians, to appeal to the government to ensure that the contractors handling this major road are well mobilized and supervised to deliver the project before the year 2020 projected date of completion. It should be a matter of corporate responsibility and honour, for Julius Berger and RCC, being major stakeholders in the highway project in Nigeria, to build an enduring road, in record time and in that wise stop the carnage and spilling of blood on this road and for all other stakeholders, FRSC, transport unions, religious organization, etc, to cooperate with government and the contractors, to ease traffic whilst the road construction lasts. Before the partial closure slated for September, it will be good for all pot holes to be filled for towing trucks to be on standby to remove vehicles that may develop faults along the way. Once traffic is moving smoothly, all the time, surely we may not experience the usual hiccups and delays now associated with traveling on this road.
Since the government owes a duty to provide free and motorable roads for free mobility, it has become more a denial of the fundamental rights of citizens, when they are frustrated and cannot move from one part of the country to another. And for the sake of the precious lives of Nigerians, Julius Berger and RCC should just go ahead and complete the road and leave Nigerians with the government to help recover their expenses. If the Lagos Airport road is any example to go by, then the contractors should wake up and put all their expertise to work, in order to achieve smooth completion of the road repairs. We cannot afford to drag this major construction beyond the present completion date.