Lagos Ibadan Expressway: Endless Worry and Death On A Famished Road
For most part of the afternoon, tears streamed down Mrs. Christiana Odafe’s face. Nothing in the world would have given her the premonition that the journey from Lagos to Warri, to deliver a consignment of 600 bags of rice would end in misery, leaving her on the verge of bankruptcy. But as that reality dawned, more tears came tumbling down her forlorn face.
“I have lost a total of N5million belonging to me and my partner; our 600 bags of rice got burnt in the fire that happened on this road this morning. I even still owe the suppliers N300, 000, which I promised to pay after selling. Just see, everything is burnt,” she agonised, showing receipts for the razed wares to The Guardian.
Odafe’s ordeal like many others before happened on the Lagos Ibadan Expressway. The trailer, which was conveying her consignment, was one of the vehicles razed by a six-hour fire that engulfed the Danco filling station, near Shagamu end of the road on the morning of June 10.
It was the second time in two days that mysterious fires would engulf stretches of the highway, resulting in endless gridlocks and traffic snarls that lasted for most of the day. The huge billows of black smoke spiraling into the sky were enough to tell the story.
It was yet another fire incident that was sparked off by a fuel laden tanker. By the time others like Odafe were counting their losses, not less than 24 vehicles, and goods worth millions of Naira had been charred by the petrol-induced flames.
As such, the whole place had the feel of a bombed out scene; charred remains of vehicles littered the scene, just as men of the Nigeria Police Force and the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) battled up till about midday, to clear the debris that had been left behind by the fire that was said to have began in the wee hours of the morning.
For long stretches of the highway, motorists on their way to other parts of the country from Lagos were stranded, as both sides of the highway remained blocked. Many had to resort to unorthodox routes through push paths in the neighbouring villages of Mowe and Ibafo. Some even went as far as demolishing the dividing medians on the highway in order to wriggle out of the gridlock.
However, the Dana Air plane crash in Lagos on June 11, drew focus away from the losses suffered as a result of the fire on the Lagos Ibadan highway, leaving the likes of Odafe with no beam from the spotlight.
Endless search for a final solution
Nonetheless, questions have continued to pour in, with many Nigerians voicing their frustrations that the Lagos Ibadan Expressway, a major artery linking the nation’s commercial hub in Lagos to other parts of the country has remained in such an accident-inducing state. Nigerians are also fed up with the fact that since 2009, when what was described as a ground breaking concession of the road was done by the Federal Government to provide quick relief, nothing significant has been done on the project. Three years on however, the issues dogging the delivery of the promised “world class super highway” have continued to fester.
The state of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was one of the questions President Goodluck Jonathan had to answer during his recent media chat of June 24. Jonathan, while noting the excruciating pains that Nigerians were suffering on the road, said negotiations were ongoing over the project. The President cautioned that it would not be prudent to just move in and take over the road from Bi Courtney, the concessionaire citing the huge cost of judgment debts against government, running into N100billion, a result of such hasty actions that often bother on impunity and refusal to follow due process.
The President said: “There’s a contractual agreement between government and the private sector… And there are legal issues there. Because government has already entered a contractual obligation with the person (concessionaire), so government cannot just go and take over the road; because he has made some commitments and spent some money.
“For three years now, I was in government as the vice president and the transactions were done, so I cannot claim ignorance of it. But, we’re trying to sort out things. The owner of the company is a well known person. Even, he’s been helping us in stabilising the education sector. He’s very useful. He is a successful businessman.”
A project dogged by many hitches
Since May 26, 2009, when the concessionaire of the project, Bi-Courtney Highway Services Ltd got the project from the Federal authorities, execution has been dogged by major hitches, as well as lack of progress with the major reconstruction. The concession is worth N89 billion.
One of the major issues the concessionaire identified as an impediment to its work is the clearing of structures on the right of way. It pointed out that the onus to clear the “right of way” rests squarely with the Federal Government. For this to be done, properties have to be enumerated and valued, after which compensation would be paid to legal occupants.
Three years on, the only noticeable action with regards to the “right of way” is the marking of buildings billed to be demolished. The Guardian gathered from some members of communities in the right of way, like Mowe and Ibafo that no compensation whatsoever has been paid out to them for their properties, marked for removal. Previous attempts by the concessionaire to clear the right of way precipitated a rash of court actions from property owners forcing it to withdraw.
Apart from the right of way however, there were issues with the concession agreement itself. As recent as March a team from the Federal Government, including the Minister of Works, the Attorney-General of the Federation as well as the Director-General of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission looked into the concession. The review concluded that the successful implementation of the contract suffered a lot of hitches arising from various issues which were, “by omission, not addressed by both parties, culminating in material breaches of some fundamental clauses in the agreement by parties.”
The review also advocated that “solution to the problems being encountered on the concession is to renegotiate the concession contract in order to put it on a proper pedestal to succeed.”
“When our partners saw the problems that arose at the Lekki Epe Expressway, they became cautious reasoning that what if the project is finished and the people in the communities decide to kick against tolling? There is no security in the agreement signed to adequately protect investors, and that is one of the reasons why there must be a review.
“Everybody can see the problem that LCC is having, and all these things have to be put in place, so that the investors would have the confidence to put their money down for this project to be done.”
While Bi-Courtney says the issues spotlighted by the review have been laid to rest by the intervention of the Presidency, it also talks about the political obstacles it has had to face in some Action Congress of Nigeria-controlled South West states over the project. Specifically, there was a strident push by the governors of the southwest to take over the Lagos Ibadan Expressway. The argument was that the road was just too strategic to the economic well-being of the states of the region, to be left in the condition that it is in presently. The Ogun State government has been the most vociferous in this campaign to get the concession revoked, and the road handed over to the states. It has thus been at loggerheads with Bi-Courtney over the location of some project sites, with the concessionaire complaining that its effort to work on the road were being stalled by harassment from the government of Ogun State.
This talk of sabotage and harassment seems to get credence from a January 24 letter from the Public Private Partnership Department of the Federal Ministry of Works addressed to the General Manager of the Ogun State Urban and Regional Planning Board. Parts of the letter read: “This is to inform you that the Shagamu Interchange and the loops and the Shagamu-Benin Expressway are all Federal Highways owned by the FGN with all the adjoining lands and setbacks called the Right-of-Way as defined in the Federal Highways Act of 1971, which subsists.
“They were all acquired, compensated and gazette accordingly. Your actions as complained by Bi-Courtney is a clear case of deliberate trespassing/encroachment which I understand the Ogun State Government by the last attached letter do not intend to break the good working relationship with the Federal Ministry of Works/FGN.
“I am therefore hereby asking that you release the equipment of Bi-Courtney, our concessionaire, which I learnt that you have seized immediately, and stay clear of the FGN land and withdraw the security you mounted there at Shagamu Interchange.
“Please treat as urgent, as your actions are circumventing the agreement signed by the grantor/FGN with Bi-Courtney and your immediate resolving this issue will avoid embarrassing consequences.”
Bi-Courtney: work’s started, but not according to plan
Perhaps, as a result of all the knocks it has gotten due to the non commencement reconstruction work, the concessionaire has finally mobilised to site. However, the plan is being executed in a way different from what it initially planned to do. From its initial work plan, the reconstruction of the road was to begin from the Lagos end, but now, the clearing and excavation for additional lanes have started at stretches on the Ibadan end.
According to the Bi-Courtney spokesman, the plan was to start the reconstruction from Lagos, and move towards Ogun. “But we have been having a lot of issues concerning the right of way, and the acquisition of land to site trailer parks. There are a lot of other issues that are political. So because of the pains that people are having on that road, we have to just do something because we cannot allow politics to bog down this project.
“We have moved to the Ibadan end, where there are less issues and encumbrances, and the right of way there is not been violated the way it has been here in Ogun and Lagos. So we have room to really work there, that is why we have deployed a lot of equipment; on both sides of the road, work is ongoing, and it is extensive, even though that is not in accordance with the initial work plan, we just have to move.
He continued: “It is like starting in the middle, something you are supposed to start from this part, which is the Lagos State end of the road, according to the plan. Now, we are starting towards Oyo State, where we won’t be given any headaches. “The only thing is that we have to wait; the Federal Government is making some intervention now. It is discussing with the state governors to resolve some of the crisis, and the President himself has taken up the issue of the right of way, which we believe would be resolved soon.”
He said because of the rate of accidents on the road, Nigerians are least concerned about the obstacles the project was facing, but are only interested in the delivery of a motorable high that would spare them the trauma of the past years. “All the people want is for us to do this road and give them a good road. We just have to move; if they are disturbing us on this side, we move to the other side, and let people see that it is not about money or capacity. The only problem is just politics. Up till today, as we are talking, the bitumen plant that we bought at $6.5million, is still with the Ogun State government. They seized it for over a year now, and they seized the yard where we wanted to install the plant then, saying that in just 100days, they would build a trailer park there. But it is a year now and there is nothing there. So you can see that it was a deliberate effort to stall the project, and they have been doing it on and on.”
Trailers as a major headache
A good number of the accidents and fires that have occurred on the Lagos Ibadan Expressway in recent times were caused by fuel-laden tankers. Addressing the nightmarish realities of the tankers has been a major issue for law enforcers on the highway. Enquiries by The Guardian at Ogere, showed that there has been a phenomenal increase in the number of articulated vehicles carrying fuel and other inflammable products, parked on the shoulders of the highway since tanker drivers were displaced in Apapa, Lagos, last month. The Federal Road safety Commission (FRSC) has had its hands full trying to minimize the damaging impact of the presence of so many tankers.
“The first thing that we did is that we created eight temporary trailer parks to take these trucks off the road, and they are still there. All that we need is the cooperation of the state government and the federal agencies to enforce the law, such that these people will stay off the road shoulders when somewhere has been arranged for their parking,” said Dipo Kehinde, the Bi Courtney spokesman.
But the tanker drivers are reluctant to use the parks. They told The Guardian during a tour of the area that the parks were swampy, causing their vehicles to get stuck. They also feared that their vehicles could capsize when parked in such swampy terrain, causing them and their principals huge losses.
It is thus apparent that the problem of the trailers parking on the roadside, with inflammable products, that have led to colossal losses, in lives and properties would not go away soon. According to estimates, building a permanent park for trailers would gulp an amount in the region of N4billion. This makes the reconstruction of the highway and its ancillary facilities like the trailer parks the only way to keep the trailers and their fire-inducing cargoes far enough from causing havoc for other road users.
From: The Guardian