Ten years after the Federal Government commenced the rehabilitation of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, the project is still a case of so near, yet so far. Nowadays, there is much hubbub on the highway, all in the name of reconstruction, but progress is insufferably sluggish. Inevitably, there is traffic bottleneck almost on a daily basis, particularly on the Lagos-Sagamu Interchange section. On Tuesday, this section was completely locked down for hours on end. In spite of the hardship the reconstruction has imposed on motorists, commuters and business, there is yet uncertainty on the completion date. For a 127.6-kilometre highway described as the busiest in Africa to be so encumbered, is highly disastrous for economic development.
The current reconstruction epitomises confusion and chaos. For that reason, a 2.9-kilometre portion (one side) at Aseese area of the road lasted from June 2018 to February 2019. Imprudently, government is incurring a huge cost on variations. Section I of the highway — from Lagos to the Sagamu Interchange — that cost N70 billion in 2013, has risen sharply to N134 billion, the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing stated in December.
During this period, the highway was near impossible to navigate. The contractor — Julius Berger — partitioned the highway at different spots without providing alternatives. Devoid of strict supervision, the contractor has created unnecessary hardship for road users. In this era of technological solutions, this is irresponsible and insensitive. Roads are being constructed in other parts of the world with minimum discomfort, Julius Berger should also be made to immediately implement global best practices in doing its job to alleviate the suffering being experienced.
Law and order has broken down completely on the road. Brazenly, impatient motorists, some blaring sirens, drive against the traffic. Shockingly, the Federal Road Safety Corps and police officers are unable to enforce the law. Last Thursday, it was hellish. Movement became impossible after a truck overturned near the Mountain of Fire and Miracles camp. The attendant gridlock lasted for hours. Nevertheless, the Buhari government is shifting goalposts on the completion of the highway, which takes 25,000 vehicles per hour, according to FRSC statistics.
The contractor admitted to a Senate inspection committee in 2018 that the earlier completion date was no longer feasible. Indeed, in December, Adedamola Kuti, the Federal Controller of Works, Lagos, stated that completion had shifted to 2021. Altogether, it means reconstructing the highway will span a minimum of 12 years. This is plain government delinquency.
That 12-year argument collapses in the face of the reality on the ground. Already, the completed sections are becoming dilapidated again because of enormous wear and tear. This highway connects Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, with all the regions of the country. It should be accorded the highest priority, an economic asset that the government should make every effort to complete by the end of 2019. It is exasperating that the administration is not seeing it from this perspective.
Initially, the Umaru Yar’Adua administration had raised hope about the project in 2009 when it entered into an N86.5 billion public-private partnership with Bi-Courtney to reconstruct the highway. But the project took off in fits and starts. When it became apparent that Bi-Courtney was stalling, Yar’Adua’s successor, Goodluck Jonathan, scrapped the contract in 2012. With fanfare, that impotent administration re-launched the reconstruction for N167 billion in 2013.
Supposedly to hasten reconstruction, which it promised would end in 2017, it split it between Julius Berger (Lagos-Sagamu Interchange) and Reynolds Construction Company (Sagamu-Ibadan). Predictably, it turned out to be mere political gimmickry, the project has been bogged down hopelessly by poor funding. That was the shambolic state of the expressway until the Jonathan government was voted out in the 2015 election.
All hopes that the Buhari administration would prioritise the project have also been dashed. Work stalled completely in 2017. This was because both the Executive and the National Assembly were shamelessly irresponsible in discharging their obligations. The executive allocated only N30 billion to the project in that year’s budget even when it was indebted to the contractors to the tune N15 billion. Arguing ludicrously that the road was a “South-West project,” members of the National Assembly compounded this by cutting the vote to N11 billion, transferring the balance to fund their corruption-fuelled “constituency projects.” That plumbed the depths of legislative perfidy.
It is a frustrating situation, but Nigeria is littered with several major economic assets that have virtually collapsed. For years, the infrastructure associated with the Apapa seaports have been lying in tatters. The resulting gridlock cripples part of the Lagos metropolis. The River Niger Bridge at Onitsha is under seismic stress due to the avalanche of vehicular traffic, but the long postponed Second Niger Bridge, aimed at relieving the pressure, has yet to see the light of the day.
Conversely, Chinese engineers have proved that Nigeria is blatantly lagging behind the rest of the world in that sphere. In 2015, they delivered the reconstruction of the 1,300-tonne San Yuan Bridge in Beijing, which links 48 routes and serves 200,000 vehicles daily, from start to finish, in just 43 hours. The People’s Daily Online, which uploaded the video of the project, reported that the engineers achieved the feat because of “clever planning.”
As things stand, Buhari has to prove that he is attuned to the nuances of modern governance by showing more interest in projects that enhance economic growth. In such projects, timing is crucial. As such, the President has to mobilise resources massively to ensure the contractors do not stay a day longer than this year on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project. Otherwise, the salutary effect will continue to elude the economy. The project is causing too much pain to road users. Babatunde Fashola, the Works Minister, should insist that Julius Berger give relief to road users by undertaking a diligent project management.