THOSE WHO TRAVELED ON THE LAGOS-BENIN TRUNK ROAD IN THE PAST YEARS OFTEN REMINISCE ON THAT MAGIC ERA WHEN THEY COULD ACTUALLY TRAVEL WITHOUT LOSING SEVERAL HOURS EITHER MEANDERING THROUGH THE MANY CRATER-LIKE POTHOLES OR STUCK AT A GRIDLOCK CAUSED BY ONE. BENNETT OGHIFO RODE THROUGH THE ROAD RECENTLY AND RECOUNTS THE HORRIFYING EXPERIENCE
Two main factors make it impossible to achieve the travel time of the past and, these are the depreciating road surface and increased number of vehicles using the same width of road as when it was constructed back in 1975.
These days people say a silent prayer before setting out on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, understandably for safe journey and, for the road to be traffic-free.
Regardless, even when the road is devoid of its usual accident induced traffic jams, it is still difficult to make the Ijebu-Ode toll gate within an hour from the Lagos toll gate as it was designed to be.
There were four toll gates between Lagos and Benin City and these were an hour apart for a motorist driving at 100 kilometre/hour. Those who pushed the throttle harder arrived each of the three toll gates ahead of an hour.
“You could predict your travel time and plan your journey. But now, it is always wiser to set out at dawn so that even when you are caught in snarling traffic, you still get to your destination in good time,” said Mathew Akwara, a technician who said he worked with one of the teams that built the road.
Regrettably, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which used to be so broad and smooth, is now looking like an abandoned inner city road that is stripped of all dressings/signage.
As things stand, the Lagos-Ibadan Road no longer fits into the caste of an interstate expressway with designated exits. It is now a major street within the Gateway City in Ogun State. The stretch of land on both sides of the Lagos-Ibadan road from Isheri, after the Ojodu-Berger Bridge to the Sagamu interchange is known as the Ogun State’s Gateway. It is gradually turning into the Lekki Peninsula, complete with signature slum developments on both sides.
The road this week…
There is no guarantee that the road would be traffic-free at any time and, once a commuter is on the road there is no other way out if it is blocked.
On Tuesday, this week, an accident occurred around the Redeemed Christian Church of God’s Redemption Camp, holding traffic that extended to the Berger area for more than four hours. Those who were lucky to get information about the situation early used the Ikorodu-Shagamu axis as exit.
When there are no accidents commuters are slowed by the bad state of the road and by trucks/tankers and other heavy duty vehicles.
The first point of stress is the head of the bridge that connects Lagos to Ogun State. The joints are separating and the metal plates used to cover the gap are coming off at the outward and inward bound ends. This slows down traffic entering the bridge and cause traffic buildup that extends beyond Berger going out and Sparklight Estate coming into Lagos.
The whole stretch of the road has broken tars/bitumen that formed an outlook that engineers describe as Crocodile skin. These skins are completely removed in some places to expose deep holes of different shapes and sizes.
At the point immediately after the Mountain of Fire and Miracles camp, the road surface has altered to have ridges that redirect the wheels of vehicles out of control if the driver does not hold it tightly. These ridges extend to Mowe and Ibafo villages on both sides of the expressway and beyond the Redeemed Camp.
These ridges are more pronounced at some point immediately after the Redeemed at Kilometre 48 where major ghastly accidents take place almost daily. It was at this point that an accident involving several vehicles occurred about two months ago. The signs of this needless event are still etched there on the road.
Commuters who stop on the road to either buy wares like mortar and pestle from the local people or have a breakdown are usually advised to stay away from their vehicles and from objects that appear solid because vehicle drivers who lose control search for such items to stop their ride into the bushes and ditches at the sides of the road. Drivers are also advised to go a little less than the speed limit to enable them have control of their vehicles.
“Please move away from your vehicle. We have seen terrible things here that we cannot explain,” said a construction worker who gave his name as Habib. “We have seen cars practically fly into the bush; they disappear from the road, sometimes missing other cars and their occupants narrowly and at other times they make impact and take other people with them.”
He said the road need urgent repairs and that there should be strict restriction on the load a vehicle should carry while using it. “That is the standard practice all over the world, but here we build a road for cars and it is used by 10-tonne trucks. That is why we have all these ridges. The heavy load compress and separate the bitumen. It is the same technology used when building runways for aircraft. You take load into consideration.”
He said the weigh-bridges being built should be used without let. “Nobody should think of cutting corners because at the end of the day we will be the ones to suffer and spend more money repairing the road, which if well built should last for more than 10 years.”
There is a terrible stretch of ridges immediately after the interchange on the Lagos-bound lane. Drivers are forced to slow down to about 60 kilometers/hour but those who retain the same speed at this spot sometimes are forced off the road. There is a very bad spot close to the worship ground of NASFAT just after the interchange on the Lagos-bound route that cause terrible traffic jam, particularly when religious activities are taking place.
There is a master plan that the Ogun State government tried to produce some years back that made provision for an alternative road for those in the Gateway City to use.
Planning experts say the unimplemented master-plan that was procured at great financial cost to the government, would have to be upgraded to fit into the growth pattern of the City. The master-plan has in it alternative roads that are designed to run parallel to the Lagos-Ibadan road on both sides. These roads would ensure that people who live and work in the Gateway City do not need to use the Lagos-Ibadan road to get to their destinations.
Now that the federal government has asked Bicourtney to take their hands off the redevelopment of the road, it would be able to implement its ‘Plan B’.
Some months back the federal government set up a project delivery team for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, hinting that the days of the concessionaire were numbered. The Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, who thereafter inaugurated a project steering committee for the road said, “It is true that in September 2009, the federal government went into a concession agreement with Bicourtney Limited, the successful concessionaire for that expressway and the construction period was expected to last for about four years under the terms of the contract agreement. That agreement still stands and operative, but we know that the concession has not gone the way that we contemplated and, as we speak, the Federal Government is not resting but is working to ensure that road is delivered under whatever arrangement.”
He said: “This time unlike in 2009, during the build-up to that concession agreement when we did not have a transaction adviser, we now have a transaction adviser on that particular road and it is a firm that has performed that role in many successful concessions around the world; in South Africa, East Africa, in Asia, Europe and America. So, we are availing ourselves of the best professional expertise that you can ever have in this kind of transaction to help ensure the Federal Government gets the best with that particular concession, because that particular road ought to be the flag ship of all road concessions in this country.”
Thus, the government, he said, was still determined to ensure that the road concession worked. “I want to assure you that even before the expiration of the four-year construction period contemplated in the original agreement with Bicourtney, the way forward would have been found with that particular concession and the end result would be the expansion and beautification of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway in such a way that it will serve the needs of Nigerian road users.
On clamour of the governors of Ogun, Oyo and Ekiti states to be left to rebuild the road, Onolememen said, “on this concession, the state government is not a party, because we are talking about a federal government road with federal right of way that is gazette in law. This is not about politics; this is about governance and it is a federal road and the responsibility for the road rests with the federal government and, I happen to be the federal officer that is discharging that responsibility on behalf of the federal government of Nigeria.