Adeola Akinremi probed what led to the Federal Government’s revocation of the Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) concession agreement with Bi-Courtney Nigeria Limited. In this report, he exposes the power games that frustrated quick implementation of the project
When Susan Asiimwe, a Ugandan, first arrived in Nigeria, she compared the roads in Nigeria to the pictures she had seen of wide American roads, but she didn’t notice the neglect. Ms. Asiimwe assessed the Nigerian roads with a journey through the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway from the Third Mainland Bridge.
Asiimwe might be right after all; except for South Africa, Nigeria boasts of widest roads in sub-Saharan Africa. However at the exact time that Asiimwe was making her comparison, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had received report of how the road had been neglected for 34 years.
Prompted by the report and the success stories he has heard about Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) strategy that has indeed given Nigeria its first model domestic airport built by Bi-Courtney Limited, he ensured the Federal Executive Council (FEC), at one of its weekly meetings in May 2009 approved the concession of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to Bi-Courtney Limited for 25 years on a Design Build Operate and Transfer (DBOT) arrangement. The company was saddled with the upgrade of the expressway that was budgeted to cost N89.53 billion with a free hand to recoup its investment through tolls and appropriate charges.
And with that announcement, property business soared around Lagos–Ibadan Expressway.
“When we heard of it, everything changed here, because that announcement triggered sales in landed properties with companies, individuals and estate developers coming to beg us with money to sell lands to them,” Jide Akintunde who had lived for 52 years in Mowe, a community near the expressway told THISDAY.
That was not all. Akintunde says, “When we saw the company itself moved to site with their equipment, working and changing the face of the road, especially around here, people shouted for joy. It means the announcement was real and in no distant time we’ll have a road like they have in Abuja; road accidents would be reduced and business would thrive.”
Indeed, Bi-Courtney promised all that. Its chairman, Dr. Wale Babalakin, had told Nigerians after the announcement by the Federal Government in 2009 that it had granted concession of the road to Bi-Courtney Limited that, “The primary objective of the proposed rehabilitation and modernisation project is to unlock the economic potentials of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway by redeveloping it to efficiently carry available traffic demand. And in the process create a world class infrastructure that will be the pride of all Nigerians and a reference point.
“The road would boast of dawn lightening powered by a gas fired plant, improved and new interchanges, new drainage system, recessed service areas, lay-by emergency parking areas, footbridges in heavy pedestrian areas, weighbridges, electronic traffic control and informative signs.”
And like a ready combatant, Bi-Courtney moved to work while papers were being perfected on the contract for the concession. Travellers who frequent the expressway agreed they saw Bi-Courtney’s men at work on the road.
“I have seen them here. I saw heavy machines belonging to them parked at different locations from the popular 7up junction in Lagos up to Ibadan and I have had to say well done to them at a time when they were working somewhere on the road just after the Redemption camp,” said Jubril Shittu, a bus driver who plies the road daily carrying passengers from Lagos to Ilorin.
A university lecturer who works in Ibadan, but has his family resident in Lagos, Dr. Abraham Akanni, said, “Bi-Courtney indeed had done appreciable work on the road that I can call palliative work such as fixing of pot holes and cracks on the entire stretch of the expressway and the clearing of bush on either side of the road.”
But, that was all Nigerian knew about the concession and Bi-courtney. Nigerians had little knowledge of the politics that had delayed the commencement of the project on a larger scale, until the government announced recently the revocation of 25 years concession granted to the company.
THISDAY reliably gathered that some individuals in President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration frustrated the process of the Public Private Partnerships (PPP) arrangement on the expressway, initiated by his predecessor.
For instance, out of the 3 years six months that Bi-Courtney had the concession, direct delay by the Federal Government was 2 years 10 months.
In effect, in a period of three years and six months, Bi-Courtney only had two months to work properly on the expressway.
After giving Bi-Courtney an ultimatum for urgent palliative works on the road in 2011, the Minister of Works, Mr. Mike Onolememen, commended the firm for doing a good job, adding that he got a feedback that the company was working even at night.
Onolememen said on the eve of the contract termination with Bi-Courtney that: “Bi-Courtney has been on track. There are processes in the execution of this project and the company has followed due process. The final design was approved on May 10, 2011.”
A public analyst, Wale Sokunbi, said, “If it actually took the Federal authorities two years to approve the drawing for a road contract that was expected to be delivered in four years, that was just too bad, and should not be repeated with the latest contract.”
Not only that, party politics in Nigeria soon crept in as Lagos and Ogun states that have sizable portions of the expressway within their areas considered the project a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) project that could alter political calculation of Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the South west where it has maintained its hold as a political party.
Sources told THISDAY that the ACN governments in Lagos and Ogun worked to frustrate the project as well.
“Those frictions you heard of, between the Ogun government on one hand and the Lagos State government on the other hand, were not child’s play. They were calculated and deliberately planned against the PDP, but unfortunately Bi-Courtney became the grass that suffered where two elephants fought.”
THISDAY learnt that the project suffered setback with initial non-approval of the site for its asphalt plant by the Ogun State Government, just as the Lagos State Government also expressed its disapproval in the way Bi-Courtney was serving notifications to property owners in the state over the issue of right of way on behalf of the Federal Government. Over 55 court cases, it was learnt, have been instituted by property owners over the issue of 60.35 metres right of way on both sides of the road.
Ogun State stopped the concessionaire from installing its $6.5 million asphalt plant in a yard formerly occupied by Reynolds Construction Company, saying it wanted to use the parcel of land for a trailer park, while Lagos State issued a statement of disapproval of the company’s move.
In a statement issued on August 4, 2011 and signed by the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Lands Bureau, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola, the government said the 1999 Constitution (Amendment 2011) and Land Use Act “vests exclusive power of revocation of right of occupancy to any piece of land with the state in the governor of the state”.
The Permanent Secretary, therefore, described the acquisition notice being served on behalf of the Federal Government by Bi-Courtney Highway Services as illegal and unconstitutional.
Head of Communications, Bi-Courtney, Mr. Dipo Kehinde, had, in the heat of the crisis, explained the processes followed by his company before settling for the former RCC yard.
“Since the concession was granted, the Ogun State Government was taken as a major partner, given that 80 per cent of the highway falls within the state. Ogun State was to give us land as its own contribution to the project. The former RCC yard was identified, visited and allocated to us by the state government. The process entailed joint visits, and assessment before allocation, following all due process.
“To buttress this fact, we duly settled the land owners, promptly, to demonstrate our commitment to the site. The payment to the landowners was done, after due consultation with the state government and confirmation of the landowners at a joint stakeholders meeting with officials of the Bureau of Land. The state government actually brokered the meeting with the family land owners.
“A search was also conducted at the Ogun State Survey Directorate, and the search report revealed that the property was unencumbered,” he said in a statement.
That has since been resolved. Ogun State government defended its action and said in an interview by its Commissioner for Information, Mr. Yusuf Olaniyonu, that it would offer every support necessary for the success of the project.
“Aside the misunderstanding which we had on the issue of the parcel of land marked for our trailer park, we no longer have any issue with Bi-Courtney,” he said, even though the firm complains that the equipment is still being held by the state government.
“The state government is ready to cooperate with the contractor and Governor Ibikunle Amosun has promised every assistance since the project is in the interest of the masses,” Olaniyonu added in an interview.
The commissioner also maintained that there was nothing unusual about the intervention of the state government in the 500-metre stretch around the Redemption Camp, saying the rehabilitation work done there was in the best interest of the people of the state who ply the road on a daily basis.
“That was not the first time the state government would be intervening on federal roads that fall within the state. About 80 per cent of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway falls within Ogun State and the state government had intervened in a similar way on the Shagamu-Abeokuta Road and the stretch between Asero and Obantoko on the Abeokuta-Ibadan Road which are all federal roads,” he added.
But, there were also reports of the series of attacks on Bi-Courtney staff, the arrest of the workers from the Sagamu interchange site by the policemen in Ogun State, who were later issued a warning by the Inspector General of Police.
Part of the frustration was also the delay by the Federal Government in conducting property assessment along the road early enough to determine who should be compensated.
Indeed, Onolememen owned up when he said what caused the delay in the commencement of the project was the need to review buildings and properties along the axis by the Estate Valuers, which was concluded in July 2011.
According to him, the exercise was necessary so that government would be able to determine those who must be compensated and some infrastructural facilities that must be replaced, such as PHCN installations and so on.
Now, Julius Berger has been announced by the government as the new bride to take delivery of the project and that in itself, sources close to the Ministry of Work say, was done in a shoddy manner.
“I can tell you that no contract has been signed with Julius Berger on this. It was a blanket statement made and I foresee trouble ahead,”said a source.
Yes, there is a clause in the agreement that government can intervene to sustain the project, but, according to a lawyer, Mr. Wale Akoni, “the government is doing it the wrong way because it has failed to adhere to its own side of the agreement and everything smacks of a political trial”.
Reliable sources said the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway might experience further delays as Julius Berger might not be able to start work early for legal battle that might hinder expected progress and the continued party politics over the reconstruction of the expressway as experienced by Bi-Courtney.
The entire stretch of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is about 135km, i.e. a total of 780km lanes. This will probably cost about $3million per kilometre lane – a total of $2.3billion (N360, 064, 999, 659.04billion), for a completely new interstate highway with series of bridge overpass/underpass.
It is not clear where government would raise the fund to pay Julius Berger, especially when such fund is not included in the current budget for 2013.
In its earlier attempt at constructing the road during the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Julius Berger took three years in a contract agreement and not a concession.
Perhaps after four years of announcing a PPP with all its challenges, it might be well worth the government and all stakeholders’ effort to amicably resolve the issues than the length of time it would take to stop the carnage on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.