In Whose Interest?

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The residents of Obalende and Ikoyi area of Lagos have raised the alarm over clandestine moves by the authorities to encroach on the community’s properties, hiding behind the veil of the cable car network, a project that has dragged on forever with little success, writes Solomon Elusoji

The din of traffic at the popular Obalende roundabout is ever-present, as tons of vehicles mill around, traders hawk their wares and pedestrians stream through without pause. Beside the roundabout is the Lagos State Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) park, perpendicular to the Obalende Bus Terminus, which houses commercial vehicles. Just beside the Terminus is a Conoil Filling Station.

Inside the terminus, a new fence has been constructed that appears to partition the park into two. It does not seem to be a problem, as the terminus continues to experience normal activities. But, for the Obalende/Ikoyi Residents Association, the fence is a sign of impending doom.

In a letter forwarded to the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice in Lagos State on the 27th of January and titled “Government’s Lack of Transparency Over Obalende Bus Terminus Projects is Threatening the Peace of the Community”, the Obalende/Ikoyi Residents Association said the fencing of the park had led to a breach of security in the community.

“Our fear is not unconnected with the activities of some strange individuals who without warning or notification descended on the Obalende Bus Terminus with machinery and equipments, indiscriminately partitioning the park,” the letter read. “When confronted by the stakeholders, the Branch Chairman of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) came to their aid and ordered the continuation of the exercise without any hindrance. His response triggered speculations and a wrong signal to all those to be affected by the on-going exercise.

“Barely twenty-four hours later, all hell was let loose in the Lafiaji community between some youths and a leader of NURTW who was in the habit of flaunting a photograph taken with the Lagos State first citizen. The allegation was the diversion of funds purportedly given by the contractor fencing the Obalende Bus Terminus. The disturbance snowballed into the Obalende community and the security outfits had a field day curtailing this rampaging youths all through the night.”

The grouse of the resident appears to be the mystery surrounding the partitioning of the park, although there are feelers that it has been taken up by government for its Cable Car Project. According to the letter, which was also forwarded to both the Commissioner of Environment and Physical Planning, the association is aware that the piece of land housing the Conoil Filling Station beside the terminus has been earmarked for the Cable Car project, but it expected to have been consulted if there had been plans to also acquire part of the terminus.

“The position of the government is not clear,” the Secretary of the Resident’s Association, Mr. Curtis Agbaje, told THISDAY, “and we are not convinced about their (government) intentions.” According to Agbaje, the area has been a victim of several unwise projects, including the Mc Gregory canal, which was once a spot where fishing activities took place, but which has now become a stagnant mess. There is also the case of the Obalende Recreation Ground, which was taken up by the government, without an alternative provided.

THISDAY reached out to the Branch Manager of the NURTW in Obalende/Ikoyi, Mr. Femi Onasanya, and he dismissed the resident’s fears as irrelevant and spurious.

“If the residents want to know anything about the demarcation, they should go to the Ministry of Transport,” he said. “What they told us was that they want to use it for Cable Car. We are still loading there, although we just had to move to one corner. We don’t have any problem. They discussed it with us before they started and everybody is fine.”

The Ministry of Transport, according to Mr. Agbaje, have also responded to the association’s letter, saying that the land had been taken over for the Cable Car project based on the “overriding public interest.”

A Cable Car a transport system, typically one travelling up and down a mountain, in which cabins are suspended on a continuous moving cable driven by a motor at one end of the route. Cable Cars have no engine or motor on the cars themselves. The power source is centralised in a cable car barn and powerhouse. There, powerful electric motors (originally a stationary steam-powered engine) drive giant winding wheels that pull cables through a trench beneath the street, centered under the cable car tracks.

One of the best known existing cable car systems in the world is the San Francisco Cable car system in the city of San Francisco, California. San Francisco’s cable cars constitute the oldest and largest such system in permanent operation and it is the only one to still operate in the traditional manner with manually operated cars running in street traffic.

In 2013, former Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola pushed the idea as a way to make transportation in Lagos “safer and more economical”. “We must recognise that individual transportation translates to more vehicles on the roads, which translates to an unhealthy volume of carbon emissions,” he had said.

According to the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), “the most promising corridor for cable car development to complement the Strategic Transport Master Plan (STMP) is the corridor linking Apapa with Lagos Island, Obalende/Ikoyi and Victoria Island, which is not directly served by the STMP mass transit networks. Here the cable car project would provide high quality transport connections with several opportunities to interchange with the RMRT and BRT lines. The project will attract private sector funding thus increasing the level of investment available for improving transportation in Lagos.”

The project, sponsored by Ropeways Transport Limited, involved the development of a 12.85 km network of cable cars serving the metropolis of Lagos and connecting Lagos Island with both the mainland and Victoria Island, using Doppelmayr proprietary 3S technologies. Trico Capital, the Financial Advisers to Ropeways, evaluated the cost of the project to the tune of US$275million. Financing was to be achieved through a consortium of local sponsors and international and local financial institutions lead by the African Development Bank (AFDB).

With construction planned to commence in 2013 and operations starting in 2014/2015, the project would comprise some eight stations in three routes beginning at Ijora, Apapa and Victoria Island respectively and with a central hub around Adeniji Adele. The system would be designed to accommodate up to 240,000 trips daily. But it’s 2016, and there is little sign of the project’s imminent completion.
However, recently, the state Commissioner for Transportation, Dayo Mobereola, in an interview with one of the national dailies, said the project was still on course.

“The Lagos cable car project is on course. It is privately driven and the private sector need to get all the permits, on the side of Lagos, we have given them all the necessary permit, they are talking to the federal government to get some level of guarantees and we have assisted them to write to the federal government. They have taken the advantage by starting to build from the Iddo side of Lagos,” he said.

Mobereola could not be reached to comment on this article, as his phone lines did not connect.
Meanwhile, the Obalende/Ikoyi Residents association are yet to be convinced about the use of the captured pieces of land for the Cable Car project. “The fear of the community is borne out of past experience with the last administration who built a prison-like fence around the Obalende Playing ground only to discover it was meant to protect a land speculator,” the community’s letter read. “He has since placed it for sale while the community is suffering. Such an unfortunate event should not be allowed to repeat itself.”

According to the association’s secretary, Mr. Curtis Agbaje, who spoke to THISDAY extensively on the issue, it was very possible that the Cable Car project was simply a cover for some persons in government to divert the land for their own personal and commercial use. In Obalende alone, there were up to four signboards spotted by this reporter, announcing a particular piece of land had been devoted to the Cable Car project. One of the landed properties located at Simpson Street had been divided into two. While one part was still left undeveloped, THISDAY investigations revealed that the other part, which was housing a building, was an Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) office.