Stakeholder Engagement as Tool for Inclusive Governance

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Two weeks after the Lekki Concession Company Limited began the implementation of the toll fees increment along the Lekki-Epe expressway, Raheem Akingbolu writes on the communication approach adopted by the company and the state government, making the process seamless

Due to the complexity inherent in the public sector, where there may be ambiguous measures of service and perceived elements of public policy prioritisation, governments and their administrators in ideal democratic setting have since realised the need to engage the public through various platforms before taking any decision that would impact on the people. In such circumstance, it is always important to understand who the stakeholders are both in a specific and broader sense.

Perhaps that was what informed the approach the Lagos State government and the Lekki Concession Company Limited (LCC), adopted towards the end of last year when they announced that the toll fees along Lekki-Epe Eexpress way would be increased. Obviously, the initiators of the plan had learnt some lessons from the fallouts of the first attempt made by the previous administration in the state, when public opinion overwhelmed the decision and killed the plan.

Rather than forcing it down the throat of Lagos residents, the state government, through the company developed a well-tailored strategy that is hinged on stakeholder engagement. First, they indentified those who are the focus of the activities as well as identifying those directly involved with or responsible for increment. The initiators also collaborated well with various authorities, the National Union of Road Transport Workers, (NURTW) and other members of the public.

The announcement

Towards the end of last year, the Lekki Concession Company, had issued a statement to announce that the toll fee would be increased. The company had stated that the toll fare increase was as a result of current economic and business realities that have adversely increased the cost of operations and maintenance of the company’s loan obligations.

The Managing Director, LCC, Mr. Mohammed Mubashiru Hassan, noted that the feedback and recommendations received during the series of consultations held in December 2017 with stakeholders in Eti-Osa Local Government area and its environs considerably influenced the new toll fares to be paid by motorists plying the Expressway and the Link Bridge.

Detailing the new development, Hassan said: “Since the commencement of tolling in December 2011, the toll tariffs had remained the same despite the continuous increase in the cost of operations to ensure that the toll plazas and the road infrastructure are well maintained. The toll review has also become necessary to enable the company meet its loan obligations to its local and foreign lenders, considering the fact that foreign exchange rates have continued to increase astronomically in the last couple of years. LCC cannot continue to operate or provide the services required from us if we do not review the toll tariffs”.

In line with the popular belief that nature abhors change, residents of Lagos had reacted harshly and called for Governor Ambode’s intervention when the announcement was first made late last year. According to them, the decision made life difficult for Lagosians. This cannot be unconnected to two reasons; the sudden fuel scarcity that created havoc for residents and the negative effect of both the increment and fuel scarcity on Lagosians, who had planned for ease-free Xmas and New Year.

But rather than using the instrument of government to enforce the implementation of the increase, government took a subtle approach and engages all the stakeholders on why the increment was inevitable. According to THISDAY findings at LCC office in Lagos, many of the consulted stakeholders included but not limited to traditional rulers, community leaders, residents’ associations, youth groups and Eti-Osa Local Government officials. Others are; members of the media as well as members of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) in Eti-Osa Local Government Area. At the end of the various engagement exercise, they (the stakeholders) unanimously agreed that there was a need for constant upgrade of road facilities, as the Eti-Osa/Lekki-Epe corridor was rapidly becoming an international economic hub for investors.

Reacting to the new toll fares for branded commercial vehicles popularly called ‘Danfo’, Chairman, National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, Jakande, Eti-Osa Local Government Chapter, Alhaji Taofeek Oluwa, commended the foresight of LCC in consulting with leaders and members of the NURTW in Eti-Osa LGA. He noted that although the toll fare review by LCC was unavoidable, the NURTW was glad to know that LCC took their advice for a minimal increment on toll fare from N80 to N100 (N90 for eTag users) for commercial transport buses plying the Eti-Osa/Lekki-Epe.

Feedbacks
Looking back at how motorists and commuters responded to the toll review on Admiralty Circle Plaza and the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge Plaza and the experience of its workers manning the tolls, LCC, has stated that the company recorded a massive compliance. While thanking Lagosians for their support, the company apologised for traffic congestion on the first day and promised to look into how to improve on its service.

During a media parley to update the public on developments around the toll review, Hassan told journalists that the toll review was a socio-economic decision made at the right time to avoid yearly increments. Mr. Hassan said the toll review was mooted a few years ago but had to go through the due process of consultations.

“The compliance level is satisfactory. If there is no compliance, by now, you would have noticed dissenting activities. We are, however, in a democratic government; there is right of choice for those who are willing to pay and those who don’t want to pay. In November 2017, we made an attempt to carry out the review but the Lagos State Governor, His Excellency, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode directed LCC to carry out further consultations with stakeholders in the Eti-Osa/Lekki-Epe corridor which we have since done.

We cannot but attribute this high level of compliance and understanding by motorists to the advice and support we received from the media, Eti-Osa/Lekki-Epe Indigenes and Residents, National Union of Road and Transport Workers (NURTW), Traditional Rulers and Youth Organisations as well community development Associations and civil society groups,” Hassan stated.

While engaging the media on alternative routes for motorists who are not willing to pay the new tariff, Hassan encouraged motorists to sign up for the electronic tags (e-Tag), which provides quick access through both toll plazas. He also said e-Tag users are entitled to 10% discount, which can increase to as much as 50% discount depending on the frequency of passage. He corrected the misconception that the e-Tags were designed for the elites of the society, pointing out that a lot of commercial buses (popularly called ‘Danfo’), corporate and private vehicles use the e-tag for easy passage through the toll plazas.

He further stated that owners of several vehicles can secure a single e-Tag account for their vehicles so as to fund it centrally and monitor the movement of their vehicles through the toll plazas. He added that occasional road users can also register for the e-Tag as the funds paid into the account does not expire at any time until used. To register for the e-Tag, motorists are required to provide the vehicle license, proof of ownership and any valid identity card. He also reiterated that the eTag, once acquired can be used in any of the lanes at the plazas.

He further assured the public that his organisation was poised to continue the development of the Lekki axis. “The Ajah flyover has been completed and we have the intention of rehabilitating the road up to Eleko Beach so that the benefits seen in the Lekki area can be extended further along the axis. Possibly, it may spill over to Epe which already has a six-lane road,” he added.

Lekki Concession Company Limited has managed operations of the theEti-Osa/Lekki-Epe Expressway for the past 10 years despite the yearly increase of the cost of operations and the rate of inflation. In addition, LCC provides various other services to road users free of charge, especially as it relates to their convenience such as the 24/7 free vehicle breakdown and recovery services by the Company’s Route and Incident Management team; LCC dedicated Police team to ensure safety and security of road users; the Toll free Customer Service helpline and other services. Over 100,000 road users were said to have benefited from the free service of the Route and Incident Management team since inception.

Power of engagement
Three developments that emanated as a result of the toll fare increment demonstrated the power of engagement. First, the timely statement issued by the Police to warn members of the public against disturbing peace, when it was discovered that some groups were contemplating protest despite the mutual agreement. Another related development was the statement that was credited to Eti-Osa Local government, which also corroborated the police stand. Finally, the statement issued by the leadership of the NURTW, appeared to be the major intervention that laid the issue to rest.

Following the announcement of the toll review, the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, Jakande, Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State, was quick to assure residents and commuters on the affected areas that there would be no fare increase as a result of the toll review.

According to the Chairman, National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, Jakande, Eti-Osa, Alhaji Taofeek Oluwa, it was encouraging that LCC carried the Union along as one of the critical stakeholders consulted
during the engagement process for the toll review which resulted in the minimal increase in tariff charged branded commercial buses.

Speaking further, Alhaji Oluwa said, “As long as LCC honours its agreement of our mutual understanding at the stakeholders’ meeting, we can confidently support LCC by assuring that commuters will not suffer any increase in the fare paid to board branded commercial buses coming into or going out of Eti-Osa/Lekki-Epe Expressway. The NURTW is happy toendorse the toll fare review”, Alhaji Oluwa noted.

This statement was corroborated by another NURTW Jakande Eti-Osa official, Alhaji Quadri Adesokan, who stated that LCC has promised to improve the standards of the roads for the safety of passengers. “We have heard the concerns of the LCC and have agreed to support them because they have promised us to maintain the roads. A large number of our buses are using the e-tag which affords us unhindered entry and return from Lekki-Epe Expressway”.

Major takeaway
Since the new regime began in on Lekki expressway, pundits have identified two things that made residents accepted the crucial decision. According to the Head of Media Relations at Media Edge Limited, a Lagos based Public Relations firm, Mr. Olumide Ajayi, the performance of Ambode administration and the engagement of a registered Public Relations firm did the magic.

He said; ‘’I was not surprise that Lagosians accepted the new order because they could see what the current administration, head by Governor Ambode is doing. Another reason is that government approached the issue in a modern way by engaging a professional PR firm to handle its communications. From what I gathered, the hired agency provided the blueprint for the public engagement.”