Gboyega Akinsanmi writes that a new Oshodi is gradually emerging in Lagos State with diverse strategic infrastructure projects at different stages of completion

Oshodi, a sprawling municipal of over 1.5 million residents, shares border directly with the Murtala Mohammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos. From its northern part, the international wing is just few metres away from Oshodi. Apart from Ikeja where the seat of power resides, no part of Lagos correctly gives first impression about Nigeria other than Oshodi.

Yet, Oshodi indeed remains a shadow of itself. From its infamy of blight to its notoriety for gridlocks, this sprawling community has always been a huge burden for successive governments in Lagos State since the dark era of military rule. Before the return to civil rule, Oshodi did not attract much attention even though it tells visitors first story about Nigeria.

After decades of outright neglect, Oshodi has grown to be an urban centre, where social deviants often harass commuters and residents almost unhindered. It has become an axis of traffic congestion where bus drivers operate purely on their terms and with outright disregard for public order.

Either they are heading towards Ikeja via Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway or Isolo through Apapa-Oshodi highway, commuters are largely unwilling to go through Oshodi for fear of spending hours in gridlock. A good number of them would, most times, opt for a longer route to escape the menace of miscreants, who daily pilfer and rob at Oshodi during odd hours.

Even though these realities have not substantially changed since 1999, successive governments have been working hard to transform Oshodi to a nodal point, which according to the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, would be a point of convergence and departure for commuters with world-class transport infrastructure.

Search for an antidote

Amidst mounting challenges ranging from managing massive wastes on the streets to guaranteeing security of lives and property across the state, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu came up with a template of what Oshodi should be few years after he took up the mantle of leadership in the state. He unveiled a blueprint for Oshodi even when the state was cash-strapped to execute any project of world-class standard.

Tinubu’s blueprint was one of the rationales for the establishment of the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA). Beyond Oshodi, as shown on its website, this authority represents a public institution, which the state’s legislative arm set up “to reform its transport system by creating a world-class intermodal integrated transport services…”

At the heart of Tinubu’s vision was the plan to construct a short rail line from Oshodi to the MMIA, which Bamigbetan claimed, was one of the seven rail lines the LAMATA proposed for the metropolis. But this vision was in embryo stage when the Tinubu administration came to an end on May 2007.

Amid other competing needs and scarce resources, Tinubu’s immediate successor, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN) could not perhaps vigorously pursue this vision throughout his tenure. Rather, Fashola partially unlocked Oshodi’s intractable gridlock and equally improved public order, which then earned him public approval, not only in the state, but also in the federation.

With the deployment of the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation and Special Offences Unit (Task Force) and Rapid Response Squad (RRS), Fashola was able to provide a relative order in Oshodi for eight good years. But in reality, this did not guarantee an antidote to Oshodi’s hydra-headed challenges, which became obvious before his tenure ended in 2015.

This was the state of Oshodi when Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode came to office. Options before him were indeed numerous, according to Bamigbetan. Like his immediate predecessor, Ambode could have opted for a makeshift plan. But he was indeed conscious of Oshodi’s geo-strategic significance, not only to Lagos as Africa’s fifth largest economy, but also to Nigeria and its image.

Ambode was also mindful of the future of Lagos, which according to him, would largely depend on the ease of commuting from one part of the metropolis to the other. He was not oblivious of Lagos economy, which he claimed his administration “has been building and nurturing day and night to become Africa’s third largest economy by 2020.”

Ambode was, equally, unambiguous about his aggressive drive for both domestic and foreign investments in the last three years. By implication, Ambode’s thirst for FDIs has helped the state secure 69.12 percent of the foreign direct investments (FDIs) that Nigeria attracted in 2017 alone. For Ambode, however, “Lagos has started the journey. We are equally committed to see the end of it irrespective of challenges on the way”.

Conception of a new city

Already, according to the governor, a new city is gradually coming up from Oshodi. Ambode, however, claimed that he did not conceive this dream until he paid an unscheduled visit to this emerging city shortly after he assumed office. He only paid the visit with a plan to inspect a road project at Brown Street, which Fashola started, though could not complete it.

But this visit introduced the governor to an entirely different city, which according to him, truly depicts a true narrative of blight and oddity. From street to street, Ambode claimed that the sight of Oshodi indeed disturbed him. He attested to the scale of infrastructure deficit in Oshodi, which he said, would require a sustained makeover to overhaul and transform it.

Ambode thus claimed that he was a witness “to high records of criminal activities, environmental nuisance and traffic congestion for which Oshodi was best known.” Laced with deplorable road and dysfunctional drainages, Ambode said his first visit to Oshodi left him almost speechless, thereby compelling him “to embark on a search for permanent solution.”

From Brown Street, Ambode visited other parts of Oshodi, especially the site of Owonifari Market where the state government is currently building the transport interchange. He also inspected the site of the safety arena, an expansive office complex, which he said, was designed to provide a take-off operational theatre for all safety and security operatives in the state.

From the site of the safety arena, Ambode said former chairman of Oshodi Local Government led him to other parts, which according to him, informed his decision to turn Oshodi to a new city. He said: “I saw a lot of challenges in Oshodi. I felt disturbed about Oshodi. Right there, I decided we had to regenerate Oshodi without delay and put it on the world map.

“We then sped up the construction of Brown’s road project. We decided to construct Oshodi transport interchange, which is valued at about $70 million. We, also, decided to construct Oshodi-Airport Road, a 10-lane road project covering a distance of over five kilometres and Oshodi-Abule-Egba BRT lane, both of which are already at different stages of completion.”

When these projects are fully executed, he assured, Oshodi will never be the same again. Even before their completion, Ambode admitted that this intervention “has started yielding the desired outcomes. Already, miscreants are no longer at ease to operate in Oshodi. Compared to what it used to be, crime rate in Oshodi has substantially come down in the last three years.

With the safety arena, Ambode believed that the state’s emergency response “has improved dramatically. The arena engenders better synergy among all safety agencies and a significant improvement in the response time to most emergency issues. It brings together at least 12 departments and agencies responsible for safety and emergency management in the state. We are not yet done with Oshodi.”

Portrayal of a new city

With superlative infrastructure projects gradually emerging from different parts of Oshodi, no resident needs an expert to tell him or her that a new city has already been born. This indeed captures Bamigbetan’s description when he inspected Oshodi alongside select journalists last month.

For him, Oshodi is shielding off its appalling image by the day. Even though its new concept has not fully emerged, Bamigbetan argued that there “is no gainsaying that a new Oshodi with potential to expand economic opportunities for residents and the state alike is already in the making.”

Contrary to critics, he explained that Lagos State “is not all about Lagos Island and Ikoyi alone; neither is it all about Victoria Island. But it is about Agege. It is about Alimosho, a huge district with a population of over 1.8 million. It is all about Oshodi; a new city that now tells diplomats, investors and tourists a new narrative about our fatherland. That is the philosophy of Ambode government which focuses on touching more lives.”

With massive infrastructure development taking place in Oshodi and Alimosho, Bamigbetan claimed that facts and figures “show that the Ambode administration thinks about every resident of Lagos equally. That explains why we are creating facilities that economise our space. That also explains why we are building a Lagos that is internationally benchmarked.”

But the Chief Executive Officer of Planet Projects Limited, Mr. Biodun Otunola provided insight into the Oshodi transport interchange, which he said, had three massive wings. Otunola noted that the first wing “is purely constructed to serve commuters going to other states of the federation 24 hours.”

He pointed out that the second wing “will serve commuters that will prefer to board high occupancy vehicles to their destination along the Oshodi-Abule-Egba BRT corridor. The last wing is dedicated to serve commuters going to such destinations as Lagos Island, Ikorodu, Ojuelegba and Ojota among others.”

According to him, the socio-economic impact of these projects will be directly felt by the masses and not just the elite. Specifically, Otunola claimed that the transport interchange was designed “to serve at least one million commuters daily. This is an indication that the project was conceived in the interest of the masses and not for the elite of the state.”

Otunola compared it with the MMIA into which the federal government had injected billions of dollars. Unlike the transport interchange, he said the MMIA “only serves 21,000 passengers per day. If Lagos must become Africa’s third largest economy, the state government must develop iconic infrastructure projects that will serve the greatest number of people and not the few elite.”

Besides, Otunola said the projects would make Oshodi a new hub of socio-economic activities, which according to him, would generate employment opportunities in thousands and boost the state’s internally generated revenue (IGR) at an unprecedented rate. Already, he claimed, between 500 and 700 people have been hired for the construction work alone.

He also claimed that projects were designed “in conformity with international standard.” He argued that the transport interchange “conforms to the model all over the world. In the three wings, there are 18 lifts and one elevator. Aside, we have CCTVs that monitor everywhere. Every part of the transport interchange will be under surveillance 24 hours.”

Otunola, however, lamented undue dependence on foreign construction firms “to build our infrastructure projects.” He also lamented that most projects foreign construction companies had handled in the past for different governments in the federation “have failed in some cases. In other cases, they have not conceived and delivered projects that optimally serve us.”

He claimed that this trend “has contributed to why we have not really developed. Likewise, he said, Nigeria is 100 years behind developed countries. It appears, according to him, there is conspiracy against this country because foreign companies are not building infrastructure projects of global standard for us. Unlike foreign firms, he claimed that Oshodi’s transformation projects “are 100 per cent conceived, designed and executed locally.”