THE EXPRESSWAY OF AGONY

0

The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway deserves significant attention

There was some mild relief last week as the Kara Bridge section of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was opened to traffic. The failed stretch, partially closed for reconstruction in September last year, necessitated a diversion of traffic. While the reconstruction lasted, commuters were subjected to constant irritation due to most agonizing traffic gridlock, particularly on the Lagos -Shagamu exchange section. The gridlock was often intensified by breakdown of vehicles and indiscipline among drivers, many of whom drove against traffic. Even more worrying, armed robbers took advantage to brutalise, harass and smashed people’s cars and carted away their valuables. Some unlucky commuters who resisted the gang of criminals paid with their lives.

But the road to redemption is still faraway, despite the opening of the Kara-Berger section. “The road is still under construction and lots of things need to be put in place,” said Taofik Iyanda, a Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) assistant commander. “So, commuters have to be very careful and exercise patience anytime they are plying the road.”

Indeed, the 128-kilometre highway is still a nightmare to both motorists and commuters. Launched in August 1978 by the then military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo, this strategic road was ill-maintained and allowed to decay. There is little willingness to keep the highway in good shape as there was reluctance to invest in it. Attempts to reconstruct the road in the past 16 years by successive governments have been characterised by controversies.

Initially awarded to Bi-Courtney Highway Services through a concession agreement by the federal government, former President Goodluck Jonathan had to revoke the agreement in November 2012 following lack of performance by Bi-Courtney. In July 2013, the government formally flagged off the reconstruction of the road with 2017 as delivery date. But almost seven years after, the reconstruction arrangement which includes extension of the road from the hitherto four-lane to an eight-lane highway is far from being completed.

The attendant effects have been frequent fatal accidents and consequent gridlocks which often cause motorists and commuters grief and pains. More disturbing is that despite being handled by two contractors, Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) and Julius Berger and with a budget that has more than doubled the initial cost, the reconstruction has been painfully slow. It took nine months (June 2018 and February 2019) to complete one side of the 2.9 kilometre Aseese portion. Now the completion date for the entire project has been shifted to 2021, nine years after the reconstruction started, and signifying more years of agony ahead. What is worse, the new date is not sacrosanct.

The Lagos – Ibadan expressway is very strategic because it is one road which connects all parts of the country. And with about 25,000 vehicles plying it every hour, it is undoubtedly the busiest road in the country. But the undue delay in the reconstruction efforts is costing the nation so much in terms of lives and time, aspects the authorities do not seem to be taking seriously. The project is suffering from paucity of funds. In the 2017 budget for instance, the National Assembly slashed the allocation from N31 billion to N10 billion. In saner climes, authorities embark on projects in strict consciousness of the level of discomfort and inconveniences they cause citizens. Hence, adequate measures are deliberately put in place to cushion the effects of such inconveniences during execution period. That is not the case in Nigeria.

We therefore challenge the authorities to pay significant attention to this road and show utmost concern about the lives being wasted on a regular basis. Although the federal government has pledged to plough part of the expected $308m Sani Abacha loot from the United States to the project, that is not a reliable plan for a road of that significance.