The Minister of Works and Housing, Dave Umahi, came on board prepared for the job. Since he assumed office following the inauguration of the new cabinet of President Bola Tinubu a couple of weeks ago, he has been on a tour of the country to assess the state of infrastructure deficit across the states. The exercise recently took him to Ogun State where he promised to partner with Governor Dapo Abiodun to reconstruct the deplorable Lagos/Ota/Abeokuta Road which has become a huge nightmare for the residents as well as motorists plying the roads.
The Governor struck the deal on Thursday, precisely August 31, 2023 when the Minister paid a courtesy call on him at his Oke-Mosan office, Abeokuta, the state capital.
The partnership has come as a relief for the Ogun State government which has been at the receiving end of the socio-economic consequences of the rapid dilapidation of the road with reckless abandonment. Over the years, due to its proximity to Lagos, the nation’s commercial nerve centre, the state has been under pressure to absorb the excess population of urban workers seeking for affordable accommodation along the corridor. This concern informed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) earlier signed by Governor Abiodun with his counterpart in Lagos, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, leading to the inauguration of Lagos-Ogun Joint Development Commission (LOJDC).
The objective of the initiative is to, among other things, facilitate the development of boundary town roads, waterworks, mass transportation as well as revenue and tax management. Today, the success of that policy can be seen in the rapidly growing population of Ota, Sango, Ifo, and other adjourning settlements in Ogun State. More than ever before, it is now stress-free for people to work in Lagos, while residing in Ogun.
Great men think alike. We can’t wait to see a rehabilitated 77 kilometres Lagos/Ota/Abeokuta expressway. It’s part of the renewed hope agenda of the present administration of President Tinubu. It is a dream come true. And it is long overdue. It has given a ray of hope. When completed, the road will not only guarantee the steady growth of Ogun State’s economy but also act as a catalyst for its capacity as an increasingly expanding industrial and investment destination of choice in the country.
Due to the combined effects of the ease-of-doing-business and the sustained effort to make the state attractive for investment, Ogun State has overtaken Lagos in terms of localization of industries. To sustain the feat, the Abiodun administration has continued to place priority attention on the development of infrastructure to create an enabling environment for the industrial growth of the state. The Lagos/Ota/Abeokuta Road is of critical importance to the realization of this objective. Apart from being the Gateway to the Ogun State, it is the busiest road in the Southwest, next to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, in terms of human and vehicular movements. It’s gratifying, therefore, to note that the new Minister of Works has graciously agreed to work in synergy with Governor Abiodun to put the road back in proper shape. This is contrary to the obstinacy and uncompromising attitude of his immediate predecessor, Raji Fashola, who had turned a deaf ear to all the governor’s pleas, requesting for a concession to take over the road during the tenure of Muhammadu Buhari as president. While speaking with Umahi, the Governor narrated the frustration he experienced in his bid to secure the support of Fashola, his fellow kinsman, for the reconstruction of the road.
He explained how he together with Sanwo-Olu, sought the permission of the federal government to take over the road so that they could jointly finance its reconstruction but all to no avail. According to him, about N70 billion was needed at that time to do the reconstruction of the road and they were prepared to take up the responsibility of financing it because of its commercial value to the two states. But bureaucratic bottleneck thwarted the effort. From the President to the Permanent Secretary and later the Minister, he said, every move made to secure the needed approval met a brick wall.
Without necessarily holding brief for the Governor, the narrative was not intended to cast aspersion on any individual other than to restate the urgent need to do away with the petty politics of discriminating between state and Federal responsibilities, especially in terms of road infrastructure. It was that discriminatory policy that led to the rapid degeneration of the road. Even when Julius Berger was eventually drafted to fix the bad portions of the road, it was gathered, they would work for one month, disappear, and reappear again. The deployment of SUKUK funding didn’t fare any better either. When budgetary allocation was provided for the road, it was barely enough to cover palliative work. As such, the contractor could hardly finish one or two kilometres before the onset of another rainy season and the subsequent relapse of the road into a complete state of disrepair.
All of this underscores the negative impact of the age-long politics of discriminating between the Federal and State roads. It, therefore, goes without saying that the Lagos/Ota/Abeokuta Road is pivotal to the socio-economic well-being of the people of Ogun State. Governor Abiodun succinctly put its significance thus: “I would like to highlight the Lagos-Ota-Abeokuta Road. Ota is a city that has earned us the prestigious title of being the industrial capital of Nigeria. It is a city where we share boundaries with Lagos State and you can hardly tell the difference between Ota (Ogun state) and Lagos State. He recalled that the contract for the reconstruction was awarded between 2010 and 2012 by the administration of former President Obasanjo but had been subjected to many reviews.
However, since his assumption of office, Abiodun has taken a detour from the old practice, bearing in mind the effects of the discriminatory policy on the populace. “We have been very indiscriminate in rehabilitating roads, whether it’s a state road or, a Federal. The truth is that there are no Federal people, everybody originates from the state. And our indigenes are travelling these roads and their experiences on those roads are nothing to write home about. They (people) don’t know whether a road is Federal or State. We know the pains they are going through and they start abusing council chairmen, and the state Governor. Because of that, we have refused to pay attention to the politics of whether a road is Federal or State,” he stated.
In the same vein, Umahi, leveraging his experience as a civil engineer and a former governor, has shown a clear understanding of the issue and he is ready to collaborate with Governor Abiodun for the development of the state road infrastructure.
“You have immediately demonstrated experience and understanding. Nothing can be more refreshing than having you as an Honourable Minister for Works because you understand the terrain. You have done this before. So, this is not a trial-and-error for you. And I’m sure that the needed relief that we have been yearning for all the while is already here”, Governor Abiodun enthused, noting the nexus between infrastructure and socio-economic development.
Umahi, while responding to Abiodun on the frustration experienced by Ogun and Lagos states respectively, to get the road done, disclosed that the period of bureaucracy in road construction in the country was over.
He said: “Let me say something about the frustration you had while you and the Lagos State government wrote to take over the reconstruction of the Lagos/Ota/Abeokuta road. Let me announce to you that it falls under our new programme, HDMI, which is the High Way Development Management Initiative. It is a Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) programme.
“People should begin to look at a state as a corporate entity. If you are looking for investors to come and invest on our roads; to construct, to own, to maintain, and toll, why shouldn’t a state do that?
“So, on this Lagos/Ota/Abeokuta road, I want us to work together, we’ve done 30% of the work. You can own 60%, we own 40% and you can do your portion of the 60%. You can give it to a contractor of your choice. I don’t believe in bureaucracy; we cannot reset the economy with the type of bureaucracy we have.
“If I get your request on this by WhatsApp, I will respond to you immediately. We will handle it under our HDMI.”
One exciting thing about the new-found partnership between the State and the Federal Governments is the emphasis on cement concrete road as well as private sector involvement in road construction and rehabilitation. If properly implemented, the new policy will serve the dual purpose of guaranteeing a long-lasting road infrastructure, as well as creating more employment opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths.
The discussion offered a unique opportunity for both sides to assess their critical areas of need, the challenges, and the prospect of a better infrastructural environment for the economic and industrial growth of the nation. Umahi, while giving an on-the-spot assessment of the state of the road network in the state, could not hide his excitement, saying “Thank you for the beautiful job you did on Epe/Ijebu-Ode Road. I was rather flying on it. It has linked up with Lagos and to those going to South East and South-south and those going to the North. You can easily avoid Lagos Mainland and the Island. It’s very wonderful,”
The governor, exchanging compliments, also appreciated the Minister for his understanding of issues and reminded him of the ongoing reconstruction work on the Sagamu-Ore Road. “I am hoping that you will be able to help us fast-track the reconstruction of Sagamu-Ore Road because we as a state government have continued to maintain that road. I am hoping you could use your good offices to assist us in ensuring that the road is funded,” he said.
There is a high expectation that the new partnership will bring permanent relief for the residents and commuters along the road that serves as the Gateway between the state and Lagos. Ogbonnikan wrote from Abeokuta, Ogun State capital