I dread travelling on Lagos-Ibadan Expressway because of tales of agony by those who regularly traverse the road. But two Fridays ago, I had to leave Lagos at 8am for a meeting scheduled for 10am in Ijebu Ode. I spent about four hours between Berger and the Redeemed Camp arriving at my destination at 12noon. In the early eighties, Lagos to Ibadan was just one hour and about two hours from Lagos to Ilesha.
The road, plied by about 25,000 vehicles daily is said to account for 75% of movement of goods across the nation. Yet the road accounts for the worst accidents in Nigeria. Multiple accidents involving petrol tankers are common occurrence. In one particular night on May 31, 2018, over 24 vehicles were burnt with several lives lost.
Government had in 2009 signed a concession agreement with Bi-Courtney under Design Build, Operate and Transfer arrangement. It was to be at no cost to government but to be managed by Bi-Courtney for 25 years to recoup its money. A presidential committee set up in 2013 to review the agreement recommended it be upheld since “it offers a quick and reasonable solution to the problem”.
But President Jonathan’s Works Minister Mike Onolememen, claiming that because no real progress was recorded in four years, government was prompted to terminate the agreement “to put an end the carnage on the road”.
Contract for the reconstruction was awarded to Julius Berger Nigeria Ltd and Reynolds Construction Company Limited at a sum of N167billion. Flagging-off the reconstruction in 2013, Jonathan said “we have adequate funds arrangement” while then PDP acting secretary insisted it was “another manifestation of President Jonathan’s transformation agenda” to ‘‘put the lie’ to the insinuation of marginalization against Southwest by the Jonathan administration’. This column immediately dismissed the exercise as Jonathan’s Shagamu road show’.
It was not difficult to see the opportunism on the eve of an election by an Azikiwe Jonathan who could not deliver on his promise on the Second Niger bridge in four years playing politics with important Lagos-Ibadan expressway, described by his Works Minister, Onolememen’s as “a major artery that connects Lagos, major Nigerian seaports, to other states of the federation and forms not only a part of the Trans-Saharan Highway that links Lagos on the Atlantic Ocean to Algiers on the Mediterranean Sea but also part of the Trans-African Highway”.
In any case, the Yoruba who had experienced eight years of marginalization from Obasanjo, their son expected no special favours from Jonathan but good governance having experienced such in the past under late Obafemi Awolowo.
Besides, it amounts to shedding crocodile tears for the Yoruba who have alternative routes to their country when in fact those hit most are other Nigerians that have no alternative of ferrying their goods from the country’s major port and the nation’s economic nerve-centre.
But the tragedy of Lagos-Ibadan expressway and indeed many other abandoned roads in Nigeria did not start in 2013. Obasanjo, Jonathan’s godfather once embarked on similar road show when he flagged off with fanfare, the Ibadan-Ilorin expressway in 2001. As at 2014, a minister of works was still talking of efforts ‘to complete the Oyo-Ogbomosho portion of the road.’ That story has not changed.
There was also Works Minister Adeseye Ogunlewe who first flagged off the rehabilitation and reconstruction of this same Lagos-Ibadan expressway in 2003 shortly before an election Obasanjo desperately needed to win. The over N300billion budgetary allocation for roads construction, under the late Tony Anenih brought little relief to Nigerian road users. The picture of Diezani Alison-Maduekwe as works minister, weeping like a baby over the suffering of motorists on the collapsed Sagamu-Ore Benin expressway even as journalists tried to console her is fresh in our memory.
For President Buhari and his APC resisting change and digging deeper into the hole, let us also call their attention to the report of the Presidential Projects Assessment Committee (PPAC) set up in March 2011, to look into cases of abandoned federal government projects. It claimed there were 11,886 abandoned projects that will cost an estimated N7.78 trillion to complete.
The Institute of Project Management of Nigeria (IPMN) and the then president’s Special Assistant on Performance Monitoring and Evaluation, Professor Sylvester Monye gave the breakdown and the spread of some of the projects as follows: the 400 metres-long Utor Bridge along Asaba-Ebu-Uromi road awarded in 2006 but abandoned in 2009, Ikorodu-Sagamu road and Lagos-Otta road project awarded in 2001 but abandoned by both Impresit Bakolori PLC and Julius Berger because of ‘inadequate funding,’; the 36 kilometres Bodo-Bonny road in Rivers awarded in 2002; the abandoned 285 NNDC projects and 1,994 rural electrification projects among many others spread around the various geo-political zones of the country. The story has not changed. Ikorodu-Sagamu and Lagos-Otta roads which I am familiar with are still death traps.
But as Governor Nasir El Rufai, observed back then, “rather than these figures compelling the government to find solutions, it would rather engage in weekly charade of awarding new contracts or re-awarding old ones at higher prices during its weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings”.
This structure will not work even with an angel. “Show me 100 kilometres road your government completed in four years”, Fashola back in 2014 taunted Jonathan. Fashola after five years in the saddle recently admitted that Lagos–Ibadan expressway will be completed in 2022. In fact, as at May this year, only 61% (24 kilometres) of the 43 kilometres Ojota-Sagamu inter-change have been completed according to Kayode Popoola, Federal Controller of Works.
The system is the problem. A system that expects President Buhari and his minister of health who cannot manage the state house hospital under their nose to manage all the teaching hospitals and federal health centres in 774 LGAs of the country is doomed to fail
While President Buhari who claims not to understand what restructuring or federalism is all about, America whose constitution we copied has moved on from cooperative to competitive federalism patterned along the lines of market economy whereby residents of states whose governors are indolent move to states whose governors are more creative and more resourceful.
In the US, the government has a body of experts that handles federal roads, awards contracts and pay as per work done and as scrutinized by journalists. Here one minister in spite of 36 ministries of works, controls all the federal roads in all the nooks and corners of Nigeria.
A federal road runs from Akoko through Ado Ekiti, Ogotun Ekiti to Ipetu Ijesha; the only portion of the road that has endured, outliving even the state roads constructed with free federal allocation is the six kilometres portion that meanders through dangerous crevices, cracks, gorges and valleys linking my town with Ipetu-Ijesha constructed with taxpayers money by Awolowo in 1959.
The reconstruction of Lagos-Ibadan expressway constructed within three years (August 1974-July 1977) which now has defied heroic efforts of four presidents spanning 20 years is a symptom of our crisis of nation building. The solution is a workable federal arrangement that guarantees the rights, freedom and liberty of groups and individuals ‘defined in form of language, culture and religion or socio-economic status’.