Julius Berger was once again at work last Sunday. The setting was the ubiquitous Lagos- Ibadan expressway that has for the greater part of the last 20 years become some sort of a torture chamber and a haunted route for millions of Nigerians moving to or out of Lagos from all other parts of the country. The initial mandate was for Julius Berger to reconstruct the 127 kilometres expressway that took less than three years when it was first etched out of a deep mangrove rain forest and commissioned towards the dying months of Obasanjo military regime in August 1978. That task has however so far defied Obasanjo and his PDP’s 16 years of mis-governance including the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan which in 2013 re- awarded the contract to Julius Berger Nigeria and Reynolds Construction Company Limited at a sum of N167 billion and of course Buhari and his APC’s six years of buck-passing.
I am not sure there is any other thing that has alienated President Buhari from Nigerians than the non-completion of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. This is the busiest inter-estate expressway connecting all parts of Nigeria and which, according to Clement Oladele, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC)’s sector commander, caters for “no fewer than 16 million passenger during the festive period”, with about 1.8 million vehicles , 72% of which are commercial vehicles, plying the road between December and January every year. The agony on the road is the agony of all Nigerians.
Julius Berger represents everything that is wrong with the nation. It shares all the negative attributes of the Nigerian governing elite – impunity, insensitivity, greed and lack of empathy for Nigerians they often treat as subjects as against citizen. The agony and nightmare experienced by Nigerian motorists who last Sunday spent about eight hours between the Redeemed Camp and Lagos as a result of traffic gridlock deliberately created by Julius Berger was only one of series of repeated assault on Nigerians for which the company has ever been held accountable.
The Federal Controller of Works in Lagos on Sunday morning, announced a six-day traffic diversion on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, starting from Monday, to enable Julius Berger, the contractor handling section one of the project, to lay asphalt between Arepo and Warewa, a distance of one and half kilometers. But between 9am and 10am that morning, “about three people who wore Julius Berger apron used a bulldozer to carry barricades to effect the blockage. With total contempt for Nigerians, Julius Berger, a contractor which thinks it is doing us a favour created a gridlock 24 hours before the commencement of work on the affected portion of the road.
With Julius Berger’s partial shut-down of the Magboro and Warewa, Ogun State ends of the highway, “thousands of travellers’, according to a Punch report, “moving inwards Lagos State and those bound for Ogun State were trapped at the various bottlenecks”, while an overwhelmed Federal Road Safety Corps officials stood aloof even as “motorists struggled to wriggle their way out of the logjam”.
But such contempt for Nigerians is in Julius Berger’s character. Back in 2016 when it embarked on the work on the long bridge, but for the outcry of Nigerians, it initially ignored suggestions that pathway at the beginning of the long bridge be graded in addition to grading of the bad portion of the road between Kara area and Berger so that vehicles could be diverted to the side lane to provide relief to motorists while Julius Berger worked at its normal snail speed.
With President Buhari’s efforts at managing our diversity, ensuring security and stabilising the economy under repeated attack by his political enemies and other concerned Nigerians, one area he believes will be his lasting legacy is the ‘rebranding of road networks in the country’. A huge chunk of the loans his administration secured has therefore been channeled into rebuilding the nation’s collapsed infrastructure in general. Addressing guests during the opening of a recent two-day Mid-Term Ministerial Performance Review Retreat at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, the president expressed delight that ‘‘the PIDF projects including the 11.9km Second Niger Bridge, 120 km Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, 375 km Abuja – Kaduna – Zaria – Kano Expressway and the East-West Road are advancing remarkably and are expected to be completed within this second term of our administration.’’
But the unending agony of motorists on Lagos-Ibadan expressway now threatens to derail that dream. It was perhaps in recognition of this and the series of delays in the completion of the project that the House of Representative Committee on Works, led by its chairman, Abubakar Kabir, during their oversight visit to roads in Lagos and Southwest on Tuesday, June 1, issued a May 2022 ultimatum to the contractors handling the rehabilitation/reconstruction to complete the project.
Raji Fashola, the president’s resourceful Minister of Works also understands the implication of the continued delay in the completion of the road on the legacy of his principal. Back in September, accompanied by Governor Abiodun of Ogun State, he was for the fourth time this year on the inspection tour of progress on road. Fashola during the assessment tour praised the contractors, Julius Berger for having covered “ long-range, citing the lengthy kilometres covered from Ogere, Sagamu, Kara and to Lotto flyover”.
Work on the Lotto flyover bridge which as far as eyes can see only spans across the expressway has taken over three years with motorists sometimes spending more than one hour of struggling with trailers and fuel-laden tankers to cross that portion of the road even when many at time, little or no activity was going on. I think instead of humouring, Fashola should remind Julius Berger that in February 2020, it took only 10 days for the Chinese authority to build a two-storey Huoshenshan (Fire God Mountain) 1,000 beds Hospital on the outskirts of Wuhan City to serve exclusively as a treatment and quarantine centre for patients with the 2019-nCoV virus.
I have searched without finding a difference between Julius Berger and Reynolds Construction Company Limited, the two contractors handling the reconstruction of the expressway. Both have nothing but contempt for Nigerians. I drove from Ibadan end of the expressway to Ife by-pass on Thursday and Friday last week, each trip lasting about one hour. But beyond the traffic gridlock compounded by pot holes Reynolds did not bother to fix, most of the expressway was opened up with motorists, motorcyclists, pedestrians enveloped by red soil. It is not known how long Ibadan residents and those traversing the city will face such ordeal especially since it is obvious no one is thinking of the health implications for those whose only crime is that they live or travel through the city.
But we know why contractors treat us as sub humans and why Julius Berger cannot but treat German citizens with anything but civility. Professor (Mrs) Angela Merkel, their immediate past leader, while in office, walked with her husband to the grocery store while wives of local council chairmen and state legislators here are driven to the market in official car accompanied by AK-47 wielding police officers.