Agony on Lagos-Ibadan expressway

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By Olukorede Yisau

December 2019 and January this year came with some bad news from the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. The newspapers captured the horror in screaming headlines: ‘Three die, three injured’; ‘Accident kills five, injured nine’; and ‘travellers groan as multiple tankers accidents blocked road’.

The road is like the ever bloodthirsty witch in Nollywood movies. The accident, which claimed three lives, happened at the Ishara-Ogere end of the road. The Ogun State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Clement Oladele, attributed the cause to ‘route violation (driving against traffic) around the construction zone’ along the expressway.

What Oladele did not say was that the accident would not have happened had the construction work been concluded on time. The construction has become the proverbial abiku ‘coming and going’ and reluctant to fully come on stream. This state of construction has forced motorists to accommodate additional travel time to navigate areas where lanes have narrowed due to the never-ending construction.

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The people’s dilemma on the day multiple tanker accidents blocked the Lagos-Ibadan expressway was really bad. Because it happened during the Yuletide, many people going home were stranded for hours. The FRSC had to advise motorists to avoid the area. The terrible Abeokuta/Ota/Lagos expressway, the Ibadan/Ogere/Siun Junction; Abeokuta/Sango/Lagos and Ijebu-Ode/Ajah/Victoria Island/Lagos routes became alternatives and the experience was not palatable. It is sad that a long stretch like the Lagos-Ibadan expressway has no functional street lights. That was one of the components Dr. Wale Babalakin’s Bi-Courtney Highway Services was supposed to handle when it entered a deal with the Umaru Yar’Adua administration. The firm was to raise the fund to Design, Build, Operate and Transfer (DBOT) the road and recoup its investment through tolls.

Bi-Courtney’s design conceptualised the road as a six-lane highway from Lagos to Shagamu and eight-lane from Shagamu to Ibadan. It was planned to have 14 new overhead bridges and by-passes, as well as hotels, relaxation parks, trailer parks, emergency and ambulance points.

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Bi-Courtney was also supposed to provide electronic traffic control and enforcement measures; highway lighting between 7 pm and 6 am through the installation of a gas-fired plant; overhead pedestrian bridges at designated locations; modern toll points with electronic tolling system; and modern road signs and lane markings.

Safety facilities such as vehicular parking areas for heavy-duty vehicles, rest areas with eateries and conveniences, emergency communications equipment and clinics, and emergency ambulances, were also on the card. All these were to be covered in the N89.53 billion deal, which was to see the firm collecting toll for 25 years. The government said the concession agreement was revoked because Bi-Courtney failed to adhere to the terms, a claim the company continues to fault.

When the deal was cancelled, the then Minister of Works Mike Onolememen said all had been put in place to make the road better. He said the Lagos to Sagamu Interchange would be expanded to three lanes on both sides. The portion from the interchange to Ibadan would have its two existing lanes reconstructed. The Infrastructure Bank PLC later said it was concessioning the road to Motorways Assets Limited (MAL).

In June 2013, the Federal Government re-awarded the reconstruction of the expressway to Julius Berger Plc and RCC. And we are still crawling. Whatever is being done now is a far cry from what the botched concession promised. Julius Berger is handling the section from the Old Toll Gate to Sagamu. RCC is handling the remaining stretch to Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State. The road lacks streetlights to aid visibility at night. The lack of streetlight allegedly caused a truck driver to lose visibility and crash, leading to the death of four people. The truck ran into the road median, lost control and skidded off before it fell on the road – spilling its contents. The traders were pinned the ground.

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The 126-kilometre stretch of the expressway has a lot to do with the gory road accident statistics released by the FRSC. Between December 2018 and February last year, at least 1,618 people died in road accidents. Over 21,577 people were involved in road crashes.

The slow pace of work on the road, whose completion has now been announced as 2021, is traceable to the paucity of funds. So thousands who use the road every day will continue to experience stress as they use the road to access other parts of the Southwest, the Southeast, the Southsouth and the North.

Like the yam farmers whose truck skidded off due to poor visibility, many farmers from states such as Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo and Osun, who rely on this road to bring in their produce to Lagos for sale, have sad tales to tell. Their Hausa colleagues who bring their onions, tomatoes and others to markets such as Mile 12, Oshodi, and so on, are also in deep trouble.

I believe ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo did a disservice to the country by doing little or nothing on this road for the eight years he was in power. The Jonathan administration played funny games with the road throughout its years in power. Now the Buhari administration is hampered by money. The National Assembly has not helped matters; its budgetary provisions for this all-important road leave nothing to be desired. It has kept cutting the request of the Ministry of Works and Housing for this road, instead of adding to it. At a point, a senator even created the impression that it is a Southwest road when, in the real sense, it is a Nigerian road. Without it, you cannot travel from the North to Lagos and vice versa.

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My final take: Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Raji Fashola should be given all the financial support he needs to complete the road on schedule and it must be top notch. The National Assembly must realise that the Lagos-Ibadan expressway is not a Southwest project, but a pan-Nigerian one, with unimaginable effect on our economy. It is time the lawmakers stopped cutting the budget for the project. It should instead provide more so that the project can be completed on time to end the near-daily carnage on it. A virement to make available the needed cash will not be a bad idea.


Go and see Dear Affy

The highbrow Filmhouse Imax Cinema in Lekki Phase One was busier last Sunday.

Reason: An ex-reporter with The Sun-turned public relations expert and filmmaker, Samuel Olatunji (Big Sam), premiered his movie Dear Affy.

The movie, which is Olatunji’s first as a director, is a romantic comedy of high standard. The packed hall, where it was premiered, was filled with laughter every other minute. Many around me were cracking their heads and making permutations to unravel the plot, whose suspense is difficult to predict.

Starring A-list actors, such as Kehinde Bankole, who played the lead, Eyinna Nwigwe, Teni Makanaki, Odunlade Adekola, Toyin Abraham, Kolawole Ajewole and others, Dear Affy is a tale of love and betrayal. It sure will keep you thinking.

I expect it to join the list of Nollywood movies, such as Wedding Party 1 and 2, Merry Men, King of Boys and others, which made cool money from cinema runs. It started showing at the cinemas across the country yesterday. In the spirit of St Valentine’s Day, take your partner to see this movie by a reporter who is a practical example of thinking beyond the newsroom.


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