Date Published: 07/19/10
Lekk-Epe Expressway - Lagos and the Ostrich Treatment By Walemi Ogunleye
The Lekki Epe expressway expansion project being handled by the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) reminds me of the proverbial ostrich’s habit of burying its head in the earth any time it perceives any threat or enemies. With its head safely buried in the sand, the ostrich assumes the threat would go away. What this mighty bird fails to realize is that its whole body mass is exposed to this threat it so much wants to wish away. In fairness to the ostrich, it is just a bird, - a lower animal with very limited intelligence and as such, it can be pardoned. However, what baffles me to no end is the decision by the Lagos State Government (LASG) to play this ostrich style in relation to the Lekki Epe expressway. What they want to achieve with this eludes me completely. It is a sad reminder of the contempt and disdain with which those in government in Nigeria holds the people they govern and as much as I would concede that the Lagos State government has been very impressive by Nigerian standard, it is unfortunate that Gov Fashola and his team are allowing this expressway to turn a sore spot in their otherwise commendable attempt at providing quality leadership in the Centre of Excellence.
This 50km road was originally built by Alh Lateef Jakande between 1979 and 1983 as a two lane, dual carriage way and stretches all the way to Epe. It was conceded by the administration of Bola Tinubu to Lekki Concession Company. The scope involves rehabilitating the road and expanding it to three lanes. LCC was responsible for sourcing the finance needed to execute the work. In return, the road users would pay toll over 30 years for the company to recoup its investment. The project has been variously touted as the flagship of Public Private Participation (PPP) in road construction in the whole of Sub Saharan Africa. On the face value, the decision to concede the road looks good. After all, we all know government cannot continue to shoulder every social need alone. However, the details and intricacies of the deal smacks of either a poor understanding of the LCC proposal on the road before the contract was signed by the LASG, or more likely, a deliberate plan by the LASG to shortchange and punish residents of the axis and other road users who regularly ply that route for whatever misdemeanors government holds against them.
The world over, one simple principle to tolling has always been the availability of an alternative route. In other words, if you cannot pay the toll on a road for any reason, go use the alternative route. This project would probably make a history as the only one where alternatives were not provided. Much as we know that the axis is fast turning out to be the haven of the nouveau riche in Lagos, it would be extremely inconsiderate to assume everyone on that stretch can easily afford the toll. There are the natives who are not so well to do and they have as much right as anyone else to get to their destinations unfettered. Maybe governance in Fashola’s Lagos is not about the poor, get rich anyhow or get out of Lagos!
More so, the number of tolling points on that road would definitely get an exclusive mention in the Guinness book of records. Between Falomo bridge and Sangotedo, about 30km stretch; there are plans for three tolling points! Anyone who stays at Sangotedo and work in Victoria Island would be expected to pay toll in three different points to get to work daily, and repeat the exploitation sequence on his way back home. In other words, everyday, he contends with six toll points to and fro work. Haba! On a stretch less than 30km. And the LASG sees nothing wrong with that. Tolling points are not entirely new in Nigeria, there used to be a number of them before the Federal Government, in its wisdom decided to do away with them. Between Lagos and Ibadan, a stretch longer than 100 km, there were only two toll points; one at the Lagos end and the other just at the Ibadan end.
What makes it all the more infuriating is that this is an existing road, built with tax payer’s money by a responsive government some 25 years earlier. It is ironic that another government would now come and hand over that same road to a private concern to just add one lane either carriage way and mount tolling points indiscriminately. There is no better way to mortgage away the interest of the governed. No government in its right sense would do that. This is probably what fuelled the speculation that the immediate past Governor of Lagos, Bola Tinubu has an interest in the concession company- LCC and that the deal is tailored to continually drain the resources of the residents of the axis who are known to be against his political party-Action Congress. A political vengeance against a people with a different political inclination.
Just for the record, I don’t stay on the Lekki Ajah axis, my residence is on the mainland. However, I have always told my acquaintances that are part of the stakeholders that getting the government to cancel the contractual deal with LCC now is a near impossibility, and I don’t even expect the government to toe that line for any reason. They left their agitations too late in the day, and events have reached a level where it won’t make any sense to stop the concession arrangement. What they should clamour for should be provision of relatively good alternative routes so road users have a choice. Their ‘no tolling, no fencing’ campaign is several years late in coming! It would have been relevant some four years earlier.
The incumbent Gov Fashola has uncharacteristically decided to keep quiet and deliberately avoid the numerous stakeholders who have been going round ventilating their concerns about this exploitation. Maybe his hands are tied. After all, he wants a second term and Almighty Tinubu can deprive him of that chance if he does not play along. That is what governance in Nigerian has turned into- an unending propagation of self interests as against the common interest. Mr. Fashola is proving that beyond the rhetoric of performance, deep within, he is still a politician, well schooled in the art of deceit and not a statesman. A Nigerian politician’s sole motivation is the next election, unlike statesmen who are persuaded by the interest of the next generation above narrow self interests. Even his Information commissioner, Opeyemi Bamidele who has been so articulate in publicizing the numerous achievements of the LASG has not thought it fit to address the concerns of the people on this road. Maybe there is nothing to say! It is not so easy marketing a bad product. And the ostrich treatment of ‘see no evil’ is the only way they know to react. After all, we are Nigerians, we don’t deserve any response. We would talk and shout till we lose our voices, thereafter, we would get used to the toll payment and the world would continue!