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Lagos-Ibadan: A road and its discontents

The importance of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway cannot be over-emphasized. Thousands of people use the road every day. It is the major get-away route from Lagos.…

The importance of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway cannot be over-emphasized. Thousands of people use the road every day. It is the major get-away route from Lagos. If you are heading to other parts of the Southwest, the Southeast, the South-South and the North, you must use this all-important road, which, for some time now, has been enmeshed in needless controversies.
Farmers from states such as Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo and Osun rely on this road to bring their farm produce to Lagos for sale. Their counterparts from the North also have no choice but to use this road to bring their onions, tomatoes and other goods to Lagos markets such as Mile 12, Oshodi and so on. What this means is that the road plays a pivotal commercial role in the economy of this country. Its importance is not in doubt. But the way government has treated the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway over the years has left little to be desired.
In 2009, the Federal Government granted a 25-year concession to Dr Wale Babalakin’s Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited (BHSL) for the reconstruction and maintenance of the road. The project was to cost N89.53 billion and the company was expected to source for the fund. In November 2012, federal government revoked the concession, saying Bi-Courtney failed to adhere to the terms, an allegation the company denied. Bi-Courtney said the government delayed the approval of the project design and failed to secure the needed right of way. In June 2013, the Federal Government re-awarded the reconstruction of the expressway to Julius Berger Plc., and RCC.
There have been instances where people miss appointments all because of traffic gridlock caused by the bad state of the road. One only needs check with the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to get statistics on the number of lives that have been lost along this same stretch. Many who have survived accidents on the expressway still carry psychological wounds that may never heal.
The sorry state of the 105-kilometre road has led to the loss of unquantifiable man hours. It is not a road you ply and can be sure of when you will get to your destination. You have absolutely no control over how long the ordeal will last.  Pockets of damaged spots line the road, and not a few of them have formed small ponds.
Many Nigerians were hopeful when the administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan re-awarded the contract for the reconstruction of the road to Julius Berger Construction Company and Reynolds Construction Company, (RCC).
What further gave hope to many was the assurance of ex-Minister of Works Mike Onolememen that all had been put in place to make the road better.
Onolememen said the Lagos to Sagamu Interchange would be expanded to three lanes on both sides, which was not the same as the six lanes Bi-Courtney promised. The portion from the interchange to Ibadan, he said, would have its two existing lanes reconstructed. He left no doubt as to the Federal Government’s readiness to spend N167 billion on the project.
Almost all of this year, there is no week that the road is not in the news.
In January,ý the Infrastructure Bank PLC took up space in five newspapers regarding this same road. In the advertorial, which was a reaction to Bi-Courtney’s position that the concession of the road to Motorways Assets Limited (MAL) was a back door arrangement, the bank tried to justify the engagement of MAL. It denied not following due process. Yet, the concession of the project was never advertised in any newspaper. The Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act provides that concessions in Nigeria must be advertised in two national newspapers. It also states that the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) must issue a no-objection approval before the concession is taken to the Federal Executive Council for approval. There is no evidence that these steps were taken.
When Bi-Courtney learnt that the Jonathan administration, through The Infrastructure Bank PLC, had concluded plans to concession the project to MAL, it approached the court to stop it. On receipt of Bi-Courtney’s application, the Ministry of Works responded in its counter affidavit dated July 5, 2015, that “Government has not re-concessioned the road to any company”.
Despite the denials, it turned out that a concession had actually been granted to MAL, whose promoters are unknown. Interestingly, in the Concession Agreement to MAL, there is a clause where the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Finance, paid N50 billion to the new concessionaire and also indemnified it.
As Bi-Courtney argued, “The payment of N50 billion was made unlawfully and thus cannot constitute a proper expenditure of the Federal Government. The legal consequence is that the payment was made in a manner ultra vires the powers of those who made it and must be returned to the coffers of the government. Failure to do this would amount to encouraging the siphoning of Nigeria’s limited resources. The unlawful indemnity is also contrary to the laws and principles guiding concessions in Nigeria.”
The Federal High Court eventually set aside the concession on the basis that it violated all known principles of law and justice.
Before the order of the court, the project had been stalled for lack of money and the contractors, Julius Berger and RCC, had left the site.
The Minister of Power, Housing and Works, Babatunde Fashola, SAN, admitted that the Federal Government is concerned about the lingering litigation on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
His words: “The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is a story of what investors don’t like. The FGN granted a concession to a private company (Company A) and later withdrew and cancelled it. The FGN then entered into a construction and financing agreement with another company (Company B). Company A went to court and got an order to cancel the financing agreement with Company B.
“As things stand, work has been stopped on the construction of the road.
The construction companies cannot get financing because of the court order, so they have laid off about 2,000 workers, in an economy that has so much to do and needs to create work.
“These two companies are Nigerian companies investing in Nigeria, which is a positive sign because the local investors are the most important to any economy.
“Regrettably, while not going into the merits and demerits of the FGN’s cancellation of Company A’s concession, it sends a not-welcoming message to foreign investors if the decision was without basis or influenced by politics, which I cannot comment upon.
“If that was the case, as a foreign investor, I will be asking myself the kind of treatment that awaits me as a foreigner if the government does that to a citizen.”
From the look of things, the law favours Bi-Courtney as the firm that should be constructing the road. For me, this is the time for the Federal Government to end the needless suffering as well as the lingering discontent and controversy by handing the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway over to Bi-Courtney, so that it can truly deliver the six-lane standard road that Nigerians have been promised.

Odubena wrote this piece from Lagos.

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