By Austin Oniyokor
After months, nay years of dilly-dallying, work has finally commenced on the Berger end of the 127.6 kilometre long Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. This has resulted in the partial closure of the road and diversion of traffic in and out of Lagos. The contract for the road, which was awarded by the Goodluck Jonathan Administration in 2013 and earlier scheduled to end in 2017, will now be completed in 2021/2022. That’s about three years from now. We have been told that the reason for the extension in the expected date of completion is because of the addition of some features, such as under passes, foot bridges, flyovers, toll plazas and road expansion. And you read right: the toll plazas will soon be back on the road after the spending tax payers’ money to demolish same.
While announcing the partial closure of the road, the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos, Mr. Adedamola Kuti said the project is 40% completed. In effect, it took six years to attain 40% of work on the road. So, if we go by the Federal Government’s projection that the project will be turned in by 2021/2022, it means the Government intends to accomplish the remaining 60% in three years! While not being a cynic, it is safer to take this promise with cautious optimism. And the reason is not far to seek. The structural and resource challenges are still very much with us.
Make no mistake about it; it is good that the expressway is being fixed – at last! But, at what cost is it coming? No, this is not about the figures. It is more about the cost to the life and well-being of the road user. Going by the travel advice issued by the Federal Government and the Lagos and Ogun state traffic agencies, travellers and indeed all Nigerians who use and/or will use the road are in for a long haul – a prolong season of hardship and difficulty. It is all the more poignant considering the fact that the 41-year-old expressway is the major road to the northern, southern and eastern parts of the country. In fact, one of the agencies advised travellers who are in a hurry not to use the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway while the project lasts.
The enormity of the hardship and pains that the road users are going to face or are already facing would sink in more against the backdrop of the fact that the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is reputed to be one of the largest road networks in Africa and the busiest inter-state route in Nigeria, with more than 250,000 Passenger Car Units (PCUs) daily.
The caveat that anyone in a hurry should not make use of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is a euphemism for the inconvenience, pain and untold hardship that Nigerians would be subjected to. This is particularly so given the fact that the alternative routes are really no alternatives.
While handing down the travel advice, Kuti said one of the supposed alternative routes – the Ikorodu-Sagamu Road – was 18% completed. What that meant was that not much has been done on the road. Although some repair works are said to be going on at the Iyana-Ipaja/Ota/Ifo/Abeokuta Expressway and the Epe/ijebu-Ode-Benin/Ore Expressway, courtesy of the Ogun State Government, the same cannot be said of the Ikorodu/ Itoikin/ Ijebu-Ode Road.
Before a major road like the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is shut (whether partially or otherwise), one would have expected that the alternative routes would have been fixed or considerably done to really serve as alternatives. With the Ikorodu-Sagamu Road said to be 18% completed and the uncertain level of the other alternative routes, the fate of hapless Nigerians who use the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is better imagined. How come we don’t plan? Why don’t we pay attention to details in the way and manner we do things? What really is the value of life in Nigeria? Does anyone really care about us? Has anyone thought of the man hours that will be wasted in traffic snarls and the attendant health and economic implications?
Although the number of policemen and traffic personnel on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has increased considerably, the same cannot be said on the other routes where the “impatient” road users and others are expected to use. The tendency is to concentrate all attention, resources and efforts on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway while the others suffer. Considering the increased traffic that will be on the alternative routes, it is expected that security will be beefed up on these routes. It is also not too much to complement this with standby mobile ambulances at strategic points on the roads – in case of untoward situation. Special allowances should be paid to the officials who will be sent on this special assignment so as to motivated them.
It is good that work is progressing on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, but it would have been better if the alternative had been fixed or considerably repaired before the commencement of work on that major road. Yes, it may be too late to cry when the head has been severed from the body. Work has commenced on the road. We must forge ahead.
But, urgent steps can still be taken to mitigate the adverse effect of the partial closure of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and its corollary impact on the alternative roads. As work progresses on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, concerted efforts must be made towards fixing the alternative roads; security must be strengthened on all the roads and adequate provision made for emergencies. We cannot afford to subject citizens to the kind of harrowing experience being witnessed on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway – and indeed almost all the roads – for years, and expect that all will be well with the body and body politic. Something will definitely give. This is an avoidable situation. The Federal, Lagos and Ogun state governments should pull resources to salvage the situation and avert the adverse consequences on the economy, life and general well-being of the people. A stich in time, they say, saves nine.