Lock up transportation and you lock up an economy. This aphorism has been proven beyond doubt on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, which has been locked down to traffic for over two decades. Hence the joy of residents and motorists knew no bounds when the Federal Executive Council (FEC), awarded the contract for its repairs, writes ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE.
The approval last Wednesday, by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), of the repair of the 46-kilometre Lagos-Badagry Expressway, may have saved the government from bad publicity.
Angry stakeholders (which comprised residents, motor unionists and other road users) had planned a massive two-day protest from Badagry to Mile 2 on October 30 and 31, to call attention to the deplorable state of the road. But one of the co-ordinators, Mr. Mike Whetodeh, a former director at the Administrative Staff College of Nigeria (ASCON), Topo, Badagry, said the protest has been called off in deference to the new development.
“FEC today approved a contract for the rehabilitation of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, specifically the 46km Section from Agbara-Badagry-Seme Border. The repair of the section from Eric Moore to Okokomaiko is being carried out by the Lagos State Govt,” the government disclosed on its twitter handle, @Asorock last Wednesday.
The road is dilapidated as the Lagos State Government failed to work on it after promising to convert it to a 10-lane expressway.
The National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) Vice-Chairman, Mr Oloyede Edun, described the road as a death trap. According to him many lives have been lost to accidents in the past, while it has become a den of armed robbers, who rob motorists plying the road with impunity. He said the Federal Government has been on the road for about 30 years.
A concerned resident, Mr Benjamin Bako, a businessman, who lives at Agbara, said the road went from bad to worse and got worst due to abandonment.
He said remedial works by the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) were merely superficial, and a conduit for sleaze, as it lasted long enough for it to be re-awarded to either the same contractor or another.
“Government officials and contractors have been feeding fat on the plight of the people living in this area. It is as if we are not living in Nigeria and it is worrisome that such a huge network of corruption, greed and avarice with such impunity could be going on for a decade right in Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital,” he said.
Bako was part of those spearheading the protest that was called off. He said protest remains the only platform through which the people can register their grievances against the government.
Road to neglect
The Expressway is extremely deplorable. Areas such as Iyana-Ishashi, Ijanikin, Agbara, Magbon, Oko-Afo, Elijah and Mowo are impassable. Vehicles, most of which are rickety, due to the state of the road, use one way to get to their destinations. Motorcycles have become the preferred means of transportation. Admitting that the corridor has passed through a terrible time, the Lagos State Government, however, did not agree it abandoned the road completely. Its plans for the critical corridor was underscored by the various initiatives, especially the plan to turn it into a 10-lane, with mass transit light rail and bus rapid transit lanes.
Earlier in the year, Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Mr. Ade Akinsanya, said the government would employ a PPP arrangement to reverse the fortunes of the road.
He spoke of plans by the Akinwunmi Ambode-led administration to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a consortium of investors for the construction of the Seme-Badagry Expressway. The initiative was a novel answer to the long delay suffered by the project since the Fashola years, when funds needed for it couldn’t be raised.
Ambode has also directed that the completed portion – from Eric Moore to Okokomaiko – be opened to the public by the contractor, even as the Public Works Corporation have been directed to embark on aggressive repair works on the road.
A trip on the road could leave a first-time visitor to the country through Seme Border wondering if the government understood the importance of the road to its economy.
Tales of woes
Built in the 60s, the road leads to West African sub region, connecting Nigeria with 17 other countries such as Benin Republic, Ghana, Togo, Bourkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Buissau and Liberia, Mali, Mauritania and Niger among others.
It also serves as a critical link to the commercial and tourism hub with the road being the only access to Agbara, the nation’s foremost industrial cluster with over 1,000 corporate presence and a spring of other communities, which sprung along the route.
For the residents, an hour’s journey now takes almost 12 hours to navigate. Prof. Samuel Odewunmi narrated that he had to resort to sending necessary materials to one of his Master’s student when the student spent 11 hours to get to class at the Lagos State University, Ojo, on a Saturday.
“He arrived at the school after 4pm and I just asked him to rest for one hour and to return home. He left the school around 5pm and didn’t arrive at his Lekki home until 11pm. I then henceforth resorted to sending him his lecture notes online.
The parlous state of the international gateway has simply paralysed commerce. Bako said many firms at Agbara are either at the verge of closing up, or rationalising their staff as a result of glut occasioned by the poor road.
“Many, who cannot withstand the traffic on the road caused by bad portions, resort to okada, violating the Road Traffic Law 2012. No one would wish to go by okada, but when the road is bad and one wishes to arrive home early, he has no option than to take the risk.”
But these frustrations may be a thing of the past soon as the Federal Government has taken responsibility to repair the road.
Prof Odewunmi described the move as belated, but smart, as it would lay to rest the nation’s shame. He said Nigeria is the only country with the worst section on the trans-West African route.
Odewunmi, who is the Dean of Transportation Studies at LASU, said the nation and Lagos State are losing heavily as a result of the lockdown of that critical corridor adding; “When transportation is not working, the entire economy suffers cardiac arrest.
“Importers spend four days from FESTAC Gate to Agbara first bridge, and it could be traumatising if you are importing perishable goods.”
He also urged the Federal Government to drop the 10-lane idea as it may be unsustainable and avoidable wastage, taking into cognisance the present volume of traffic along the corridor. “If we are fixated on 10-lane, government may not finish in 10 years, but if you do a four lane expressway, with provision for future development, when we have the funds and the right volume of vehicles, it would deflood the traffic and we can achieve the project in record time,” he said.
Commissioner for information and Strategy Mr Kehinde Bamigbetan commended the Federal Government for taking the burden of repair off the state.
“The Lagos-Badagry Expressway is an international route and it is strategic to us in Lagos State, for the purpose of commerce and International trade and especially for the purpose of inter- African collaboration,” he said.
He said the repair will encourage more traffic between Lagos and the West African sub region, and boost the state’s tourism industry.
“The development of the Badagry axis has been one of the key focus of this government. We are keen on the development of tourism in Badagry, and various other initiatives. The rehabilitation of that axis by the government will further enhance and complement the commercial value of Badagry as a destintion for commerce and tourism,” Bamigbetan said.
Former Commissioner for Transportation Kayode Opeifa said the Vice President Prof Yemi Osinbajo, Minister for Power Works and Housing (PWH) Babatunde Fashola and the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President Mr Ade Ipaiye deserve all accolades in the eventual listing of the road for repair by the Federal Government.
Opeifa said six weeks back, he had volunteered to lead a protest to call government’s attention to the plight of residents and motorists on the corridor, adding that all that are no longer necessary as the government has finally owned up to repair the road.
Opeifa confirmed that the government is considering a four-lane expressway, a decision, which according to him is buttressed by a study conducted by the Fashola government in Lagos, which indicated that a 10-lane is unnecessary for the present traffic load along that corridor.
Apart from being a trans-West African link road, the Lagos-Badagry Expressway is in the nation’s largest senatorial district and a tourism hub.
“With a population of almost 15 million people, the senatorial district, which is home to a large number of UNESCO historic sites such as the whispering palms, the Point of no return and other tourism sites, is the highest revenue yielding zone for the nation outside oil. We are grateful that at last, the government is showing some concern for the people and that is what matters,” he said.