Despite the pockets of protests that have greeted the envisaged introduction of tolls along the Lekki -Epe expressway, the concessionaire, Messrs Lekki Concession Company (LCC) Limited last week insisted that barring unforeseen delays, the rehabilitation and upgrade of the 49.4 kilometre expressway will be completed before the end of 2011.
The Lekki Toll Road Concession is the flagship private sector led road project being implemented under a Public Private Partnership with Lagos State Government.
LCCâ€™s Managing Director, Mr Opuiyo Oforiokuma told newsmen that his company has not fixed any date to flag off tolls collection on the ever-busy expressway.Â â€œI am seizing the opportunity to reaffirm what I explained to you during our last press conference about the timing of the commencement of tolling on Lekki Epe Expressway.
This is important to help dispel some of the false rumours circulating around about what LCCâ€™s plans are, but also to help allay the genuine fears and uncertainties that we believe exist in some peoplesâ€™ minds about the forthcoming toll charges,â€ the LCC boss said.
On the commencement of tolling, Mr Oforiokuma statedÂ that while LCC has publicly communicated its expectations that tolling would likely to commence in May, itÂ has not at anytime publicly communicated any specific date of its commencement.
He explained that some milestones must be attained before the company would commence tolling of the road. â€œAs we have already previously explained publicly,Â LCCâ€™s entitlement to toll is governed by the achievement of defined milestones, and follows a structured process.
This is in line with international norms and best practice for infrastructure projects such as ours. The main steps in the process include the substantial completion of specific road sections such as in the case of the first Toll Plaza, the delivery of Km 0 – Six of the carriageway (from Falomo Bridge Loop/Ozumba Mbadiwe Rd intersection to before 2nd Roundabout); the expansion of ExxonMobil Bridge from four to six lanes; and construction of the first Toll Plaza (â€œAdmiralty Circle Plazaâ€), including various features such as roundabouts; drainage culverts and open drains; pedestrian walkways; traffic lights; and street lights; amongst others, as well as various features that you do not now see because they are located below ground (e.g., cable ducts)â€.
The LCC boss reiterated that when LCCâ€™s construction contractor, Hitech, substantially completes the works to its satisfaction, they willÂ apply to the Independent Engineer for certification.
â€œThe Independent Engineer is a reputable international engineering consultancy firm, with experience in infrastructure projects such as ours. Certification is not automatic, the independent engineer will satisfy himself that the new road infrastructure is fit for that purpose and safe for road users to use,â€ Mr. Oforiokuma said, adding that:Â â€œNotification of tolls will occur only after independent certification has been achieved. LCC can then only commence tolling after having given the Lagos State government not less than 14 days of the tolls.
â€œSubject to weather and other conditions, it is now likely that our entitlement to commence tolling will not crystallise until the latter part of May or the early part of June. Even when our entitlement to commence tolling has crystallized, we will still make final internal judgments about our readiness to commence tolling, before we actually â€˜go liveâ€™â€.
On repeated requests for information on toll charges, Mr. Oforiokuma said: â€œWe appreciate that everyone is eager to know what the actual toll tariffs will be, and that the fact that we have not announced them yet is not only causing some uncertainty in peoplesâ€™ minds, but is also encouraging unhelpful gossip and speculation about LCCâ€™s motives and about what the toll tariffs will be. You should be rest assured that LCC does not have any secret nefarious toll agenda as some people would have you believeâ€.
Rather, we are using every opportunity available to us to fine tune the pricing and incentives structure, taking account of key variables such as inflation, interest rates, traffic volumes, etc, so that we can ensure that the actual tolls that we charge are affordable and represent value for money to road users.
Details of the toll pricing structure, incentives and mechanisms will be provided through various Media in coming weeks, as well as through presentation visits to Housing Estates, Corporate Organizations, Community
Development Associations, and other establishmentsâ€ he said.
â€¢â€¢â€¢Why we are protesting â€” Residents
Shortly after the media briefing, some residents of Eti-Osa Community stormed the Lagos State House of Assembly premises to protest the proposed tolling and fencing project on Lekki-Epe Expressway.
The residents who claimed to have visited Governor Babatunde Fashola in his office appealed to the lawmakers to urgently review the concession agreement between the state government and LCC on the expansion of the road.
Speaking on behalf of the residents, Adewale Sanni explained that since the commencement of the road project, many concerned civil society organisations have raised their voices formally and informally on the likely negative effects of tolling and fencing of the road on human development.
Sanni alleged that there was no adequate consultation with the people to know their demands and priorities before the concession agreement was finalised. He insisted that the expressway should not be tolled â€œas the state government generates enough resources from infrastructural development charges/levies, income taxes and other property taxes from the area to sustain the estimated N50 billion projectâ€, he added.
He complained that collection of toll on the road will further pauperize the people of Eti-Osa whose lands have been acquired by successive administration of the state government as well as other groups of residents who must use the road daily as part of socio-economic interactions.
â€œThe government has no doubt conceded too much to LCC in the agreement to our utmost disadvantage and we think this should be redressed. The fencing of the road as currently being undertaken is another sign of insensitivity on the part of government and the concessionaire.
â€œThe fencing of the road is meant to maximize the concessionaireâ€™s profit without any care for the socio-cultural or economic implications it may have on our people. It is meant to tactically force people into the use of toll road by blocking off entry or exit routes to any adjoining roads,â€ Sanni said. Responding, Speaker Adeyemi Ikuforiji assured the people that the lawmakers will look into their requests. He urged them not to take laws into their hands by vandalizing works that has been done by the contractor.
The House later set up a five-man committee to investigate the matter and report back on Tuesday, May 11. Members of the Committee areÂ Saka Fafunmi, Kabir Lawal, Babajide Akinloye, Mudashiru Obasa and Razaq Balogun as the Chairman.