BY EBUN SESSOU
Juliana is a resident of Epe area of Lagos. Her business is located at Balogun, Lagos Island where she specialises in baby wears. For the past 10 years, she has been having a good time doing this business until she is faced with the issue of paying extra money as transportation contrary to what she was used to in the previous years.
And the transportation fares that used to be N400 from Epe to CMS is now N600 because of the Lekki toll that was constructed by Lagos State Government and Lekki Concession Company, LCC.
Speaking with Saturday Vanguard, Juliana didn’t leave no stone unturned as she shares her ugly experiences on a daily basis especially since the commencement of the toll.
According to her, “a common man on the street can longer enjoy some basics of life”. Before now, life has been pleasant in these parts but since the commencement of toll, life has been miserable. Ï can no longer go out at my desired time because the traffic at the toll gate wouldn’t give a clue.
“It is annoying that one can be held in the traffic for over two hours. Another problem is the that fact that commercial drivers have increased their fares by 200 percent thereby making the masses bear the brunt of the toll.
According to her, “this hardship is becoming unbearable for the residents of this area because the road that was meant to be a service oriented project has suddenly become a thorn in the flesh. For a man to go for proper shopping, he needs to get to Obalende, Sura, Apongbo, Balogun areas of Lagos Island. Secondly, if the common man has struggled and has graduated in the secondary school, the nearest tertiary institution for the child is LASU, Lagos State College of Education, Ijaniki, Lagos State polytechnic, Isolo.
There is no single higher institution in the whole of the three local government areas– Eti-Osa, Ibeju-Lekki and Epe. If the common man should fall sick, he is at the risk of dying because there is no tertiary health institution in any of these areas. The nearest General Hospital is on Broad street in Lagos, the one that is next to it is at Ikeja.
The only thing you find are dispensaries, local hospitals, midwives etc. The only way is to pass through this toll to deliver at the Island Maternity if you don’t want to die. If the common man has any case in court, he has to go to Igbosere because there is no a single court in any of these areas.
From Epe of about 59 kilometres, you have to come and file your case in Lagos. The Lagos State government didn’t give adequate facilities to the people they want to extort money from. There are facilities in other areas that are not paying tolls. There is no water, security, no other roads linking other villages within the city.
A farmer who claimed anonymous was on his way to Lakowe area of Ibeju-Lekki, Lagos said, since the commencement of the toll, things have been costly and what is expected to be a right of the common man is gradually becoming a compulsory struggle that must be fought tooth and nail before having it.
“It is only the rich people that have the opportunity to get whatever they want within a specific time, the poor must struggle before getting it.
By January next year, I will be 70 years of age. I have been a farmer all my life and I have been enjoying this part of Lagos until Lagos State Government came up with the issue of toll. Now, I pay twice the transportation fare that I used to pay before the toll commenced. And since, I have been going out with the sum of N1500 on a daily basis and at the end of the day, there is nothing to show for it.
“I have decided that after today, I will not go out. The only thing is to go from one house to the other to beg for my daily bread. I am aged and I believe people will help me. What Lagos State government has done is inhumane especially for the aged people in the community”, he added.
Lamenting on the issue, Lekki resident lawyer, Barr. Ebun Adegboruwa said the area is bearable because of those who have traveled for the Christmas season. So by January, this process will not stand. “I just discovered that they took a loan from African Development Bank Group, ADB and unlike us, we are not fraudulent.
“They gave them condition which includes that they are going to build alternative routes with its name and that the kilometre must be completed as they go along. As they are constructing the main roads, the alternative routes must be done alongside and that they are to build linkages with those alternatives.
The ADB terms includes Rehabilitation and widening of first 23km and rehabilitation of the last 26.5km of the 49.5km Lekki to Epe expressway on the Lekki corridor in Lagos City, building of a new ramp at Falomo junction to carry right turning traffic onto the Falomo Bridge Building of new foot bridges along the right of way to carry pedestrian traffic, hence improving on road safety for pedestrians.
Building of the first 6km of the coastal road which itself is contingent on the construction of the coastal defences by Lagos State Government Rehabilitation/building of 10 inter-connecting roads between the expressway and the coastal road
“I have done lots of investigations and presently, LCC engineers only certify that 6 kilometre of this road have been done complete which was for Falomo. So, the Bank said since it is the 6 kilometre you have done, also do 6 kilometre of the coastal roads and build about ten linkages to them.
Unfortunately, Oniru Estate is not part of the coastal roads. And the coastal road is dual carriage way not less than 5 kilometre and I told know why government should be deceiving us. The Oniru Estate is privately owned by individual. They have a private beach, market and everything belongs to them privately including road. Anybody who owns land owns everything on it and that is what the law says.
“It is a misconception on the part of Lagos State government or Lekki Concession company, LCC to conclude that because people living within the Lekki axis are affluent, they can afford to pay the toll. Whereas there are other locations in Lagos where affluent people are located for instance, Banana Island, Packview Estate, Ikoyi especially where the Former Governor of Lagos State is staying, Magodo, Ikeja GRA, the rich are spread all over Lagos.
There is nowhere where there is concentration of the affluent. So, it is a faulty premise to bandy the argument that the toll is targeted at the rich. On your way to Epe, you will find not less than 135 indigenous communities, the masses, farmers, fishermen, cattle rearers, jobless, people in the lower cadre that have to use this road.
From Lekki Phase 1 area, there is Itedo community that is populated by illiterates, Ikate, Ilasan, Jakande, Ologolo, Ajiran, Ajah, Okun-Ajah, Ajiwe, Ilaje, Sangatedo, Awoyaya, Lakowe, all these areas are populated with women and children who have need to use the road and the tolling doesn’t recognize a car owner and a market women.
“All you need is to pay either directly or indirectly. Since, the commencement of the toll, bus owners have increased their fares as much as 30 to 35 percent, so either you have your car you pay directly or indirectly through the commercial driver. You also pay indirectly through the things that you buy in the market.
“You can also pay indirectly as a tenant because they landlord who is paying pay toll has also his cost. So, it is a wrong idea and that is why we say this government is discriminatory against us. There are poor and rich people in other parts of Lagos who are not paying toll.
“Whatever standard is applicable to some people in Lagos should be applicable in other parts. This investment is wrongly targeted because the person who built the road himself, Alhaji Lateef Jakande didn’t have the conception of extortion by way of tolling. He constructed the road free.
“He took the land from the indigenes and government acquired the land for the purpose of public infrastructure which is road construction and the road was built. This is a dual carriage way and it has lasted for thirty years, so anyone who is coming to add a single lane has no justification for posing any economic poverty on the people and enslaving them by a way of tolling.
“So we do not think that it is proper on the part of Lagos State government or LCC to have the idea that since people staying within the Lekki axis are affluent, they should be able to afford N200 per vehicle, N300 per trailer or N80 per Okada. For them to put the sign for Okada means, it is not for the rich people alone, so the pricing of the toll means it is not for the affluent, if not there is no need charging the commercial drivers.
“There is no way for pedestrians, which means the common man doesn’t have any choice than to pay. I’ve been impressed with the performance of the Governor during his first term but I don’t know who has been advising him to toll a metropolitan road.
The condition was that there were going to do sure line embankment by protecting the coastal line and what Lagos State government did was to divert attention and started a project called, “Atlantic city” a pipe drum of sand filling the ocean itself which is going on currently.
“When the sea saw what the government is doing, it diverted its current to the helpless villagers and within one year, if that condition persists, that community will not survive. The only thing the state government did was to lie against the federal government.
“And LCC is saying that it is not their duty to construct coastal roads. So, the common man is forced to go into Oniru Private Estate which the governor has wrongly misled. This road has imposed hardship on the people. But we are asking the governor to come into dialogue with us because we believe the tolling can be concealed.
The Governor suspended the toll because of elecion indefinitely. On December 29, 2010, he issued a statement through one Dr. Ayo Gbeleyi who was the then director general of PPP where he said “we are suspending this toll for two reasons, firstly, government has to look at the issue of alternative routes, and secondly we have to dialogue with stakeholders. The governor won the election and he waited and after the local government election. By November, he stated that they can no longer pay for the toll, that the people have to pay.
“When this process was going on, there were lots of dialogue with the governor and the stakeholders and a unanimously, it was agreed that there will be no toll but the governor would not listen. He is using politics, lands excession, Cof O to threaten the leaders. Some of them said they have been warned against supporting the removal of tolling.
On the 17 December, I was reminded of Military rule. I saw what people are going through because I was chased to the bush. Policemen pursued us into the Lekki Estate chasing us into the bush. The last time I experienced this was during the Abacha regime. It was through protest, mass action that Fashola got into office.
“It is through protest that Military was chased out of the country. We gave notices, the Chairman of Lekki and Epe met with the request for permit and it was granted. The economic situation ns the country is not helping matters.
“All that we did that day was pecaeful, women sat by the roadside, some people reading newspapers, some canvassing and unknown to us the Lagos State giovernment and Environmental Task Force had conceived a wicked idea of recruiting thugs to disperse us and they have given them signals and suddenly, we saw five danfo buses alongside the toll gate area and with hefty people coming down from those buses with cutlasses, matchets and axes and one of them was carrying a big gun and immediately they arrived, the police shot the gun into the air which was the signal they gave them to pounce on us.
“Immediately, they pounced on us, ceasing cameras of journalists, the cameraman from STV was arrested and his camera was ceased. The journalist from Compass Newspapers was arrested and they started picking us. The police was shooting live bullets and tear gas into our midst. I was disturbed and we had to run for our dear lives in our father’s company. Where is Fashola when there was protest in 1993? It is democracy that gave birth to public-private partnership, election that brought about a governor. Therefore, it is expected that the Governor listens to us. I spent nine months in custody in Apapa.
These people had free education under Jakande and that is why we are calling on the governor to end well because tolling will kill people in this area.
By January, when everybody might have come back to this area, there will be a total gridlock because Oniru Estate cannot absorb everybody. It is a single lane where tankers are not allowed. Life is not secured because of the situation of the area. Why should they collect toll when they haven’t done their duties?
“Those who were arrested have been released on the condition that they shouldn’t talk to the press. They were made to sign undertaking of good behaviour and not to talk. They have been sentenced in their country not to talk, grant interview or narrate their experience and I am expecting the human right groups including Prof. Wole Soyinka to defend the people.
They don’t have history of any struggle. They are unlike me, otherwise, I will prefer to remain with the police to signing an undertaken in my father’s land.”
What happened was that we decided to occupy vehicles that were not known to them and we put it along with other motorists who were passing by. So, as we were doing the protest, there was already traffic jam so, we located the vehicles in various point inside the traffic and the arrangement was that once there was crisis, people can hide in those vehicles. We have been in this struggle for long.
Also, Lagos State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, berated the Lagos State government wanting it “to thread cautiously and never again to trample over the Rights of Lagosians and especially its PDP members.”
In a statement by its publicity secretary, Comrade Taofik Gani, the party stated that though PDP deliberately stayed away from the peaceful mass protest that followed the commencement of “tolling on the Lekki-Epe Road, the ACN LASG went ahead and provoked some PDP stalwarts using the State Police Command to exert Maximum force on peaceful protesters, most of whom are still being detained.”
According to the party, “Peaceful protest is an internationally acceptable mode of expressing disapproval of government policy and so we wonder why a State government headed by a Senior Lawyer should order maximum Force to quell a Peaceful Protest. We commend the courage of the protesters and lend our total support to any Peaceful Protest”.
The, however, argued that with the commencement of tolling against the popular objection, it has finally confirmed that Lagosians “indeed do not have a say in their Governance. It is also a betrayal of Trust and Confidence allegedly reposes in Governor Fashola. It is indeed another impeachable offence.”
While pointing out that the need to compensate the detained protesters, the party called on the Inspector-General of Police to “immediately investigate the activities of Police officers attached to LASTMA and the Lagos State Task Force as they appear to have transferred their loyalty to LASG and not the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”