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Tension as Lagos govt insists on toll collection

BY INNOCENT ANABA, DAPO AKINREFON & GBENGA OKE

With just two days to the planned commencement of tolls collection at Admiralty Circle plaza on the ever-busy Lekki –Eti-Osa Expressway, palpable anxiety is already being generated in the area as residents of Eti-Osa, Epe and Ibeju-Lekki have vowed to resist the move.

Messrs Lekki Concession Company Limited LCC, the concessionaire handling the expansion of the 49 kilometre road, had early this month, announced December 18, as the new date for the commencement of tolls collection on the road. The company hinged its decision to begin tolls collection on the first toll plaza on its provision of alternative routes to motorists who may not be favourably disposed to the payment of toll.

The decision which is coming barely one year after the Babatunde Fashola led government suspended the initial move to toll the road, was immediately resisted by the residents and other stakeholders.

The Lekki-Epe axis houses both the highbrow and poor segments of the Lagos population.  The reality on ground is that majority of the residents of Lekki-Epe corridor are the struggling masses – farmers,  fishermen and labourers.

The decision to single out that area of Lagos for a Public Private Partnership PPP, and the length of time granted to the concessionaire (Lekki Concession Company Limited, LCC) to recoup their money, have been faulted by many concerned Lagosians. They are not comfortable with the contents of the agreement between the Government and LCC, the rate of construction of the road and the haste with the  company wants to commence collecting tolls.

Residents kick, plan 10,000 man march
Already, community leaders from Lekki are threatening to mobilise over 10,000 aggrieved protesters in 73 estates in Lekki, Etiosa and Ibeju lekki to block the road should the LCC go ahead with the plan.

The Lekki-Epe Toll gate

At a press briefing at the Ikota Shopping Complex, representatives of the Residents’ Association called on the LCC and the Lagos State Governor not to create what they called “uncontrollable chaos” in Lagos with the planned tolling against the wishes of the people.

Speaking at the event, the Acting Chairman of the Lekki-Eti-osa-Epe Residents Association, Mr. Abioye Akerele, said: “We are peace loving people and the government should not take our posture for granted.  This road that they want to toll, has been existing for over twenty years and if LCC came to add an additional lane, they cannot insist on tolling the already existing lanes.

It is unacceptable that those of us who are from here will have to pay money to enter our ancestral homes.   It is totally unacceptable. There are over 73 villages along this axis made up of peasant people; how does government expect them to cope with the attendant rise in cost of living that will arise from the tolling?”

Mr. Akerele warned the government of the possible consequences of going ahead with the plan. His words: “We will have no choice than to call out our people to protest this move and we don’t know what that might lead to.”

A lawyer, Mr. Ebun Olu Adegboruwa, said the government was toying with the lives of Lagosians and deliberately discriminating against the people of Eti-osa by putting three toll gates in one local government when none exists in other parts of the state where the state government is undertaking development projects.  He also accused the government of not being sincere with Lagosians over the construction and tolling of the road and the concession agreement with LCC.

“The Lagos State Government in 2005 borrowed $43million from a bank in South Africa for LCC to begin construction of the Lekki-Epe road using lands in that axis as collateral.  Why are they now talking about tolling the road as though LCC is using their own money to construct the road?”

Continuing, he said:”What have the people of Ibeju Lekki done that the governor is talking about tolling the only developmental project that this administration is undertaking here when it is not doing the same thing in other parts of Lagos?  I recommend that the tolling should begin from other parts of Lagos like Surulere, Bode Thomas, Adeniran Ogunsanya, and so on.”

Adegboruwa also disclosed that he has already instituted a legal action against the LCC, the Lagos State Government and three others.  Unable to get the matter heard at the Lagos State High Court, he took it to the Federal High Court which later referred it back to the Lagos State High Court for hearing.  He said that following the announcement of the commencement of tolling, he filed a restraining order on the LCC, the Lagos State Government and three others from commencing tolling pending the determination of the matters in suit no. CA/L/1170M/2011.

Adegboruwa urged the parties, particularly the Lagos State Governor, who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, respect due process by maintaining the status quo pending the determination of the matters.

LCC reacts
In its reaction, the LCC faulted claims made by Adegboruwa alleging misrepresentations and misinformation on issues relating to the toll gate fee.

In a press statement made available to Vanguard, the company said: “The attention of Lekki Concession Company Limited LCC, has been drawn to various news media reports, including on radio and in the print media, extensively quoting one Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, a legal practitioner, who has persistently misrepresented and misinformed the public about his various claims to have a pending suit or suits in court to restrain the Lagos State Government and LCC from proceeding with the collection of tolls along the Eti-Osa Lekki-Epe Expressway, including  a purported application for injunction filed on the December 2011 before the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, also by the same Mr. Adegboruwa.”

Fashola

Although we have patiently observed while Mr.Adegboruwa’s misrepresentations and misinformation have continued, including his attempts to incite the public to civil disobedience and disorder, which we believe is conduct unbecoming of the noble legal profession to which Mr. Adegboruwa belongs, LCC now feels compelled, in view of his persistent misinformation and misrepresentation, to advise the general public of the true facts.”

Setting the records straight, they company said: “On 23rd August 2010, Mr. Adegboruwa filed a suit in the Lagos High Court seeking to restrain the Lagos State Government and LCC from commencing the collection of tolls or proceeding with the concessioning of the Eti-Osa Lekki-Epe Expressway.

Hearing commenced on 28th September 2010, and arising from Mr. Adegboruwa’s denial of the existence of an alternative route for motorists who do not wish to pay the tolls, the court conducted a physical visit to the locus in quo on 11th November 2010, and recorded its findings, which demonstrated that Mr. Adegboruwa’s allegations were false for the most part, and were misleading in others. After continuing tactical delays by Mr. Adegboruwa, the Court on 21st February 2011 that is six months after filing his suit, firmly called upon Mr. Adegboruwa to present his arguments on his substantive suit. Mr. Adegboruwa was again unable, or unprepared, to present any arguments.”

“The case was therefore struck out on the said 21st February 2011, with a verdict that Mr. Adegboruwa shall pay costs to both the Lagos State Government and LCC. Assessment of the quantum of costs to be paid by Mr. Adegboruwa, which was to be carried out by the Chief Registrar, remains pending at the Lagos High Court, as Mr. Adegboruwa has resorted to all manner of tactics to frustrate such assessment, and LCC has since petitioned the Chief Judge against such unfair tactics,” LCC said.

It pointed out that “immediately after his loss at the Lagos High Court, Mr. Adegboruwa on 22 February 2011 filed a fresh suit on the same facts, at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, seeking exactly the same remedies which he had failed to substantiate at the Lagos High Court. This case was also struck out of court on 11th July 2011 by the Federal High Court, which gave an order that the matter be transferred to the Lagos High Court as the appropriate court for such a matter.”

Faulting Adegboruwa’s claims, it stressed that “unable or unwilling to comply with the Federal High Court directive, Mr. Adegboruwa then filed a Notice of Appeal to the Court of Appeal on 13th July 2011. However, till date, Mr. Adegboruwa failed to compile the record or to take the proper steps required for the appeal to be properly constituted before the Court of Appeal. Not having taken any such steps, but following the recent announcement by the Lagos State Government lifting its suspension of commencement of tolling, Mr. Adegboruwa then purported to file an application for Injunction before the Court of Appeal on December 7, 2011, and has continued to misrepresent to the media, and to the general public, that he has a proper case before the courts, when, in fact, he has failed to substantiate any of his cases so far, and has also not succeeded in obtaining any injunction restraining commencement of tolling so far.

Rather than properly pursue the natural course of justice, Mr. Adegboruwa has brazenly continued to resort to trial by media, and to attempting to incite civil disorder and disobedience, which behavior he was cautioned against by the High Court on January 11, 2011.”

While urging Lagosians not to be perturbed with the claims made by the lawyer, LCC said “the general public is encouraged to take note of the true facts of this matter and to discountenance the misinformation and misrepresentations by the aforesaid Mr. Adegboruwa. The status quo regarding the Eti-Osa Lekki-Epe Expressway remains as announced by the Lagos State Government, since no injunction restraining the collection of tolls has been issued by any court of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

Obanikoro faults govt
Nigeria’s High Commissioner to Ghana, Senator Musiliu Olatunde Obanikoro described as insensitive, the announcement by the state government to collect fees at the toll gate mounted on Lekki axis of the state.

Obanikoro, in a press release personally signed, said he has followed the development since it came into the public domain and was surprised at the level of insensitivity exhibited by the state government against the tide of public outcry.
The High Commissioner who was Senator between 2003 and 2007 cited the toll gate controversy as a related development.

According to him, “despite the absence of alternative access to road users along Lekki axis of the state, the ACN-led government has decided to inflict more pains on the people of this state. There is no reasonable and sensitive government anywhere in the world where people are not given the option to choose between toll and non-toll roads. It is obvious the ACN government has outlived its usefulness.”

Continuing, Obanikoro said the state government will not get away with this “because it is unacceptable, insensitive, insensate and completely anti-people”.

Residents and motorist berate plan
Aside Obanikoro, motorists and residents have been airing their grievances on the state government’s resolve to commence collection of toll fees at Lekki.
On his part, Mr. Yinka Odumakin called on the “government  to make an alternative route for people who do not want to pay tolls.

According to him, “it is not everybody that could afford to pay toll fee at  three points before going to his office or house and does it mean that if you do not have money to pay, you won’t go out to find your daily bread or you have to stay indoors for the day if you could not afford toll fee”.

“It is not responsible for government to resurface an existing road and ask people to come and pay toll fee. So government needs to open a route for those who may not be able to pay the toll fee”, he added.

A Red Cab driver, Mr Olajide wondered why government would bring back the toll gates after demolishing them.

Also, a Lagos-based businessman, Mr.  John Akhiemen said “I am not really surprised with the development. People were commending the government for the suspension but deep down inside me, I knew it was just a gimmick because of the election which was  coming up. Is it not suspicious that the Governor waited until the local government elections last month to rescind his decision? Well, we would see how far they can go with this one, but as for me,  it is highly disappointing of the governor”.

Leader of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Comrade Debo Adeniran, also criticized the planned tolling of the road.  He described it as “a manifestation of the capitalist mentality of the ACN that will deepen the rift between the rich and the poor.”
Mr. Adeniran wondered why any government will want to turn the freedom of movement to an exclusive preserve of the rich by forcing indigenes of those communities to pay whenever they are returning to their ancestral homes.

Lagos ACN calls for understanding
Similarly, the  Publicity Secretary of the ACN, Joe Igbokwe, explained that the Lekki-Epe Expressway was concessioned to a company, adding that the toll was natural since the company must recover what it spent on the road.

He called on Lagosians to demonstrate understanding on the issue. “We want to point out that alternative roads have been provided for those that do not want to pay. We believe this is fair enough to encourage competent companies to invest in our decaying infrastructure.”

The party’s spokesperson noted that concessioning was a way of saving funds for other sectors. “If we acknowledge that Lagos requires over $50 billion to build and upgrade its infrastructural needs, we will see the wisdom in getting companies to build, manage and transfer some critical infrastructure in Lagos.”

Igbokwe explained that Lagos was experiencing massive population pressure everyday, which put great challenge on the resources of the state. He said the government alone could not meet the demand.

While calling for understanding, he urged “Lagosians to understand that the little toll paid on the Lekki-Epe Expressway is only a little price we all must pay to get standard infrastructure and encourage others to come here and deliver better infrastructures in our state.”

Lagos PDP
wants plan aborted
On its part, the Lagos State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, cautioned Governor Fashola to shelve the planned commencement of tolling on the Lekki-Epe axis.
It however, said the move was aimed avoid overheating the already tensed polity.

According to the party, this is the period in the life of the State that Lagosians should enjoy true social services commensurate to the huge taxes they have paid to the state.

In a statement by its publicity secretary, Mr Taofik Gani, the party lampooned the state governor for attempting to defend what it described as “the outrageous commissions paid to the state tax consultant Alpha Beta, confirmed that the state’s Internally Generated Revenue, (IGR) is now at the highest.”

The party also faulted the planned tolling of the said Lekki –Epe Express road concessionaire agreement noting that the plan is “tainted with fraud and we challenge the governor to make public the full contents of the agreement for Lagosians to know if indeed it is in their interest to pay tolls.”

Reiterating its stand, it said “for the umpteenth time, we state emphatically that Lagos State and its Local Governments collect the highest federal allocations and IGR in the whole 36 states, yet at least 65 per cent of the assumed developments were done by Concessionaires, NGOs, FG; and individual philanthropists.”

Continuing, it stated that “it should be noted that any tolled road must have alternative road. This is not the case in this Lekki-Epe Express road. The purported alternative Oniru road is through a Private Estate that can be shut at anytime as the owners so wish.”

While warning of dire consequences if the state government goes ahead with the toll gate collection, it maintained that the governor has “indeed betrayed the public trust and thus no longer fit to enjoy the people’s vote of confidence.”


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