The motorists and residents of communities on the ever-busy Lagos-Ibadan expressway are not having the best of time in terms of experience as the road has become a nightmare to them.
The road users are now burdened and groaning under the recurrent gridlock occasioned by its reconstruction which has the Lagos end being handled by construction giant, Julius Berger.
The 127.6 kilometres road, arguably the busiest in Nigeria and Africa is undergoing reconstruction 48 years after it was inaugurated by the then Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo on Aug.18, 1978.
It is pertinent to know that this ever-busy road that connects Africa’s fifth largest economy, Lagos State, had suffered criminal neglect by the previous government as no effort was made for its reconstruction or rehabilitation.
As it is, the road is the only major road that links the commercial capital of the nation to the rest of the states as other minor alternative roads were almost in non-existence shape.
Another factor for the heavy movement on the road is the fact that the Lagos Sea Port accounts for over 75 per cent of goods imported into the country, hence, moving the goods out of Lagos to other states puts more pressure on the road as heavy-duty trucks use the same road to convey goods.
That aside, Lagos also houses one of the busiest airports in Africa with no such international airport close, passengers will have to travel through the road to their various destinations.
Also, given the near non-existence of another mode of transportation such as water or rail, the road is the only link to the survival of other business in the country, as it transports goods ranging from agriculture, electronics, industrial, automobile and clothing among other items to other parts of the country.
The most visible reason for the upsurge in the usage of the road is the fact that many traders see Lagos as a hub for economic activities; hence, there is a saturated influx of traders to Lagos State, especially the Central Business Districts Areas (CBDs) such as Trade Fair, Idumagbo, and Ikeja Computer Village among others.
With these glaring parameters, the busiest inter-state route, Lagos-Ibadan expressway is said to be handling more than 250,000 vehicles daily for those going to the up North, down South and South East.
The first attempt to repair the road was made by former President Olusegun Obasanjo who muted the idea of repairing the road in his first term in office as a civilian president. between 1999 and 2003.
The road reconstruction was latterly jettisoned over alleged misappropriation of the funds allocated for the project bearing in mind that the government had pulled down the toll gates on the road which would have been a soft fund for its maintenance.
The first serious attention towards the reconstruction of the expressway was, however, birthed by former President Goodluck Jonathan when he flagged off the remodelling in July 2013.
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The former Minister of Works, Mr Mike Onolememen, an Architect, laying credence to the seriousness of the remodelling of the road announced the cancellation of the earlier concession agreement with the Bi-Courtney Consortium.
He said the termination had become necessary because of the serial breaches of the concession agreement by Bi-Courtney Consortium and, especially the failure of the company to reach financial close as provided for in the agreement.
President Jonathan during the flag off had said that the reconstruction would help to reduce the travel time of hundreds of thousands of commuters and international air passengers spent on the road as a result of its dilapidated state.
The contract was then awarded to Julius Berger Nigeria and Reynolds Construction Company Limited at a sum of N167 billion.
In the contract tenure, the two sections of the expressway will be reconstructed which includes Section I (Lagos to Sagamu Interchange) and section II (Sagamu Interchange to Ibadan).
The administration of President Muhammadu Buhari that inherited the rehabilitation, however, in December 2018 announced the extension in the completion of the road till December 2019.
Obviously considering the enormity of the works on the road, there are glaring indications to the government that the completion date of Dec. 2018 would no longer be feasible which necessitated its extension as approved by the Federal Government for another year.
Part of the reasons given by the government official, the Federal Controller of Works in Lagos, Mr Adedamola Kuti, was to accommodate additional works on the road which was just approved by the Federal Government.
He also said that the government did not envisage some of the activities currently going on along the road.
“The end of 2018 is no longer feasible; what we have is that the government has awarded additional work that is not part of the original contract.
“When the contract was first awarded, we did not take into consideration the religious organisations that are springing up rapidly in the area.
“So now, we have to make provision for toll gates, flyovers and plazas among other additions. So, the completion date has been extended. We need additional one year to complete the work that has been added,’’ he said.
Besides Kuti’s explanation for the delay in execution of the reconstruction, there are more contending issues causing the delay in the execution of the project which includes the bickering between the Federal Executives and the Legislative Arm over funds allocated to the road.
Perhaps, the most glaring revelation on the true status of the road was in December 2018 when one of the contractors handling the project, Julius Berger, through its Technical/Project Manager, Thomas Christl, said that the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project was suspended due to inadequate funding and restarted in June.
He said two sections were opened for construction with a promise to make those parts available for use during Christmas and New Year.
“We are aware of the concerns of motorists and we are doing everything we can to minimise it. At the completion of the road, the gridlock would have been addressed,’’ he said.
Then came another bareback revelation when the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, while in an acting capacity on July 20, 2017, wrote to both chambers of the National Assembly seeking approval for the re-allocation of some funds in the 2017 budget.
It was alleged that the Senate, did not treat the request until Nov. 6, 2017, when it was referred to the Committee on Appropriations; this caused much delay.
Subsequently, the Executive and the National Assembly had clashed after Osinbajo signed the 2017 Appropriation Bill of N7.441trillion into law on June 12, 2018.
There were accusations and counter-accusations between both arms of the government on the reduction of budgetary votes to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.
The altercation, however, led to Julius Berger and RCC suspending work on the highway due to mounting debts by the Federal Government.
However, the incessant delay in the execution and completion of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has left a sour taste on commuters as they continue to groan under heavy traffic that lasted for several hours.
Before now, the road only serves as the exit to Lagos but the reality now is that the road now hosts a number of sprawling communities harbouring the overflow of accommodation in Lagos State.
There are six big communities often referred to as “Second Lagos’’ that is now along the Lagos axis of the road. They are namely, Warewa, Arepo, Magboro, Ibafo, Asese and Mowe.
Movement of the inhabitants of the communities working in Lagos to their various homes also contributes to the heavy vehicular movements on the road with the average population of the communities given to be about 1 million people.
However, either for the residents going into Lagos or those commuting to various parts of the country, the road is a tale of woes occasioned by frequent infractions.
The more reality of the road is the presence of the religious organisations on the road because the communities on the road serve as campgrounds for them and on the service day, it can attract as many as 200,000 worshippers.
One of the main problems of the road is the road users who constantly disobey traffic rules and ostensibly driving against traffic which makes the road management chaotic.
Another major problem of the road is the abuse by the tankers and other articulated vehicle drivers and due to their reckless nature often involved in fatal accidents.
Most of the trucks as a result of accidents either went up in flames or cause a partial closure of the road which often results in a traffic snarl.
Things have gone from bad to worse in recent weeks as a result of the frequent infractions on the road, many a time, commuters had to sleep on the road or spend hours languishing in traffic.
It is pertinent to note that the management emergencies on the road by all the stakeholders have been poor. The government, contractor and the eventual road users are all culpable in the obvious mess the road has become.
The travel time from Berger end of Lagos to Mowe should not have taken more than 15 minutes, but during the hectic time of the traffic snarl, commuters may spend a day or more.
The gridlock often gets worse as it definitely took its toll on vehicles causing them to develop faults as a result of overheating which also cause delay to those behind who would have to navigate through the already barricaded road.
This also gives the street traders and urchins free day to embark on their businesses and robbing of commuters.
To some, the contractor handling the Lagos portion of the expressway, Julius Berger is culpable of the problems on the road accusing them of carelessness.
Many also put the competence of Julius Berger to question in comparison to how the other contractor, Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) is handling the other section of the road.
They said that the pains are not been experienced on the Ibadan-Sagamu Interchange end of the highway.
The accusation is that Berger has refused to provide necessary palliative and alternative routes to cushion the effect of the already narrowed lanes of the road.
Many wonder how two sides of the road can be closed at the same time in the name of road rehabilitation without caring for the road users.
Julius Berger should as a matter of urgency create viable alternative routes to cushion the paralysing diversions that they impose on this busy road even at the most ill-advised moment.
“It has become a tale of woes and losses daily as commuters groan under the avoidable traffic,” Mr Kunle Adewole a road user said.
At times, commuters suffer in the hands of armed robbers on the long bridge as there have been reported cases.
Another stakeholder accused of Ogun State Government of neglect of commuters, saying that unlike its Lagos State counterpart, fails most times to respond to infractions or accidents on the road with the urgency that it desires.
The emergency response on the road is so poor that it may take almost 24 hours before a broken down vehicle could be removed from the road.
It is a case that the Ogun State end of the busy road is just an endless nightmare to the motorists.
The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) is not left out as the members of the corps many times failed to curtail the excesses of the commercial drivers on the road who are in the habit of driving against the traffic.
The FRSC should be able to curtail the commuters, and the commercial bus drivers, who, out of impatience, abandoned their lanes to drive against oncoming vehicles, and in the process, lock down the dual carriage highway.
They corps have been accused of being insensitive to the plights of motorists by not deploying high-capacity towing vehicles to take broken down trucks off the road.
However, FRSC in its defence blamed the incessant traffic jam on the users and, especially the truck drivers.
The corps through its Public Education Officer and Sector Commander, Ogun State Sector Command, Florence Okpe, in a statement attributed the infraction too many factors.
“West Africa’s busiest road corridor has witnessed sporadic gridlocks this week due to incessant infractions occasioned by frequent breakdowns of majorly articulated vehicles.
“This is compounded by the ongoing rehabilitation of the corridor by Julius Berger, which has narrowed the lanes available on the expressway, especially between Magboro /Ibafo axis to the Mowe sections of the road.
“Commuter activities along the corridor have also affected motorisation, coupled with traffic indiscipline by some reckless drivers that take advantage of gridlocks to attempt driving against traffic.
“The Federal Road Safety Corps Ogun State Command wishes to inform the motoring public that the past few days have been characterised with infractions that distorted the free flow of traffic,’’ it said.
The FRSC Ogun State Sector Commander, Clement Oladele then advised the motoring public to exercise patience and drive cautiously within the construction area.
They are advised drivers to adhere to the National Road Traffic Regulations, 2012, that prescribed a maximum speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour at construction zones.
“Motorists are also warned to avoid driving against traffic as violators are liable to be prosecuted.
“The FRSC is working in concert with the construction company, Berger on introducing additional measures to cushion the hardship motorists are undergoing as a result of the construction efforts.
“This includes encouraging the construction company to speed up rehabilitation work and also open up areas that have been fairly completed for public use.
“Motorists are enjoined to cooperate with the FRSC and sister traffic agencies in ensuring the free flow of traffic while driving along the road corridor and other corridors in the country.
“Reports on traffic infraction and other traffic emergencies can be made to the Federal Road Safety Corps through the FRSC’s toll-free number, 122,’’ the statement concluded.