By Bose Adelaja
As resumption of tolling commences at the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge and the Lekki-Epe Expressway in Lagos tomorrow, residents of Lekki Phase 1, have called for calm in the area even as they have written the state governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu to shelve any plan to resume the tolling.
The residents under the aegis of the Lekki Peninsula Phase 1 Residents Association said the tolling may add to the economic hardship being experienced across the country.
The open letter to the governor on Tuesday, signed by the Chairman of the association, Yomi Idowu reads:
OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR BABAJIDE SANWO-OLU ON THE PLANNED RESUMPTION OF TOLLING ACTIVITIES
May we, first, express our best wishes to you and your administration as we write to bring a matter of utmost urgency with the potential to quickly spiral out of control if not checked, to your attention.
Let’s first paint a picture of the current reality being faced in the socio-economic environment: According to the Central Bank of Nigeria/ National Bureau of Statistics, unemployment is at 33% while youth unemployment is at a staggering 42.5%; and when you add youth under-employment, you have 63.5% of youth either unemployed or underemployed.
Also, Consumer Price Inflation (CPI) is currently at 15.70% resulting in the increasing cost of food compounded by the increased cost of electricity, fuel and diesel prices. In addition to all of this, the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) is on strike, meaning students are at home, with other unions threatening to go on strike.
It is therefore evident that with elections around the corner combined with Nigeria’s precarious socio-economic climate, any additional triggers increasing the burden of citizens could produce unexpected outcomes.
We view with deep concern and trepidation the less than transparent attempt at recommencing tolling activities at the Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge, even as matters relating to the #EndSARS protest, which led to the termination of tolling activities in the first place, remain largely unresolved. The issue is compounded by the myriad of issues bedevilling the rationale to toll at this location.
It is against this backdrop that the Lekki Phase 1 Residents Association (LERA) implores the Lagos State government (LASG) to apply wisdom and shelve its plans to resume toll collection on the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge.
Furthermore, there are fundamental and critical issues yet to be addressed which make the decision to recommence tolling unjust, oppressive, and illegal.
- Pending Court Matter
The Lekki Concession Company Limited (LCC) and LASG have continued to use the instrumentality of the law courts to foist hardship on our community.
We recall that the Federal High Court in Lagos had in the recent past effectively declared the tolling of the Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge as illegal and unconstitutional.
LASG characteristically secured an order of stay of execution on the ground that it had appealed the court’s decision but has so far failed to prosecute the subject appeal. With this Sword of Damocles hanging over our community, one expected LASG to pursue the best interest of its citizenry rather than use the machinery of the state against law-abiding citizens.
- Ownership Question and Lack of Transparency
In currently making a case for the resumption of tolling, LASG has stated several times that LCC is a privately owned entity. As such, it has the burden to cater for its over 500 employees. Nothing, however, could be more disingenuous.
According to LCC’s website, LASG, “acquired the shares/equity of the previous owners of LCC in December 2014.” This was supported by the testimonies of the Managing Director of the LCC, Yomi Omomuwasan and the Head of Service to the Lagos State Government, Hakeem Muri-Okunola during the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality that LCC is 100% owned by LASG.
It was therefore clearly misleading that LCC presented itself to the members of the Lekki Estates Residents and Stakeholders Association (LERSA) as a private company.
This was recorded in the Minutes of the Monday, March 14, 2022 meeting between the LCC Managing Director, LERSA members and other stakeholders.
Lekki Phase 1 residents have proximity to the Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge for obvious reasons, and LCC again sought to misinform the public when it stated that it had consulted with stakeholders including residents who consequently endorsed the resumption of tolling.
Nothing could be farther from the truth as LERA maintains that it never gave its consent for the resumption of tolling.
LERA’s position is that it is unconscionable to buffet the estate with excessive tolls on the two major exit points out of the estate without any viable alternatives. Not least because these infrastructures should rightly be provided by the government without the need to burden a populace that is already overtaxed.
- Underdevelopment of the Lekki-Epe Corridor
One is left to wonder as to the real motivation for the multiplicity of poll points within our community, a community that is already overtaxed in real terms.
Asides from the tollgate at the International Airport operated by a federal agency, the only functioning tollgates in Lagos State are the two tollgates managed by LCC in the Lekki axis within a 5km radius.
In addition to the Land Use Charges, Infrastructure Development Charges and sundry other levies and fees paid by residents in the Lekki-Epe axis, what services has LASG provided in return?
There is no general hospital; no central market; no public primary or secondary schools. However, the residents have to pay an additional tax in terms of tolls and this is framed as LCC providing services.
As LCC is owned by LASG, it is its job to provide services, and we deserve more. The accounts of LCC have never been made public despite several requests, so we have not been able to carry out an audit for a cost-benefit analysis.
- Justice for #EndSARS Victims
Following the directive given by the National Economic Council (NEC), Mr Governor worked with his colleagues in most other states to set up the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality.
The report of the panel was submitted, and a White Paper was produced. LASG has not engaged Lagosians on the recommendations nor made concrete plans to deal with the underlying factors that led to the protests.
Rather than work to seek peace, the State is actively working through LCC to inflict more suffering and hardship on its citizens. It is within this context that we understand that protests are being planned under the banner #NoJusticeNoToll. If the protests happen, the residents and businesses in Lekki will be the most affected.
Your Excellency, we feel it is expedient to bring all the above to your attention and to particularly note that the general mood of the people suggests that LCC should refrain from collecting tolls at the Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge and the Lekki-Epe Expressway until these fundamental issues are addressed.
To do otherwise will be to needlessly stoke the tension which pervades the nation. We urge Your Excellency to act to exercise maximum restraints at this point and to immediately suspend this planned resumption of tolling at the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge in the overriding interest of peace and order in our community.
May God bless Lagos State and God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria.