Thursday, 19 November 2015

Nigeria: Lagos-Badagry Expressway - Until the Lord Provides

"God will provide for us. He is our Tate (Father). I only wish He would provide until He provides!" Yiddish saying.

Lagos Badagry Expressway
The quotation above is a Yiddish proverb. Yiddish was the international language of Jews from Central and Eastern Europe until the middle of the 20th century. I have noticed that English translations of their sayings, tend to sound sort of 'tongue-in-cheek '; the saying above is a case in point. Blasphemous as the saying may seem to an English speaking person and especially in this part of the world, the context of this write-up is not about religion of any shade or colouration.
When Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN) came into office as governor of Lagos State on May 29, 2007, he came with the vision to transform Lagos into a mega city. Aspects of this mega city project included the rehabilitation of infrastructures formerly taken care of by the federal government, but had been neglected soon as Abuja became Nigeria's capital in 1991. Of greater interest to this writer, however, is the Lagos Rail Mass Transit project.

The Lagos Rail Mass Transit, originally proposed by the past administration of Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande (LKJ) in 1983, but truncated by the military Administration of General Muhammadu Buhari, was a light railways project consisting of two separate lanes: an outskirt blue-line and an inner red-line. The Red Line was to run from Marina to Agbado. This line was to share the existing 30 metre wide Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) right-of-way.
In the repackaged project by Fashola the Blue Line, with a total length of 27.5 km from Marina to Okokomaiko, with 13 stations in between, will run east-west, right in the middle of Lagos-Badagry Expressway which links Lagos directly to the south-eastern border of Benin Republic and beyond.
The road is envisioned to be expanded and redeveloped into a 10-lane international gateway between Igbo-Elerin Road (Okokomaiko) and Iganmu. The line will run on elevated structure from Iganmu along the south side of the expressway passing the junction with Eric Moore Road, crossing just south of the National Theatre to Iddo, then south to Lagos Island with a terminal at Marina.
Apart from rail, the infrastructural design also includes provision for BRT and multimode integration with Non-Motorized Transport such as pedestrian walkways and overhead bridges for safe access by passengers to rail and bus stations. End-to-end travelling time will be approximately 35 minutes. It is to be built as a high capacity, electrically powered rail mass transit system.
Lagos State is financing construction of the Blue Line from its own resources, but the railway equipment including electric power, signaling, and fare collection equipment will be provided by the private sector under a Concession Contract. Actual construction work commenced with a ground breaking ceremony performed by Fashola on 26 July 2010, and Phase I of the Blue Line between National Theatre and Mile 2, was originally scheduled to enter revenue service by the first quarter of 2014. But as I write this, in November 2015, the project is still dragging on leisurely and the system may not enter service before 2018-19; by which time the project would have been on-going for 10 years.
The sheer scale of this project is ambitious to say the least and has far reaching implications for all stake holders. The Lagos State Government on the one hand, because of the huge financial outlay involved; for the construction work and in compensations to be paid to people whose properties may have to give way for the expansion. The Federal Government on the other hand has inherent interest in the development since the road is designated a 'federal' highway.
During Bola Tinubu's Administration, huge billboards had appeared along this road for the world to see saying, "This Road Belongs To The Federal Government. Please, Bear With Us" in a bid to wash his administration's hands off the deplorable state the road. There were innuendos and speculations concerning how the PDP-controlled Federal Government at the time, was frustrating Babatunde Fashola's efforts on the project for political reasons and in spite of the many advantages of the project.
Property owners on both sides of the 27.5 Km stretch of the road were also affected. Many of them lost their means of livelihood or had to relocate. There were also reports of some who lost their lives due to health complications arising from fear of losing their properties to the expansion; some because they did not possess the requisite documentation, to enable them get any form of compensation for their impending loss. Real estate agents and speculators have also been known to leverage on the prospect of this project to attract customers, never forgetting to inform them of the '10- lane road' coming soon to that axis.
The segment of the society most affected by this laudable project, however, is the ordinary road user. He is at the receiving end of both the good, the bad and the ugly outcome of it all. On the one hand, the realization of such a dream would make transportation a lot easier, faster and less cumbersome for him; as he would arrive his destination more relaxed and within fairly predictable time and who knows, he might even have his life expectancy improved as well.
However, on the other hand, unfortunately, non-completion of this project will practically kill him: as he spends most of his waking hours of the day in the logjam on the road; or as he misses most of his appointments no matter how early he sets out or in his attempt to beat the traffic, he loses a limb, if not his life, while 'flying' an okada (motorbike) - which, by the way, is restricted on that road and thus illegal.
For reasons best known to the powers that be in Lagos State, under this new dispensation, the project is almost grinding to a halt, with no explanation whatsoever, from any quarters. What you see these days, is an army of engineers, technicians and other sundry skilled and unskilled workers, sauntering around the work site day in day out, with little or no activities going on. The road user is the worst for it.
Before now, all efforts seemed to be geared towards the successful completion of the project on schedule. The only downside to this is the fact that since the year 1976, when this road was commissioned, routine and periodic maintenance of the road has been neglected by all agencies of government; including FERMA. To exacerbate matters, this neglect has continued unabated and the road is only waxing worse. As things stand right now, from Seme border to Mile 2, you can hardly drive straight for 10 metres without having to slow down, swerve to avoid a ditch or run into one, with attendant consequences to the vehicle and its occupants.
What you see at some very bad portions instead, is motorists driving against oncoming traffic on the opposite lane, endangering themselves and others as well, in the process. You would also see unemployed youths, who have turned themselves into ad-hoc road maintenance 'experts', digging by the road side road and filling the pot holes, but they are actually using it as an opportunity to solicit for handouts from road users. All these say a lot about what we have become, as a people and a nation.
However, I have no doubt that work will pick up shortly on the project. Firstly, because there is now a substantive state executive cabinet in place in the state; secondly, the same party (APC) is in power at both the state and federal level, thus, no antagonism from any quarters for political gains and lastly, President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB), the sitting will likely intervene with federal might, if just to redeem his image, dented back in 1983 as mentioned earlier: his campaign team had tried so hard to absolve him of any complicity in the matter during the last elections.
While we wait for this to happen, however, there is a serious and urgent need for three things to happen. One, something must be done on the portions of the road still awaiting the caterpillars, diggers and workers of the construction company handling the project. Two, while work is ongoing and traffic has to be diverted, alternative routes must be provided and motorists advised accordingly. Three and most importantly, on the portion of the road not covered under this current project (i.e. from Okokomaiko to Seme Border), everything possible must be done to make the road passable; thank goodness, the newly sworn in Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in the state, Mr. Ganiyu Johnson has declared war on potholes on all roads in the state. This will help to reduce the man hour wasted every day and carnage on that road, as well as elongate the life span of both vehicles and road users.
So, to put the Yiddish saying quoted at the outset into perspective, let me salute the courageous and visionary leadership of Babatunde Fashola ( BRF ) - qualities I am convinced are also resident in the incumbent Governor Ambode - for coming up with this bold and ambitious project. The prospect this road project holds is beyond word, and we can't wait to have it completed and commissioned for use. But wait we must. Therefore, while we wait, we want a road we can use; a road without pot holes; a road we can be proud of. Oh, if only we can have Lagos-Badagry Express road!
                                                                                                                                   By Ezekiel Padonu

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