The Long Road to Renewing Lagos-Ibadan Expressway

 Lagos Ibadan Expressway
The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway had suffered total neglect under successive governments despite its importance as a major gateway to other parts of the country. However, three years ago, the federal government concessioned the road to Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited. Olaolu Olusina took a tour of the 34-year highway recently and reports that its rehabilitation will depend on the cooperation among the various stakeholders involved in the project

It was only four days after Christmas and the early morning shower that Thursday was a bit deceptive. But the cool weather soon gave way to sunshine, accompanied by scorching heat that was almost unbearable. Yet, this reporter's brief was clear and the tour of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was top of the agenda.

Not quite sure of the state of the road, because of the festive season, and having heard and read a lot about the 'chaotic' traffic situation, there was some measure of confusion on what the itinerary would entail. But with this reporter's mind already made up to pass the night in Ibadan in the event of late arrival, I set out with a plan to break the journey into segments to do justice to the mission.

It was, indeed, a smooth drive through the Lagos end as the road, to my surprise, was free except for the obstruction caused by the police road blocks around Berger in Lagos State and some few metres after Ibafo in Ogun State. I could not just imagine the dangers being posed to the road on busy days by petroleum tankers and trailers which lined both sides of the highway from the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries Prayer City down to Mowe.
After a brief stop-over at Mowe, I moved ahead with a clear instruction to my driver to stop at any point where rehabilitation work was going on. Though I had no particular section of the road in mind, he was to draw my attention to a point just before Shagamu. As I alighted at that point, I noticed a convoy of cars with some security officials. And right there was the chairman, Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited, Dr. Wale Babalakin, who had just finished inspecting the work being undertaken by his men on the expressway and was about to leave the site.

In 2009, his company was granted the concession to manage the road under a design, build, operate and transfer arrangement with the federal government for 25 years. But the contract was not signed until last May, unmindful of the fact that the company was given just four years to expand and rehabilitate the road. Looking quite tired after the inspection, Babalakin told THISDAY that the fact that his men were still working when other construction companies all over the world had closed for the year showed the commitment of Bi-Courtney to the project and the seriousness to which it attached to the road, assuring that it will be fixed well ahead of the four-year time frame.

A Failed Road

To describe the 34-year-old 105-kilometre highway as a failed road would be stating the obvious. The most important of all the highways in the country, it was opened to vehicular traffic in 1978 after four-year construction work which started in 1974. But it has also suffered many years of total neglect and abandonment. Despite the calls for its repairs, expansion and maintenance, THISDAY gathered that no allocation was made for the road by the federal government during the entire tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo between 1999 and 2007.

Yet, it is considered one of the busiest and accident-prone highways in the country, just as it is a major gateway to the hinterland. Industry sources also told this paper that out of the N16.3 billion allocated to the Federal Ministry of Works for capital expenditure in the 2003 supplementary budget, nothing was appropriated for the road. And where N44.6 billion was allocated for capital projects under the ministry in 2004, no consideration was made for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. No allocations were also made for the road in the 2005 and 2006 appropriation either.

The result of the many years of total neglect was therefore the decay and rot which the road underwent, resulting in accidents and perpetration of other criminal and notorious activities along the highway. Such was the state of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway that it was labeled the “Highway of Death” and one of the most dangerous roads in Nigeria.

History of Neglect

A lecturer at the Department of History, Bayero University, Kano, Daniel Olisa Iweze, had actually painted a gloomy picture of Nigerian roads in a paper he submitted for the 4th European Conference on African Studies held at Uppsala, Sweden last June. In the paper titled 'Travails on the Nigerian Roads: The Case of the Luxury Bus Transport Services', Iweze described the condition of Nigerian roads as horrible, saying roads in the country rank among the worst in the world.

Nigeria, according to Iweze, has the largest road network in West Africa and the second largest south of the Sahara with a national network currently estimated at  about 194,200 kilometres of which 34,120 kilometre (17.6 percent) are federal roads; 30,500 kilometre (15.7 percent), state roads; and 129,580 kilometre (16.7 percent) local and rural roads. According to him, the federal roads network carries about 70 percent of the freight in the country.
He said most roads were constructed during the oil boom era of the 1970s and 1980s when they were good and fascinating. “From the northern to the southern parts of the country, the roads were dazzling and beautiful. During the period, there was massive road construction, rehabilitation and maintenance which made road travel pleasant and eventful. There were no fears of night marauders, no organised armed robbery attacks, be it in the day or at night. It was paradise on wheels. The drivers were disciplined, cautious and they strictly adhered to the speed limits which minimised road accidents. While it lasted, commuters had smooth travel. The roads stimulated and enhanced economic activities because traders could travel from one part of the country to the other. Trading items and agricultural produce were transported with ease,” he noted.

He nonetheless lamented the deterioration of the once beautiful road network over the years. “However, as from the 1990s, deterioration set in, making the once celebrated road network rot away. According to transport analysts, the decay of the national road network in the country was as a result of a combination of factors of poor maintenance, shoddy jobs by contractors, increased traffic and population. The consequence was that a journey of a few hours could lead to endless hours, sometimes commuters have to sleep overnight which has brought untold pains, loss of lives and property to transport operators and passengers,” he lamented.

Salvaging the Road

The federal government, however, began moves to rehabilitate the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway following the public outcry and the contract for the total upgrade of the road was awarded to Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited after an international competitive bidding in 2009. But THISDAY gathered that it was not just a contract, as the company was not in any way mobilised with government funds.

Rather, it was a private partnership project arrangement under which Bi-Courtney won the concession to design, build, operate and manage the road. The concession agreement is for 25 years and the company is expected to rehabilitate and construct the road, bringing it to international standard within four years. Conceptualised as a six-lane highway from Lagos to Shagamu and eight-lane highway from Shagamu to Ibadan, the project, estimated at some N100 billion, will also have 14 new overhead bridges and by-passes as well as hotels, relaxation parks and other facilities.

Tolling as Major Feature                               

Bi-Courtney is however expected to recoup its investment on the road and as well generate funds to maitain the road through the collection of tolls on the road for 25 years before handing it over to the federal government. THISDAY gathered that to achieve this, a minimum of three state-of-the-art toll gates will be erected along the road just as mini-shopping centres that will have restaurants, stop-over motels, fuel stations and other resting points will be established along the road.

But all these will present some challenge as the issue of toll collection will definitely generate a lot of controversy similar to the one on the Lekki-Epe Expressway. Allaying concerns over tolling, a Bi-Courtney official said there was a whole world of difference between the Lekki-Epe Road and the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project. “Though both projects are PPPs under concessions, the contractors for the Lekki road were mobilised but we were not.” Babalakin also stated that ''ours is not a contract where government is giving us any money,'' adding ''the contractor here is spending his money to do the job and is expected to recoup his investment within the 25 years of the concession.”              

Initial Delays

But many Nigerians have been wondering why the project that was awarded in 2009 has taken so long to start despite the urgent need to get the road back into shape. The incessant accidents on the road as well as the chaotic traffic situation in some parts of the highway, especially around the premises of the various churches that dot the highway have not also helped matters in any way. Police checkpoints along the road as well as the menace of trailers and petroleum tankers parked indiscriminately along the road have equally constituted a menace.

THISDAY reliably learnt that stakeholders involved in the project also did not fully understand the PPP concept and could not agree on what was expected of them, hence the misunderstanding on the roles and expectations from the parties concerned. For instance, over five Ministers of Works had been appointed since 2009 when the contract was awarded and each one gave his own interpretation of the agreement. For instance, although the 107-kilometre road is a federal road, 30 percent of it falls within Lagos State, 80 percent in Ogun, and the remaining is within Oyo State.

Also, former Minister of Works, Senator Sanusi Daggash, actually blamed the federal government for the delay in the commencement of work on the road. Speaking at a public private partnership capacity development workshop for government officials organised by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission in Abuja last year, Daggash said, “If the government had done the right thing at the time, perhaps we would have gone far with that project.”

He added, “But after over one year after signing the project contract, we are still looking at the drawings which is something that should have been done, with other elements of the PPP transaction, before now.”
THISDAY authoritatively learnt that three reports, namely, the Inception Report, Interim Report and Draft Final Report, had to be submitted by Bi-Courtney and approved by the Ministry of Work before the final report was approved on May 10, 2011.

Palliative Work

But the road could not have waited as rudimentary repairs had to be embarked upon to salvage it from total collapse. Minister of Works, Mr. Mike Onolememen, had during an inspection of the road last July, instructed that palliative work on the bad sections of the road be completed within two months. “There are basic things we would do very quickly; we want to ensure that within 60 days the suffering on the road be reduced,” he said.

The Minister, who also disclosed that the Nigerian Army engineers may be drafted to certain aspects of the work, said “We shouldn't saddle Bi-Courtney with the task of securing the Right of Way,” adding “we are going to bring in army engineers to assist.” He however dismissed speculations in some quarters that the federal government may review the agreement with Bi-Courtney. “There's nothing like that. Bi-Courtney has been on track. There are processes in the execution of this project and the company has followed due process. The final design was approved on May 10,” Onolememen stated.

On the rationale for the concession agreement, the minister said, “This is a modern way of financing projects in the country now, because it is clear to us that the budgetary allocation of the federal government cannot match the demands for road rehabilitation and reconstruction in this country. The final design was approved in May, this year, by the Federal Ministry of Works; our estate valuers have just completed work on the enumeration of properties on the right of way last week; by September, full work should start. But before that, areas requiring urgent repairs must be attended to. If you look at the agreement concerning the road, there were steps to be taken. In the past one year, there have been phases they have had to comply with.”

Accordingly, Bi-Courtney swung into action following the minister's ultimatum, embarking on the patching of bad portions of the road to make it ready for easy passage during the yuletide season. But the company was to face other challenges soon after.
States Flex Muscles

The Ogun State Government, which had also expressed its willingness to salvage the road, said it was embarking on some repair works at Mowe around the Redeemed Christian Church of God Redemption Camp. The state Commissioner for Works, Mr. Lekan Adegbite, expressed the state government's grouse over what he described as the “appalling” state of the 500-metre stretch of the road and its socio-economic cost to residents of the state, who, according to him, transact business on the axis.

He said, “The state governor, Ibikunle Amosun, was distressed by the horrendous hardship being imposed on the people by the dilapidated road and has therefore decided to effect its repair with or without the concessionaire, Bi-Courtney.”
THISDAY learnt that other challenges that have bedevilled the project include the non-approval of the site for its asphalt plant by Ogun State Government. Lagos State also expressed its disapproval in the way Bi-Courtney was serving notifications to property owners in the state over the issue of right of way on behalf of the federal government. Over 55 court cases, it was learnt, have been instituted by property owners over the issue of 60.35 metres right of way on both sides of the road.

But where Ogun State stopped the concessionaire from installing its $6.5 million asphalt plant in a yard formerly occupied by Reynolds Construction Company, saying it wanted to use the parcel of land for a trailer park, Lagos State issued a statement of disapproval of the company's move.

In a statement issued on August 4, 2011 and signed by the Permanent Secretary, Lagos State Lands Bureau, Mr. Hakeem Muri-Okunola, the government said the 1999 Constitution (Amendment 2011) and Land Use Act “vests exclusive power of revocation of right of occupancy to any piece of land with the state in the governor of the state.” The permanent secretary therefore described the acquisition notice being served on behalf of the federal government by Bi-Courtney Highway Services as illegal and unconstitutional.

Head of Communications, Bi-Courtney, Mr. Dipo Kehinde, had, in the heat of the crisis, explained the processes followed by his company before settling for the former RCC yard, lamenting the action of Ogun State Government. “Since the concession was granted, the Ogun State Government was taken as a major partner, given that 80 per cent of the highway falls within the state. Ogun State was to give us land as its own contribution to the project. The former RCC yard was identified, visited and allocated to us by the state government. The process entailed joint visits, and assessment before allocation, following all due process.

“To buttress this fact, we duly settled the land owners, promptly, to demonstrate our commitment to the site. The payment to the landowners was done, after due consultation with the state government and confirmation of the landowners at a joint stakeholders meeting with officials of the Bureau of Land. The state government actually brokered the meeting with the family land owners.  A search was also conducted at the Ogun State Survey Directorate, and the search report revealed that the property was unencumbered," he said in a statement.

Ogun Defends Action

The Ogun State Government has however defended its action but also promised to offer every support necessary for the success of the project. “Aside the misunderstanding which we had on the issue of the parcel of land marked for our trailer park, we no longer have any issue with Bi-Courtney,” state Commissioner of Information, Alhaji Yusuf Olaniyonu, told THISDAY in an interview.

“The state government is ready to cooperate with the contractor and Governor Ibikunle Amosun has promised every assistance since the project is in the interest of the masses.” The commissioner also maintained that there was nothing unusual about the intervention of the state government in the 500-metre stretch around the Redemption Camp, saying the rehabilitation work done there was in the best interest of the people of the state who ply the road on a daily basis.

“That was not the first time the state government would be intervening on federal roads that fall within the state. 80 percent of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway falls within Ogun State and the state government had intervened in a similar way on the Shagamu-Abeokuta Road and the stretch between Asero and Obantoko on the Abeokuta-Ibadan Road which are all federal roads,” Olaniyonu told this reporter.

Situating the Challenges

Though Bi-Courtney told THISDAY that it would not want to be drawn into any controversy over the project any longer, pleading for understanding and cooperation of all stakeholders to ensure its success, the chairman of the company, Babalakin, blamed the delays and challenges facing the project on inadequate knowledge of the PPP concept by Nigerians. He, however, expressed optimism that awareness would have improved after the completion of the project.

“PPPs in Nigeria are, at best, in their infancy. It's a pioneering effort by our company and a learning process by all stakeholders. The biggest challenge we've had is inadequate knowledge of what PPPs entail by all the parties involved in this project. I believe that after this project, the knowledge of PPPs would have improved tremendously,” he told this reporter in an exclusive chat at his company's work site near Sagamu in Ogun State.

Babalakin said the entire work expected to last four years has been divided into phases. “The construction period is for four years, effective from May 10 when our papers were signed. We have no doubt that we'll finish ahead of time. We started real construction on November 29 as we couldn't have started during the rainy season,” he explained.

“The fact that Bi-Courtney is still on the road, working, during the holidays when construction companies all over the world have closed for the year since December 17 shows the importance to which we attach to the job. Because of the busy state of the road, construction must be done in phases to accommodate traffic flow and this segment of the road is the first of the phases,” he added.

Bi-Courtney's Head of Communications, Kehinde, also said his company was moving ahead with its job despite the challenges. He disclosed that the company had spent over N200 million on surface repairs on the road in the past two years, patching pot-holes and rehabilitating other bad portions along the highway.

“People can now drive smoothly on the road. We've also been clearing the overgrown grasses along the median so that road users can have a clear view and safer trips. They should remember that it used to take about 12 hours to ply the road but now it takes just about one hour,” he told THISDAY, adding “the Federal Road Safety Corps actually recorded a sharp reduction in fatal accidents on the road this festive season.”
Kehinde maintained that Bi-Courtney has been working and is still working. “We don't really have problems with the issue of right of way any longer, as the Ministry of Works is now handling that. Our final report was approved on May 10, 2011 but the impression is that we were given the job two years ago. We've been working and we realised that the road had failed from beneath. The only way to salvage it is to remove the surface and build an entirely new road. Now that we have started, we really need the support and understanding of the stakeholders, the communities along the road, road users as well as the state governments,” he stated.

Strong Partnerships

Bi-Courtney also disclosed that it had secured the financial backing of a South African bank and a reputable construction company to fully kick-start the project in the New Year. “Rand Merchant Bank of South Africa is funding the project and Group 5, a South African multi-disciplinary construction group engaged in resources, energy and infrastructure delivery, alongside some local contractors, are doing the construction,” Kehinde confirmed.

“Group 5 has completed five major highways similar to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway in Africa and has constructed many others around the world such as the King Shaka International Airport in Kwazulu, Natal, South Africa. It also built the 2010 FIFA World Cup stadium in South Africa.”

Undoubtedly, Nigerians are eagerly waiting for full rehabilitation work to start on the road after a two and half-year delay. But whether or not they can live with the inconveniences that are inevitable as work progresses is a question for another day. Already, an access path is being created for vehicles around the Shagamu end of the road where the first phase of the work has commenced, pending the scrapping of the surface of the road, preparatory to full reconstruction.

Surely, a lot of patience would be required by all road users at this time in order to achieve the ultimate goal. Though one of the first of its kind in the history of Nigeria, the concession of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, will, without doubt, be a test case for PPPs in road construction in the country. In addition, the success of this experiment will not only depend on the understanding of the concept, cooperation and understanding among the various stakeholders involved in the project, it will also set the pace for similar projects in the future.

Source: Thisday Live

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