The importance of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway cannot be over-emphasised. Thousands of people use the road every day. If you are heading to other parts of the Southwest, the Southeast, the South-South and the North, you must use this all-important road.
Farmers from Oyo, Ekiti, Ondo and Osun rely on it road to bring their farm produce to Lagos for sale. Their counterparts from the North use this road to bring their onions, tomatoes and other goods to Lagos markets. What this means is that the road plays a pivotal commercial role in the economy of Nigeria. However, the way government has treated the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway over the years has left little to be desired.
In 2009, the Federal Government granted a 25-year concession to Dr Wale Babalakin’s Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited (BHSL) for the reconstruction and maintenance of the road. The project was to cost N89.53 billion and the company was expected to source for the fund. In November 2012, federal government revoked the concession, saying Bi-Courtney failed to adhere to the terms, an allegation the company denied. Bi-Courtney said the government delayed the approval of the project design and failed to secure the needed right of way.
In June 2013, the Federal Government re-awarded the reconstruction of the expressway to Julius Berger Plc. and RCC.
There have been instances where people miss appointments all because of traffic gridlock caused by the bad state of the road. One only needs check with the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to get statistics on the number of lives that have been lost along this same stretch.
The sorry state of the 105-kilometre road has led to the loss of unquantifiable man-hours.
Many Nigerians were hopeful when the administration of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan re-awarded the construction contract to Julius Berger Construction Company and Reynolds Construction Company, (RCC).
What further gave hope to many was the assurance of ex-Minister of Works Mike Onolememen that all had been put in place to make the road better. He said the Lagos to Sagamu Interchange would be expanded to three lanes on both sides, which was not the same as the six lanes Bi-Courtney promised. The portion from the interchange to Ibadan would have its two existing lanes reconstructed. He left no doubt as to the Federal Government’s readiness to spend N167 billion on the project.
Almost all of this year, there is no week the road is not in the news. In January, the Infrastructure Bank PLC took up space in five newspapers regarding this same road. In a reaction to Bi-Courtney’s position that the road concession to Motorways Assets Limited (MAL) was a back door arrangement. The bank tried to justify the engagement. It denied not following due process. Yet, the concession of the project was never advertised. The Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act provides that concessions in Nigeria must be advertised in two national newspapers. It also states that the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) must issue a no-objection approval before the concession is taken to the Federal Executive Council for approval. There is no evidence that these steps were taken.
When Bi-Courtney learnt that the Jonathan administration had concluded plans to concession the project to MAL, it approached the court to stop it. On receipt of Bi-Courtney’s application, the Ministry of Works responded in a counter affidavit ofJuly 5, 2015, that “Government has not re-concessioned the road to any company”.
Despite the denials, it turned out that a concession had actually been granted to MAL.
Interestingly, in the Concession Agreement to MAL, there is a clause where the Federal Government, through the Ministry of Finance, paid N50 billion to the new concessionaire and indemnified it.
As Bi-Courtney argued, “The payment of N50 billion was made unlawfully and thus cannot constitute a proper expenditure of the Federal Government. The legal consequence is that the payment was made in a manner ultra vires the powers of those who made it. The unlawful indemnity is also contrary to the laws and principles guiding concessions in Nigeria.”
The Federal High Court eventually set aside the concession on the basis that it violated all known principles of law and justice.
This is time to end the lingering controversy by handing the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway over to Bi-Courtney, so that it can truly deliver the six-lane standard road that Nigerians have been promised.
Jack Odubena writes from Lagos