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OPINION: The Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and way out

That the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway has been so mired in controversy, attracting so many interests, is because of its significance to the socio-economic life of the country. Incidentally, it is the only major artery to Lagos, handling more than 90 per cent of the entire human and vehicular traffic to the city.  It is the only road accommodating the large number of articulated vehicles, lifting fuel and other goods out of Lagos. This explains the interests always generated when the 115-kilometre Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is being debated.

In fact, the ante was upped in recent months because of the suffering of commuters and the sudden emergence of a company, Motorway Assets Limited (MAL), which claimed to be the new concessionaire of the road, seeking N150billion to complete it – even when we were told by the past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan that awarded the contract to Julius Berger and Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) at the cost of N167billion.

Meanwhile, the Ogun State Government also claimed it carried out palliative measures to fix portions of the same road. It is now abundantly clear that the shenanigans concerning the road were caused by the Jonathan administration, for political gains. It is also clear that the process of re-concessioning the road to Motorway after the termination of the concession to Bi-Courtney Highways Services Limited (BHSL), was far from transparent. It is obvious that it was an under-the-table deal, because Nigerians were also not aware when the purported contract to Julius Berger and RCC suddenly turned to a concession to Motorway, whose antecedents in PPP are not known. Moreover, not a few are confused at the role played by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), in the confusion.

Therefore, for the road to become world-class, there is need for the Federal Government to revisit the concession earlier granted Bi-Courtney. Simply put, the Federal Government can escape the legal and moral cobweb it has entrapped itself, by allowing Bi-Courtney to complete the reconstruction on the road.

No one can deny that Bi-Courtney can do the job, having spent three years maintaining the road with over $300million while its concession lasted, having acquired billions of naira worth of equipment in preparation for the work, and having the technical manpower and the financial muscle. Its performance at the Murtala Muhammed Airport Terminal II (MMA2) attests to its capability.

Recall that former President Olusegun Obasanjo had attempted to expand and improve the Lagos-Ibadan Road by concessioning it to BHSL under a Design, Build, Operate and Transfer (DBOT) arrangement under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP). However, the idea did not yield the desired result before Obasanjo left in 2007. The succeeding administration could also not do much, despite its good disposition to the project, before the demise of late Musa Yar’Adua. It is noteworthy to recollect that officials in the Ministry of Works played an ignoble role by sabotaging Obasanjo’s concession idea.

While Nigerians waited for the commencement of reconstruction of the expressway by Bi-Courtney, we witnessed routine maintenance of several portions by the company, as a way of minimising the crashes and traffic gridlocks on the road, which the current concessionaire has refused to do since they lack the capability.

Although when former President Jonathan announced the termination of the concession in November 2012, it was celebrated by a section of the populace simply because they did not understand what concession is all about.

All over the world, concession is a major way of financing big projects. From the Americas to Europe, Asia and other continents of the world, the idea of PPP has come to stay and Nigeria cannot be an exception. Many companies are already involved in concessions, encouraged by their governments to provide jobs and take the pressure of infrastructure provision.

In fact, Ferrovial Subsidiary Cintra, as one of the world’s leading private sector developers of transportation infrastructure, manages 28 concessions extending more than 2,232 kilometres of roads in Canada, the United States (US), Spain, United Kingdom (UK), Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Colombia and Australia.

Also, South Africa has extensive experience in PPP, involving about 300 projects on the national and provincial levels since 1994. Indeed, the South African National Treasury, developed a PPP Manual which defines “a PPP to be a contract between a public sector institution and a private party, in which the private party assumes substantial risks in the design, financing, building and operation of a project.” The South African National Roads Agency began tolling part of the major national roads in the mid-1990s and developed concessionary structures to overcome budgetary constraints.

This is the beauty of PPP because it allows government to channel its resources to other means for the benefit of the citizens, and Nigeria cannot be an exception.

 

****Olagokun, is an Ibadan-based company executive.

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