THE ULTIMATUM ON LAGOS-IBADAN EXPRESSWAY

By NBF News
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The recent ultimatum issued by the Federal Government to Bi-Courtney Highway Services to repair failed portions of the 110-kilometere Lagos - Ibadan expressway concessioned to it in April 2009 is good news to beleaguered users of the road.

For over two years now, Nigerians have only been given excuses for the failure of the concessionaire to begin the road expansion and modernization project. The expectation of the people for quick delivery of the promised expanded ultra-modern expressway, complete with police posts, hospitals, restaurants, restrooms, pedestrian overhead bridges and other facilities, has remained in limbo.

Minister of Works, Mr. Mike Onolememen, who issued the ultimatum to complete the repairs as stipulated in the project contract, hinged it on the agony commuters have been going through on the expressway. Bi-Courtney Chairman, Mr. Wale Babalakin (SAN), however, identified challenges in securing right of way and provision of parks for the trailers on the road as constraints to the commencement of the project.

The minister promised to help with these, explaining that the planned review of compensation guidelines for property owners in the axis contributed to the delay but has now been concluded. Government, he said, is also considering inviting Army engineers to help Bi-Courtney secure right of way to ensure smooth removal of structures impeding the work. Also, the minister insisted on the need for urgent repair work as a short-term measure before commencement of reconstruction in September.

We welcome the ultimatum issued to Bi-Courtney, but it will only ensure palliative work on the road. The works ministry will need more action than   words to get this road expansion work off the ground. Whatever needs to be done should be done now to ensure that the promised modern expressway is delivered expeditiously.

The state of that very important expressway which links Lagos, the commercial centre of Nigeria, with the rest of the country is a disgrace. It has cost the nation so much human and economic loss. Beyond the interjection from the minister, it is necessary to look into the terms of this Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) project to determine the company's fidelity to the timeframe for its delivery.

Although the minister has explained that the design for the project was only approved recently, we need to develop a culture of respect for terms of contracts. It is necessary to ensure that the concessionaire keeps to the timeline for delivery of the project. Government has a responsibility to stop the carnage and avoidable loss of manhours on the expressway. It needs to make travelling on this road safe in line with its responsibility for the welfare of the people.

Bi-Courtney has consistently enumerated challenges stalling the execution of this contract. These have ranged from difficulties with funding in the past, to the rains. Now, there is the problem of right of way and the face-off with Ogun State government on the land that it intends to install its asphalt plant.

We urge the government and the concessionaire to quickly surmount these problems and deliver the project. The Ogun State government and owners of structures on the road should move from confrontation to cooperation with the concessionaire to get the project, which will greatly benefit all Nigerians, off the ground.

Everyone should contribute in any way they can to ensure the success of this effort. There is need for sincerity. The impression that has been created so far is that this concessioning was done without clearly laid out timeframe for delivery, and the input of experts to address challenges that have been stalling the project.

Nigerians are tired of stories on the delay in commencement of the modernization project. The concessioning of this road was expected to be followed by that of so many other critical expressways that the government plans to rehabilitate through private/public partnership.

It is important that the government makes a success of this project so that other critical ones to link the major parts of the country can follow its pattern. Government and Bi-Courtney need to move faster on this work, which slow pace is already raising questions. The dilapidation of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway is a serious problem that the government must resolve soon.