WHY THE LEKKI TOLL GATE CANNOT BE
I read with extreme pains the Editorial opinion of your well respected newspaper of Thursday, December 22, 2011, at page 19 thereof, titled:
Let the Lekki Tollgate Be. Pains because of the inaccuracies contained in the said opinion and the negative impressions wittingly or unwittingly created in the minds of your highly esteemed readers.
Whereas you purported to condemn the use of excessive force to disperse the protesters, you stated that commonsense should prevail on this issue. In your own estimation therefore, the protesters or indeed those insisting on the cancellation of the tolling have not applied commonsense, and thus, the Thisday group, felt obliged to direct all concerned to seek wisdom and learning.
Indeed the commanding title of your opinion says it all; whether we like it or not, the Lekki Tollgate has come to stay! It is indeed very disheartening to note that your editorial opinion was based on total lack of requisite information on such sensitive matter of public knowledge, except it would be that your newspaper has chosen to toe the line of subjective media outfits that have so far slanted the entire protest in favor of their benefactors. It was stated most inaccurately, that the toll gates are 25 kilometers apart.
This cannot be true! Between the Admiralty Circle Toll Plaza and the Chevron/ Ikota Toll Plaza is a distance surely less than five kilometers.
If I may ask Sir, what commonsense can be applied to justify three toll plazas in the same local government, what wisdom can we canvass to explain the imposition of N200 per car on three toll points on each point of entry and exit? How do we rationalize diverting motorists to a private estate such as Oniru Royal Family Private Estate? Are you not aware Sir, of the principle of law that whoever owns the land owns whatever stands on it, meaning that all roads, infrastructure and facilities within a private estate belong to the owner of the estate? Could your team of accredited journalists not have demanded for a copy of the contract document executed between the Lagos State Government and the Lekki Concession Company Limited, to discover the following?
1. That the contract is for the construction of a 49.5 kilometer road expansion on the main Lekki-Epe Road;
2. Construction of an alternative Coastal Road, being a dual carriage way, contingent upon the construction of shoreline embankment of the coastal region by the Lagos State Government;
3. That LCC is responsible for the construction of motorable link roads between the main Lekki-Epe road and the alternative Coastal Road.
By the account of LCC itself, only approximately 6 kilometers of the 49.5 kilometers road has been completed. Pray, what commonsense can be brought to bear on the collection of toll fee on 6 kilometers of a 49.5 kilometer project?
It was then stated, most inaccurately, in the editorial piece, that ...the legal challenges to the right of Lagos State and Lekki Concession Company to charge tolls on the road has failed. Has the editorial board room of Thisday been converted into a court room for the authoritative determination of the failure or success of a case pending in court? Kindly note the following facts for the historical correction of the facts relating to the court case against the toll fee collection.
1. On February 22, 2011, I filed an Originating Summons before the Federal High Court, Lagos, seeking declarations and injunctions against the collection of toll fee on the Lekki-Epe Expressway. Processes were filed by LCC and Lagos State but the suit could not be heard on its merit.
2. On July 11, 2011, the Federal High Court declined jurisdiction to hear the suit and directed that it should be transferred to the Lagos State High Court.
3. Being dissatisfied with the decision of the Federal High Court, I filed an appeal against it to the Court of Appeal on July 13, 2011 and also an application for a stay of execution of the ruling of the Federal High Court. These processes were duly served on the respondents. No date was fixed for the hearing of the motion for stay of execution.
4. It was while these processes were pending in court that the LCC, based on the lifting of the suspension on tolling announced by the Governor of Lagos State, declared its intention to commence collection of toll fee, on December 18, 2011.
5. On December 7, 2011, I filed an application for an order of injunction, to restrain LCC, from proceeding with the proposed collection of the toll fee as announced, pending the hearing and determination of my pending appeal. I also filed an application for extension of time to compile the record of appeal.
6. The application for an order of injunction pending appeal was duly served on the law firm of Aluko and Oyebode, counsel to LCC, on December 7, 2011 at 3.30 pm, at No.35, Moloney Street, Lagos. Same was served on the office of the Honorable Attorney-General of Lagos State at Alausa, Ikeja, on December 8, 2011 at 9.40 am.
You would well recall that recently, a learned colleague filed an action against the Lagos State Government in respect of the power of LASTMA to impose and collect fines from motorists. The Federal High Court, Lagos, nullified some portions of the LASTMA Law and voided the fine regime of LASTMA. Lagos State Government appealed against the judgment and thereafter applied for an order to stay the execution of the judgment pending appeal.
The Federal High Court dismissed the application and indeed directed all Lagosians who are being forced to pay fines by LASTMA to report to the court. Notwithstanding this, the Lagos State Government has proceeded most vehemently to step up the collection of fines from motorists through LASTMA. On Saturday, December 10, 2011, Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN, the Solicitor-General of Lagos State, stated as follows, in the Vanguard newspaper, at page 6 thereof:
Lagos Traffic; Court Judgment Can't Stop LASTMA:
The state Solicitor-General, Mr. Lawal Pedro, SAN, in an interview argued that the state was dissatisfied with the court order and has since filed an appeal while praying for the stay of execution of the judgment of the trial court.
Pedro, who is also the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Justice, described the court's decision as an abeyance, which could not be implemented until the determination of their case in the Court of Appeal. What the above means simply is that the case that I filed to challenge the proposed collection of the toll fee has not been concluded, let alone fail.
The application for an order of injunction that I filed in the Court of Appeal is still pending as of today. It was wrong for Lagos State Government and LCC to have proceeded to collect the toll fee while the application for an order of injunction was pending and yet to be determined. The rationale for this position of law was well explained by the Supreme Court of Nigeria in the locus classicus case of Governor of Lagos State v. Ojukwu:
In the area where rule of law operates, the rule of self-help by force is abandoned. Nigeria being one of the countries in the world, even in the third world, which proclaim loudly to follow the rule of law, there is no room for the rule of self-help, by force to operate.
Once a dispute has arisen between a person and the government or authority and the dispute has been brought before the court, thereby invoking the judicial powers of the state, it is the duty of the government to allow the law to take its course or allow the legal and judicial process to run its full course. The action the Lagos State Government took can have no other interpretation than the show of the intention to pre-empt the decision of the court.
The courts expect the utmost respect of the law from the government itself, which rules by the law. What commonsense dictates in this circumstance is that the Lagos State Government and the LCC should suspend the tolling to await the determination of the application for an order of injunction pending in the court of appeal. This point was well made by the learned Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olisa Agbokoba, during his press briefing recently, which incidentally Thisday did not find meritorious to report.
When commonsense is properly applied in the case of the Lekki Tollgate, all people of conscience should insist that the contract executed on the road project should be strictly adhered to. What the contract stipulates is an alternative road called Coastal Road, which will be linked to the main Lekki-Epe raod by several feeder roads, with an option to construct the Southern Bye-Pass.
Based on the misinformation already circulated to the innocent readers, I took time to go through the internet on the Lekki toll fee and discovered, to my utter amazement, that LCC recently obtained a loan facility from African Development Bank. Amongst other important information, it is prominently stated on the ADB website ( www.afdb.org/en/projects http://www.afdb.org/en/projects ) as
The project comprises the following:
1. Rehabilitation and widening of first 23km and rehabilitation of the last 26.5km of the 49.5km Lekki to Epe expressway on the Lekki corridor in Lagos City,
2. Building of a new ramp at Falomo junction to carry right turning traffic onto the Falomo Bridge
3. Building of new foot bridges along the right of way to carry pedestrian traffic hence improving on road safety for pedestrians
4. Building of the first 6km of the coastal road which itself is contingent on the construction of the coastal defenses by Lagos State Government
5. Rehabilitation/building of 10 inter-connecting roads between the expressway and the coastal road What the above simply means is that a Coastal Road should have been constructed before or at least simultaneously alongside the main Lekki-Epe road, to serve as an alternative road, not some single lane hidden in a private estate. The conditions for the collection of toll fee, even under the contract, have not been fulfilled. How do we then turn commonsense on its head and be issuing such patronizing commands as:
Let the Lekki Tollgate Be, in the name of editorial opinions.
Surely, all media issues cannot be influenced or actuated by financial considerations or inspired by advert patronages. The implications of the toll fee on residents and indigenes of the Eti-Osa/Lekki axis are better imagined. Since Sunday, December 18, 2011, when the toll commenced, it has been a hellish experience for all road users. And we cannot conclude that a people have consented to a wicked policy by reason only that armed policemen and soldiers are stationed at the toll plaza to intimidate them to ensure compliance. Then, democracy has lost its meaning. Surely and steadily, we shall continue the protest until such a time that true commonsense has prevailed.
The case that I filed in court has not failed, and I intend to pursue it to its logical conclusion, notwithstanding the forceful imposition of the toll fee.
Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, Esq