RESIDENTS KICK AGAINST TOLL COLLECTION ON UNTARRED 7KM ROAD â€“LG, BAALE, CONSTRUCTION COMPANY INSIST
Irked by the slow response of government to their needs for basic social amenities, residents of Lambe and Matogun communities in Ifo Local Government Area, Ogun State to take their destinies in their own hands. But their decision to embark on self help has pitted them against their traditional ruler, the authorities of Ifo Local Government as well as Babs Akin Construction Company.
In a conversation with our correspondent, a resident who pleaded anonymity because he said the issue had become too contentious, lamented the conditions of roads in Lambe community. He said, 'The road from Lambe to Matogun was in very bad shape. Whenever it rained, the road became nearly impassable because of the potholes caused by the absence of a drainage system. We were all unhappy with the condition of Lambe-Matogun link road.
'Then this (Babs Akin) construction company emerged from nowhere on February 1 and started collecting tolls from the residents. When we queried them, they told us it was a private arrangement with the Baale (community leader).'' The resident said on that very day, a confrontation ensued between oficials of the construction company and residents who resisted the toll demanded by the officials. 'They stopped collecting the toll for two or three days, because we all had to meet with the Baale. To our surprise, however, the Baale was angry with our decision to challenge the idea of paying tolls on the bad road. He said we were resisting the progress of the community and ordered that the collection of tolls on the road should continue.'
He said that while owners of private vehicles in the community were not always compelled to pay tolls on the road, the case was not the same with operators of commercial vehicles and motorcycles who were always compelled to pay. 'This is unacceptable to us because we were not consulted before this decision was made,'' the aggrieved resident protested.
Sensing foul play, the aggrieved residents hired a lawyer who has since filed a petition to the chairman of Ifo Local Government with a copy dispatched to the governor of the state, Chief Gbenga Daniel.
''I met with the Baale and the construction company and tried to broker peace between them and the residents of Lambe, but without success,'' said the lawyer, Mr. Freeman. ''The construction company claimed that they had won from the local government a contract to build operate and transfer the road, and the contract would last between 20 and 25 years.
'But that amounts to putting the cart before the horse. The road should be built before any toll is collected. It is wrong to obtain tolls for between 20 and 25 years before commencing any construction at all.''
Besides, Freeman said he had spoken with the chairman of Ifo Local Government and the chairman told him that toll collection on the road was not only unauthorized but illegal.
Another resident, a high chief in the community, queried the sums that were being collected as tolls on the road. 'About two years ago when tolls were being collected from the residents, it was a collective decision. I was then a member of the technical committee concerned with disbursing the tolls,' he said, noting that commercial motorcyclists were levied N10, commercial buses and other cars were levied N20, while trucks were expected to pay N50.
This, the high chief noted, was contrary to the present arrangement where cars, tricycles and commuter buses were being levied N50 while trucks were levied N100. ''We got between N72,000 and N75,000 monthly. That was a total of about N1.8 million in two years. The money was used to grade the road from Lambe to Matogun every three months. It was also used to construct three culverts and build a primary school.''
He alleged a conspiracy between the authorities of the local government, the construction company and certain interests in the community to rip off the people.
He said, ''This road is only 7km long. The tarring and drainage should not cost up to N250 million. It is possible that someone is benefitting from this contract. We generate our own security and electricity through generators. The government should do its part and tar the road. For two years now, we have maintained it by ourselves.'
In a telephone interview with our correspondent, the Chairman of Ifo Local Government Area, Sikiru Ogundele, debunked the allegations of impropriety leveled against the local government and the construction company.
He said, 'This construction is not a contract per se; it is more like a private sector participation project. It was the Baale and the Community Development Council comprising all the community development associations that signed an agreement, consenting to the collection of tolls after the completion of the Lambe-Matogun link road. The local government was more like a witness to the agreement.''
Arguing that every community has a duty to cooperate with government to achieve development, Ogundele said, ''What we get from the Federal Government is not enough. That is why communities have to play their own role.''
He condemned what he termed 'illegal toll collection' by Babs Construction Company. ''I learnt of the toll collection when I got the petition from Barrister Freeman. That is wrong. The toll collection is meant to start after the completion of the project. I called a meeting with all the parties involved last week and asked the construction company to stop collecting tolls. I want to believe they have done so,' he said.
The chairman, however, disagreed with residents who suggested that the contract sum be reviewed. ''N250 million for a 7km road is not too much. I am not a quantity surveyor, but I base my judgement on the conclusion from the Department of Works. They have gone through the entire agreement and declared that everything is in order.''
The Baale of Lambe community, Ayinde Ogunremi, who responded to questions from our correspondent through his daughter, said he was forced to take action since government was doing nothing about the road. 'There is really nothing we can do about the situation. We have done all we can. The governor's representative visited this place about seven years ago. They did a video recording of the entire area and we were hopeful that something would be done. This is 2010 and we still have not heard anything from them.''
While the Baale said he was aware that majority of Lambe residents were unhappy with the tolls, he insisted that there was nothing he could do abou it. 'It was the Lambe Community Development Council that procured the contract,' he said. ''It was after our last meeting with the construction company and the residents that I learnt that the contract was to cost N250 million. The construction company said they were compelled to start with toll collection because they could not secure the required loan from the bank.
'The roads at Araromi and Oke-oro are almost impassable when it rains. We need a bridge there. The state government should please come to our aid.''
The spokesman for Babs Akin construction company, Adebayo Oluwakayode, said everything about the contract was legal. ''About five companies bid for this contract before it was awarded to us. There is nothing shady about the process,' he argued.
While he admitted that the company was supposed to raise the capital with which it would fund the project, Oluwakayode said the banks did not cooperate with the company. ''You know how it has been with most of the banks since the CBN started their investigations. Even when you have all the collateral you need, they still want us to show a sizable amount of the total sum that we have before giving us the loan. We had no choice but to start collecting tolls.''
He argued that the residents were not compelled to pay the tolls. ''This project is for the good of all the residents. I live at Lambe too and I know how much the bad roads cost me in terms of car repairs. We get about N7000 daily and that is not even sufficient. We intend to start work in earnest this month. When the residents see our work, they will know we are not out to cheat them,'' he said.