FG, complete Lagos-Ibadan Expressway

With the confirmation by Power, Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashola, that contractors reconstructing the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway were set to suspend work, the irresponsibility of our federal legislators is once more laid bare. By shaving off funding for this important interstate highway, the National Assembly has succeeded in further squeezing the economy and inflicting agony on businesses and thousands of commuters using the road. The tortuous fate of this road is an apt representation of the terribly poor leadership this country has been subjected to for decades. The stoppage by Julius Berger Plc on its allotted section of the 127.6 kilometre-long highway came only weeks after Reynolds Construction Company, the contractor handling the other half, halted work. Both cited lack of funding to continue. According to Fashola, speaking through his spokesman, the firms, in their letters of notice to suspend work, complained of delays in the payment of their fees, which they said would bring inevitable delays in meeting their deadlines. This development was to be expected given the chicanery against the project by the National Assembly. Defending the budget, Fashola said the Federal Government prioritised highway projects across the country in order of economic importance. According to him, the priority one projects are “national priority projects on critical economic routes on the federal road network. These are highly trafficked North-South, East-West routes used for the distribution of goods and services across the country and major river-crossing bridges.” But in passing the 2017 Appropriation Bill, lawmakers had cavalierly sliced N21 billion from the N31 billion outlay provision proposed by the government. They were not swayed by the reality that the contractors were already being owed N15 billion, meaning that, effectively, only N16 billion was actually going to be available for the road. Compounding the infamy, they have refused to attend to a request for virement (adjustment of budgetary votes from one project to another) of N135.6 billion by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo under which the slash in the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway vote would be remedied. Successive Nigerian governments have been terribly short-sighted in their handling of this highway. Completed as a four-lane highway in 1978, it is the oldest expressway in the country, ferrying over 250,000 passenger vehicles daily apart from thousands of heavy duty trucks. Maintenance has been patchy and erratic. Plans to expand the road into a 10-lane superhighway have floundered under the weight of corruption and poor governance; work on broadening it to six lanes stopped at about 50 kilometres and this on only one side of the road. Attempts at concession to draw in funding from the private sector have been mired in scandal and failure. Yet, this is the primary highway that links Lagos to the country’s hinterland. Short-sightedness by legislators motivated by sectionalism, entitlement and rabid bias makes them see the project as a South-West affair. The House of Representatives Media Committee chair, Abdulrazak Namdas, exemplified this parochial thinking while explaining the parliament’s slashing of the budget: his argument that some projects favour a section of the country is provocative. The Lagos ports complex accounts for over 70 per cent of Nigeria’s total maritime trade; the Ikeja industrial zone alone accounted for about 55 per cent of the total manufactured goods in 2006, according to the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, while Lagos also accounts for 55 per cent of all Value Added Tax and over 65 per cent of formal manufacturing activities. We must stop considering infrastructure as an engineering prospect and more as an economic issue. Lagos’ economy remains the Nigeria’s largest and aspiring to become Africa’s third: its citizens contribute the highest tax to the nation’s pool. But despite its wealth and strength, it is the most underrated and ignored state in the country. It demonstrates the poor quality of representation Nigerians are getting and exposes the unviability of continuing our queer way of running a federation where those who contribute least to national wealth always call the shots. It is unfortunate that some lawmakers cannot grasp this simple fact. We deplore the carelessness and complicity of southern senators and representatives, who have failed repeatedly to stand up for equity and justice. Some of them were shamelessly vocal in shooting down the proposal to reserve special funding for Lagos, the former federal capital and largest contributor to national wealth. The same lack of responsiveness has been evident in the approach to the neglect of Apapa roads from where up to N2 trillion is said to be generated annually. Southern legislators should stop being bench warmers and offer quality representation. It is their responsibility to stand on the fact that the country’s economy is dependent on Lagos that accounts for 70 per cent of all formal sector employment, a magnet for all Nigerians and foreigners alike and industrial, commercial and financial entrepot of West Africa. The road serves everyone, not a section of the country exclusively. The Federal Government should however do everything possible to ensure this rehabilitation project is completed this year. It should assign funds accordingly to complete the road. The reconstruction started in July 2013 by the preceding government that typically, failed to vote the needed funds, when the country still enjoyed huge oil revenues. However, it should be completed quickly given its importance. Delays translate to higher costs.


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