The traumatic experiences of residents, commuters and motorists on the Lagos end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway are better imagined than experienced for anyone lucky to avoid the road.
Apart from the countless accidents and deaths recorded on the road in the past and recently, the road reconstruction has left many of its users in mounting stress, palpable fear and indescribable suffering. It has got to a point that gridlocks on the expressway can start in the morning of a particular day and end the next day with commuters alighting to trek long distances in frail state and helpless motorists keeping vigil in their vehicles.
This is the hopeless sacrifices that the users of the expressway have been making while the firms handling the reconstruction of the highway appear to be oblivious of the debilitating effects of their approaches to the project.
Julius Berger Nigeria and Reynolds Construction Company Nigeria were directed to take over the project after the Federal Government, on November 19, 2012, terminated its initial concession agreement with Wale Babalakin’s Bi-Courtney on the ground that it could not make any substantial progress three years after it was granted the contract to rebuild and manage the road for 25 years.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan inaugurated the reconstruction project in July 2013, giving the contractors four years to complete the project at a cost of N167bn. The sections of the expressway being reconstructed are Section I (Lagos to Sagamu Interchange) and section II (Sagamu Interchange to Ibadan).
In the initial concession agreement with Bi-Courtney, the firm was to expand the lanes to 10 from Lagos to Sagamu, and six lanes from Sagamu to Ibadan. It was also expected to build trailer parks and five interchanges among other things at a cost of N89.5bn. The project, which started in 2013 had 2017 as the initial completion date but was later shifted to end of 2018/early 2019. The reconstruction of the road, it was learnt, would be completed by December 2019.
A commercial bus driver who plies the Mowe-Ibafo route, Mr Segun Aina, said the constant gridlock on the expressway had become worrisome.
He noted that he and his colleagues were often unsure of the situation of the expressway anytime they wanted to ply it.
Aina said, “The constant traffic on the road is caused by Julius Berger because of its slow pace of work on the portion of the expressway it is handling. Most times, traffic starts from the barricaded Magboro Bridge to the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries’ Prayer City where the firm is working. Drivers of heavy duty trucks can hit the barricades demarcating the road and before the trucks are taken off the road, there will be a column of oncoming vehicles.
“Motorists from Berger, Lagos, upon getting wind of the woes, drive against traffic, thereby causing bedlam which can last for many hours or a day. It is always a nightmare driving on the road. I am always scared anytime I load Ibafo-Mowe passengers from Idumota. It is a frustrating road.”
Another driver, Mr Oloyede Joseph, who plies the Idumota/Ibafo-Mowe route, said the worrisome condition of the road was responsible for the arbitrary increase in transport fare on that axis.
According to him, the construction firm should hasten works on the expressway as the snail-speed is causing untold loss of man hours and excruciating stress.
Residents and passengers along the stretch of road also have stories to recount concerning the unending gridlock on the road.
A resident of the Redemption Camp, Mowe, Ogun State, Praise Blossom-Akerele, told one of our correspondents that she was usually unhappy with the associated stress on the expressway.
She said as a businesswoman, she usually went to Lagos Island to buy materials for her work but the traffic on the road had become a source of frustration.
Blossom-Akerele stated, “I can’t really explain what happens to me every time I pass through the road. The state of the traffic on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is critical. One can’t say one wants to quickly get some things from Berger, not to talk of Ketu-Mile 12. Before leaving the house, I usually assume that I am spending the whole day on the road.
“One can’t tell how long one will stay on the road because one doesn’t know what will happen that will cause everyone to be on the road. Sometimes, after spending hours in the traffic, I get home and become useless. I won’t be able to do anything productive for the rest of the day.”
She also pleaded with the Federal Government to ask the contractors to accelerate the pace of work on the road.
The woman added, “Tuesday’s traffic on the road is one that I don’t pray to experience for the rest of my life. The government should help us do something that will help speed up the work because the traffic situation is driving us crazy. People cannot live long if they continually experience energy-sapping traffic. By the time we die, who will use the road?’’
Another regular user of the road, identified simply as Ifeoma, said she lived in Mowe and worked in Ikeja, adding that she was always in fear when leaving the house or going back home because she wouldn’t know the fate awaiting her on the unpredictable road.
According to her, it is frustrating witnessing traffic twice on the road every week.
She said, “The road is always scary because one doesn’t even have an idea of when the traffic will start. One can leave one’s house safely in the morning and before one knows it, a truck falls on a bad portion of the road and everyone is held ‘hostage’ for the day.
“I mean, even if there was an accident on the road, such vehicles should be removed. Why does traffic have to linger till midnight? It should not take a whole day to sort out things like that. I think the Ogun State Government should provide towing vehicles at every one kilometre or have officials on standby to help put things in order.”
On her part, a petty trader identified only as Mama Sayo, who resides in Ibafo and sells at Ojodu Berger, told one of our correspondents that the gridlock had affected her business because of increase in transportation.
She added, “I couldn’t sell on Wednesday because I was caught up in the Tuesday traffic on my way home. I didn’t get to my house until 3am. There was no way I would wake up by 5am to go to Berger to sell. I was tired to the extent that I had to use a pain reliever and slept all day. If one continues like that, one can just drop dead one day like that.
“We plead with the government to tell Julius Berger to open a part of the road so that the road can be wider and we will be able to pass through.”
A commuter, Gift Temisan, said her experience on the expressway was hellish and unimaginable.
Temisan, who lives in the Lotto area of Mowe, noted that from the regular accidents and the daily gridlock on the road, the contractors had not shown enough commitment to fix the road.
She said, “From Lotto, where I live, to the Lagos Secretariat, where I work is not more than 20 minutes on a good day. But because of gridlock and regular truck accidents, one cannot plan your time.
“At times, one spends hours on the road. Many times, I get home as late as 9pm when I close from work by 4pm. My advice is that they should tell the contractors to remove the pavements and whatever they use to block the road to make access easy for road users until they are ready.
“The traffic congestion on the road is so bad that apart from losing man-hours, it poses danger to one’s health. I was rushed to hospital recently. When I got there, I was told that I had high blood pressure. I didn’t doubt the report because I know it is true. The gridlock is killing. I always get home tired. How long shall one continue like that?”
A motorist, who identified himself only as Babalola, said he was already planning to move elsewhere until the completion of the road.
Babalola accused the contractors handling the project of being either lackadaisical or insensitive to the plight of the road users.
He said, “I work for a private company on the Island. I have become a regular late comer to my office. At times, I don’t know what to say whenever I am confronted of being late to work.
“Apart from the slow pace of work, impatience on the side of commercial bus drivers and truck drivers is another major factor the authorities should address. I have decided to move from Ibafo to somewhere else. I cannot continue to cope with this nightmare anymore. I will only return when the road is fixed. I do not want to die untimely.”
Speaking on situation, the Federal Controller of Works, Lagos/Ogun, Adedamola Kuti, said the job of the agency entailed constructing the road and not in charge of controlling traffic which has proved to be a major culprit.
He said, “In the past one or two weeks, we have accidents and several times, trucks will carry diesel or petrol, spill all their contents on the road, thereby causing gridlock.
“We are not in control of that. When we create diversion, some trucks, maybe they will not get to the point of diversion, break down there and the highest we can do is to use our equipment to remove those trucks but before we remove the trucks, it would have caused a lot of gridlock. We are not in control of all of that.”
He dismissed insinuation that the contractors handling the construction of the road was slow and insensitive, saying no contractors would play with their job with the level of Federal Government’s financial commitment to the project.
Kuti said, “The level of work has increased because funding has increased. If funding has increased, contractor is not going there to play. He wants to also do his job and get his money, unlike before when funding was poor.
“Now the Federal Government has set aside special funding for the project so that at no time will the project stall.
“We are now widening the road so that three, four vehicles can go, but now we are constrained with space. We have to create it in such a way that two vehicles can move at the same time.”
He added, “We are only appealing to the road users that it is a construction zone, they cannot be free to get to the end; there is bound to be restriction at some locations. Some drivers drive against traffic and some drive recklessly, and when they get to the diversion area, they all want to go at the same time.”
On its part, the National Union of Road Transport Workers said apart from the plight of its members, only the FRSC was in a position to comment about the road.
Speaking through its Director of Information Service, Kefas Dongoyaro, the NURTW stated that its role was to urge its members to obey traffic rules always.
Dongoyaro said, “We have been calling on the government to fix the road and we appreciate their effort on fixing it. What we want is not just for our members but that all Nigerians should have access to good roads across the country. We cannot say nothing is happening. I know that many construction projects are ongoing all over the country.
“I don’t think our union is the best to comment on the Lagos-Ibadan road issue because we don’t know anything about the budget or the firms working on it.”
The Sector Commander, Ogun State Command, FRSC, Mr Clement Oladele, said most of the trucks plying the road were aged and always overloaded beyond their capacities.
He also said commuter activities along the corridor had also affected motorisation, coupled with traffic indiscipline by some reckless drivers that usually took advantage of gridlock to attempt driving against traffic.
Oladele advised the motoring public to be patient and drive cautiously within the construction area and strictly adhere to the National Road Traffic Regulations, 2012, that prescribed maximum speed limit of 50 kilometres per hour at construction zones.
He also warned motorists to avoid driving against traffic as violators were liable to be prosecuted.
He said, “The FRSC is working in concert with the construction company, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, on introducing additional measures to cushion the hardship motorists are undergoing as a result of the construction efforts, including encouraging the construction company to speed up rehabilitation work and also open up areas that have been fairly completed for public use.
“Motorists are enjoined to cooperate with the FRSC and sister traffic agencies in ensuring free flow of traffic while driving along the road corridor and other corridors in the country.”
The Head, Media Relations, Julius Berger Nigeria, Moses Duku, said he was on vacation and couldn’t comment on the matter.
He referred SUNDAY PUNCH to the Projects Office in Ijora, Lagos.
Duku said, “I am on vacation and cannot speak on that. I will advise that you get in touch with our people in Lagos.”
Courtesy, The Punch