By Olakunle Olafioye
Eleven years is so long a time to be expectant. But that is exactly how long it has taken Nigerians who travel frequently on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to have longed for an alternative route to and fro their destinations. Until few months ago when the ongoing expansion works began on the road which has over the years acquired the infamous reputation as expressway of death and anguish, traveling along the 127.6 km was not without trepidation for most motorists. Wreckages of vehicles which dotted both sides of the road remained sad reminders of horrifying statistic of lives that had been lost on the road. Closely related to this is incalculable man hour many travelers along the road had lost due to frequent gridlocks that often accompanied crashes along the road.
But motorists plying the road can now heave a sigh of relief as the federal government, in addition to the ongoing rehabilitation of the expressway has equally commenced the construction of the long awaited Lagos-Ibadan railway project. The project, many analysts believe, is the major step towards easing the pains of motorists shuttling between the two states.
A long wait to fulfillment
As strategic as this project is, passengers have had to endure 11 agonizing years to witness the commencement of the Lagos-Ibadan railway project which is the first phase of a new Lagos -Kano standard gauge line. The entire Lagos-Kano railway contract spanning 2, 733km was first awarded by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo in 2006.
The Obasanjo administration however failed to carry on with the project due to what it described as lack of funds. The contract would later be re – awarded to China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation, CCEC by the administration of Goodluck Jonathan in 2012 for its execution in six phases, starting with the Lagos -Ibadan stretch. But the project suffered the same fate until last September when the current administration entered into a new partnership deal with the Chinese government on the contract.
The Lagos-Ibadan stretch of the contract which is valued at $1.5bn (N458bn) is part of the newly renegotiated $11.117bn total value of the entire Lagos-Kano rail project. At inception during Obasanjo administration the project was valued at $8. 3bn before it was abandoned by the government.
By 2012 when Jonathan administration attempted to revive the project, it was re-valued at $11. 917bn, an increment of $3.617bn from the initial $8.3bn. But speaking at the event where the contract was signed last September, the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi said the government was able to renegotiate the contract sum from $ 11.917 agreed by Jonathan administration to $11.117.
The minister, who signed on behalf of the Federal Government had said the cost reduction for the projects meant that the government was able to save $800m.
“The contract was awarded by the regime of former President Goodluck Jonathan for $11. 917bn. When we took over at the ministry, we renegotiated with the CCECC and we succeeded in reducing the contract sum from $11.917bn to $11. 117bn and we are able to save $800m after the renegotiation, ” Amaechi explained.
Lamentation by trespassers
Like most developmental projects, the Lagos-Ibadan railway project comes at huge a price particularly for many building owners and traders whose structures were demolished having been adjudged to have encroached on the right of way. When Sunday Sun correspondent visited Iju area of Lagos where some structures believed to have been illegally erected on the portion meant for the rail project were demolished, traders were seen trying to salvage some of their belongings just as owners of some buildings who structures were affected were seen making emergency repairs where necessary.
A trader, Alhaji Hassan Abdulkarim told Sunday Sun that most of the traders along the railway line in the area were in confusion as to where else to relocate their businesses after they were dislodged from the area. Abdulkarim said though, he was aware that the land belonged to the government, he said getting another place to continue their businesses was a major challenge.
“Most of the people you see here are small scale traders who cannot afford to pay exorbitant shop rents. As I am talking to you majority of us don’t even know what to do next to save our business. Government should try to build affordable markets where petty traders like most of us can do our own business,” he said
The Managing Director, Nigeria Railway Corporation, Mr. Fidelis Okhiria had last week advised those who had encroached on the NRC land to remove their structures in order to avoid their property being destroyed by bulldozers.
Okhiria had said those who were entitled to compensation would be compensated as that had been factored into the contract. “But those who encroached on the land have to leave the premises as soon as possible because the constructions will begin on Friday. We intentionally did not give permits to so many people because we know that one day the land will be required.
“So we have already mapped out those places we need to remove and they are aware. We have told them to remove their valuables before the bulldozers start work, ’’ he had said.
In addition to easing the movement of goods and passengers, the Lagos-Ibadan rail project was conceived to transform socio – economic development of the communities and major towns along the axis.
Reeling out the benefits accruable from the project, the Managing Director of the corporation said the project would attract lots of commercial and social activities that would provide employment opportunities for the teeming youths in various communities along the axis.
According to him, “the standard gauge is going to have two stations along the axis; we will have stations in Omi Adio and Moniya in Ibadan. The project will bring a lot of developments to the communities and improve the standard of living of people in the area, ’’ Okhiria said.
Excitement, anxiety over the project
Some Nigerians who spoke to Sunday Sun hailed the move by the federal government to commence work on the project, which they said was long overdue.
A respondent who identified himself as Richard Ibezim said the project, when completed would ease the pressure on road transportation particularly along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. “I am highly impressed by government’s move to resuscitate rail transportation in Nigeria. For a long time we have neglected this important means of transportation and concentrated on road transportation even when we know that there was obvious need for us to revive the rail system which I consider safer and more affordable particularly when used in conveying bulky goods.
Speaking in a similar vein, another Nigerian, Mrs. Beatrice Arowolo commended the Buhari-led government for breaking what she called the jinx over the project and called on the government to ensure that the project see the light of the day. “I am aware that the project has been in the pipeline for a long time now and one can only rejoice that the Buhari government has finally decided to accomplish it. My fear, however, is that Nigerian governments have the unenviable culture of executing big projects such as this half way and expect succeeding administration to complete them. Before you know it the projects become another abandoned projects. I hope and pray they will be able to complete it before the end of their tenure,” she said.