By Cosmas Omegoh
There is an enormous feeling of pain and anger among many Lagos residents – particularly those living along the Lagos-Badagry corridor – following the perceived failure of the state government to complete the rail project it started over a dozen years ago.
At inception, in 2008, the Lagos light rail project which anticipated coming was heavily advertised, was greeted with thick clouds of excitement. Everything about the facility coming on stream at that time was all over the air of the Centre of Excellence.
Many Lagos residents and the state government too had this lofty idea of a project that was sure to change the face of things, particularly the transport sector.
The would-be beneficiaries of the project had apparently concluded that in a matter of months, their long-suffering would be well on its way to a definite end. That expectation had triggered an exponential rise in the number of residents streaming to make their homes in Ojo area. They kept dreaming about sitting on a train that was sure to cut their travel time between Okokomaiko and the Lagos Island by hours. That would also free them from the vice grip of shylock transport operators in the belly of their rickety buses the commuters spend, some more than a quarter of their daily life shuttling between their homes and offices. And what is more? They would finally say goodbye to the punishing, nerve-wrecking traffic gridlock which in ages has been a registered trademark of the area.
But as the years rolled by, that joy of savouring those many expectations seemed lifted, having been long in coming. Now, everything about the Lagos-Okokomaiko light rail coming alive keeps looking more like a pipe dream, leaving very little for the doubting Thomases to agree to the contrary.
Indeed, all the expectations, all the anticipations that the project would be launched into use soon is fast fading.
As it stands, the people the project is to serve are at a loss as to why the lofty idea has not materialised yet, considering the pomp and ceremony which heralded its commencement and the promise made to the people over 12 years ago.
Christened the Blue Line, the rail project which was planned to span 27.5 km is to run from Marina on Lagos Island to Okokomaiko along the Lagos-Badagry Expressway.
The Lagos Blue Line is one of the many lines proposed by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA). In all, there are seven lines in the proposed rail network: Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Purple, Brown, and Orange, with priority given to the first two.
Whereas the Blue Line standard gauge is to run from Marina to Okokomaiko, the Red Line – 30km in all – was proposed to run from Marina to Agbado on Lagos’ border with Ogun State. The estimated cost of completion of the former was then put at $1.2 billion and was to be funded by the Lagos State government which has been negotiating with potential investors under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme to see the project through and then manage it afterward.
Our reporter gathered that the contract for the construction of the Blue Line which was handed to China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC) was scheduled in two phases. Whereas the first phase is to run from Marina through the National Theatre to Mile 2, the second phase will begin from Mile 2 and run to Okokomaiko.
It was further gathered that at inception, 2011 was targeted as the date for the completion of the Blue Line. This was later extended to 2020 due to paucity of funds, a date that has turned clearly unrealisable. It was also gathered that the state government is optimistic that the rail would be completed and operation would begin in 2021.
Recently, our reporter went out to see the extent of work done on the Lagos Blue Line rail project.
On approach from Oshodi, just before one turns off to go to FESTAC, a fading giant billboard mounted by ex-Governor Babatunde Fashola’s administration to herald the good news of the dual projects says: “10-lane and railway – All for you.”
Then at the popular Mile 2 bus stop, these two buildings stand side by side, serving as a median on the Lagos-Badagry expressway. They are every inch imposing, purposely designed and built to serve as the station for the Lagos Blue Line. They still manage to glitter gracefully as the midday sun relentlessly beat down on them. They are getting weather bitten and aging too, not because of use, but for lack of use. Partly secured with a barricade made of roofing sheets, some of them are already pulling off. A handful of destitute, street urchins and rough sleepers make their home in and around the stations.
The construction of the dual carriage rail line terminates a few meters from the building inward Okokomaiko. The work was yet to get to the Maza-Maza bridge, a throwing distance away.
Meanwhile, the tracks at various spots have been converted to refuse dumps. Several spots along the lines had heaps of trash and refuse on them. Many people who live and work in Mile 2 have also converted the rail tracks to open defecation fields in apparent protest.
From Mile 2 inward Lagos Island, the lines run gracefully. From Orile through the National Theatre, passing through the Lagos Lagoon, to its terminus at Marina on the island, the columns and bridges to carry the lines are already up, standing. Work at that end is on.
Rail project from ex-Governor Jakande to Sanwo-Olu days
The Lagos rail project is said to have its roots back in the days of ex-Governor Lateef Jakande in office. He was said to have initiated a metro line project on July 16, 1983, having envisaged a burgeoning megacity with its attendant challenging transportation needs. The cost of the project was put at N689 million, with the completion of the first phase scheduled for July 1986. The rail track when completed was to span 28.5 kilometers, running from Marina to Agege. However, the metro line project was allegedly terminated by the Muhammadu Buhari-led military administration two years or so after it was commenced.
To be executed in two phases: the first was to run from Marina to Yaba, which was slated for completion in July 1986, while the second, was to run from Agege to Yaba to be completed in 1987.
The idea was resurrected by former Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu, while in office, between 1999 and 2008. In 2003, he was said to have renamed the project “Lagos Light Rail” or “Eko Rail” for short. The effort was initiated as part of the greater Lagos Urban Transportation scheme to be operated by LAMATA.
In 2008, the body went ahead with the rail project beginning with the Blue and the Red lines. With the state government approval of money believed to be in the region of N70 billion and in April 2008, preliminary work began on the construction of the Marina-Okokomaiko line with completion date set for 2011.
Ex-Governor Fashola did his own bit of the work and shipped out. Then came the Akinwunmi Ambode administration, which promised after months in office that it would deliver the project on July 16, 2015, but failed. Then it announced a 12-month delivery date – July 2016 precisely, but failed again. Then five months after, he announced a December 2016 deadline and later went further to say completion of work was to be on or before 2019.
Our reporter gathered that earlier, LAMATA was said to have signed an agreement with a firm, Alstom, to conduct a review of the rail lines aimed at moving the project forward. Following the review, a projection was made that the Blue Line, would now be ready for operation in 2022.
In the meantime, residents, commuters, commercial motorcycle riders, motorists – who use the Lagos-Mile 2 Expressway on a daily basis, are reeling with pain following the delay in the completion of the proposed rail line and the road component. The road which many expected to have been delivered alongside the rail line, is presently in a sorry state. The government has not delivered on any of them.
Now, as the years roll by, the joy of savouring those government facilities seemed to have faded away as everything about the Lagos-Okokomaiko light rail and its road component keeps looking more like a pipe dream.
As it stands, the people’s doubt and disbelief over the completion of the facilities in the years ahead appear deeply entrenched. These easily morph into anger and disappointment.
The people have no one to complain to. Their pain and anguish all left to well up inside them like volcanic lava, occasionally finding vent when one of them confronts the other over minor, ignorable traffic-related issues. This is the situation fate has compelled them to live with.
Indeed, every one of them could have been happier if the road had been completed to lessen their burden. The rehabilitation can even help to shore up the country’s image which the road represents. Here is a network that links Nigeria directly with Benin Republic and other ECOWAS countries, carrying humongous trans-border human and vehicular traffic each day.
Although it is in an awful state, the Federal Government has assured of its readiness to rehabilitate it. However, its condition mirrors the people’s anger and disgust, explaining why they do not care a hoot about the reason anyone would give for the protracted delay in the completion of both the road and the rail projects.
“I do not think anyone is interested in listening to any reason they would give for the non-completion of this work,” said anokada rider who identified himself as Ajayi.
“When work was started on this project, we thought finally people living in this part of Lagos would now be free from the grilling traffic bottleneck we witness every day. But we were wrong.
“On a bad day, even we the okada riders cannot even maneuver through the gridlock.
“The road they are supposed to construct they have not done. Everything about this road and all government would like to say are sickening. Ask anyone who uses this road daily, it is killing us by installment.”
A security expert, Mr Osas Iwere, who has his business in the Apapa area, told our reporter that “when work on this rail thing started, I was one of the excited persons who strongly believed that on completion, we could use the train from Okokomaiko to Mile 2 and then find our way to Apapa. That has never been.
“They have even left the road destroyed, while the rail stuff has been abandoned. For months now, I have not dreamt of driving from my home in Alaba to work due to the terrific traffic condition.
“That is the situation those of us who live in this part of Lagos find ourselves.”
Not left out in bemoaning the situation was a lady who preferred to be identified as Joke. She is angry with the state government for destroying her uncle’s shop and property around Orile area when work on the rail line began.
“Judging by the speed with which they started the work, one thought that by now, the people could have long been using the rail line.
“They ruined my uncle, by destroying everything he has – his house and shop – and now they are stuck and have abandoned the work.
“What you see about this project is part of what Fela the musician called government magic.”
Redline to begin work in 2022- LAMATA
Not long ago, the Lagos State government though through state Commissioner for Transportation, Frederic Oladeinde, assured that the Blue and Red lines rail projects were important initiatives the current administration would not abandon as it sought to develop the state’s transport infrastructure.
His submission gave credence to the belief in some quarters that there might be hope somewhere for the rail project, although it did not fully allay the fears of the people.
On her part, Mrs Abimbola Akinajo, the managing director of LAMATA recently announced that the Lagos light-rail under construction was expected to begin operation in the year 2022.
Her statement came on the sideline of a meeting she held with contractors and consultants handling the Red and Blue lines, even when she left hints that the Blue Line and those living along the Mile 2-Okokomaiko axis might wait longer.
“The Red Line is supposed to be a quick win, because it will share tracks with the Nigerian Railway Corporation on its Lagos-Ibadan rail corridor.
“There will be no delays, no budget or cost overrun and there will not be any shift in delivery date.
“Our meeting is just to take stock of what we have done so far since this project started and to re-emphasise that there is no room for slippage in the delivery of the Red Line,” she was quoted to have said.