The expanded and upgraded Eti Osa Lekki-Epe Expressway and Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge represent two of the laudable infrastructure assets that set Lagos on global map, but undue politicisation almost frustrated their actualisation were it not for the tenacity of the state government.
Even years after the successful execution of the projects, and despite the undeniable values and impact they make on our daily lives, regrettably, bitter partisan politics has again crept into the recent announcement by the concessionaire of the projects, Lekki Concession Company (LCC), of plans to resume tolling on one of the facilities – Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge, from April 1, 2022 although actual payment of toll fares takes effect on April 15.
It is gratifying to note that since the projects took off, they have made significant impact on socio-economic prosperity of Lagos, users of the facilities and the host communities. Travel time has been reduced; alternate roads have been decongested, while the value of real estates and the development of other infrastructure along the axis have been tremendously impacted.
Industrial and commercial activities have boomed among which is the newly-commissioned $2.5 billion Dangote Fertilizer and Urea Plant in Ibeju-Lekki. A host of other investments including the multi-billion dollars Dangote Petrochemical Plant, Lekki Deep Seaport, international cargo airport, etc also make the axis a major socio-economic prosperity hub.
It must be noted, however, that despite the huge investment that LCC has committed into the Eti Osa Lekki-Epe Expressway and Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge projects, payment of toll fare as the legitimate revenue source for the company, has been turned to a pawn of political warfare.
For the past 18 months, LCC has not earned income due to the suspension of tolling occasioned by the October 20, 2020 occupation of the Admiralty Circle Toll Plaza by EndSARS protesters. It is also worth mentioning that LCC has also gone a step further by allowing motorists extra two weeks of free passage until April 15 when it will start collecting toll fares on the link bridge.
The extended period of suspension of tolling on the two facilities meant that motorists, who used to pay tolls on the facilities, enjoyed them for over one-half-years while LCC carried the burden of paying for the services users enjoyed freely.
It is saddening, therefore, that certain persons and groups with political interests have suddenly woken from their slumber to attack the planned resumption of tolling in a bid to vent political vendetta against their perceived political foes. Hiding under the thin veil of pro-masses, they are also cashing-in on tolling to ventilate their political agenda to the detriment of the good of the projects for the larger society.
Reading comments by political actors like the former presidential candidate of African Action Congress (AAC), Omoyele Sowore; former Deputy National Chairman (South) of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George; and musician/House of Representatives candidate of Modern Democratic Party (MDP), Banky W made their ill-informed arguments laughable.
Their calls for mass action, protests and lawsuits to stop LCC from re-commencing tolling on April 1 were not only absurd, but ridiculous and unfair.
The spurious allegation that LCC only mounted toll plazas on the roads to collect revenue to fund the political aspiration of a private individual is not only amusing but renders such thinking childish.
LCC is a registered corporate entity with the list of its directors and tax returns open for scrutiny from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).
For the information of people with narrow political mindset, LCC does more than toll collection. It renders a host of value-added services. These include free 24/7 towing services, accident and breakdown recovery services, emergency services and 24-hour security patrol along the expressway and link bridge. LCC is solely responsible for the manpower and operational cost of all of these ancillary services at no cost to road users.
LCC services existing loans of US$31.1million and N11.6 billion respectively advanced by lenders including Africa Development Bank (AfDB), Standard Bank of London, and a consortium of local lenders including First Bank, United Bank for Africa, Zenith Bank, Fidelity Bank, Standard Bank/Stanbic IBTC Bank.
Certainly the bulk of income made from tolling goes into the provision and maintenance of ancillary services and debts servicing, which opposition politicians are ignorant of. The implications for the business community are too grave to be imagined if LCC defaults in the payment of the loan obligations.
Political activists planning occupation of the toll plazas on April 1 should also be informed that, contrary to their contrived narrative, the Justice Doris Okuwobi-led Lagos Judicial Panel of Inquiry did not at any point in time designate Admiralty Circle Toll Plaza as a crime scene. Neither did the panel order its shut down. Rather, LCC was only asked to leave the plaza untouched until the panel completed the forensic audit it instituted.
The truth is that the panel indeed permitted LCC to access the toll plaza, evaluate and assess extent of damages and effect necessary renovation after the forensic audit, which usually require time.
As a business with obligations to staff, contractors and lenders, calls for a shutdown of the toll plazas was uncalled for. Tolling on these concessioned assets is not new after all. Since December 2011, motorists have paid toll fares for plying the Eti Osa Lekki-Epe Expressway. Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge opened in May 2013 with motorists paying toll fares until tolling on the two roads was suspended in October 2020.
If Sowore, George, Banky W and their ilk were directors and investors in LCC or any of the firms providing specialised services, or their relations are employees of any of the companies partnering on these projects, would they wish that LCC should be starved of funds needed to carry out its operations?
Setting bitter politics aside, Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge and the remodelled Eti Osa Lekki -Epe Expressway, without any equivocation, are highly ranked among the numerous legacy infrastructure projects that have put Lagos State on higher pedestal among its peers.
Lagos with over 25 million people has been projected to overtake Tokyo’s 38.1 million population to become the world’s most populated city by 2100. This has made continuous investment in critical socio-economic infrastructure, of which roads rank high, imperative.
The undue politicisation of tolling is obviously in bad faith, an attention-grabbing venture and a fruitless effort to blind the residents from the value that the roads deliver. The bold move by the Lagos State Government to invest in world-class infrastructure like the Eti Osa Lekki-Epe Expressway and Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge was taken for the good of the vast majority, and it is highly commendable.
Dr. Chuks Nwokocha is a political scientist and researcher, and contributes this piece from Abuja