The repair work is expected to last for four months. Inward Lagos, where the work will start from, will last for two months, while outward Lagos will also last for another two months.” That is official and a direct quote from the government.
On the 3rd of August (next Saturday), the Federal Government is triggering another shutdown of a section of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway for another round of rehabilitation works on the road, considered the busiest in the country and arguably the most notorious when it comes to traffic challenges. It is not as if the central government is laying an ensnarement through a sudden closure of the axis marked for the construction, it has, through the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, for a while, put out a notice in a conspicuous part of the road, announcing the coming partial shutdown.
A relatively huge signpost with bold writings has this message for the users of the road: “Attention Please! Road Works start at Berger to Ogun River Bridge (Kara). Date 03-08-2019. Use alternative routes”.
Despite this announcement cum warning, it is likely that many road users have either not noticed it, digested the content and prepared themselves for another round of gridlock, considering the portion being marked for reconstruction as the most notorious traffic spot on the road, or they simply don’t care again, after going through harrowing experiences of such shutdowns in the past, especially since the road was commissioned out by the government of former President Goodluck Jonathan for total facelift, a programme taken over by the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
A journalist who uses the road on a daily basis was also totally unaware of the signpost and its message when Saturday Tribune broached the matter with him. He whistled in astonishment when told the closure was around the corner and the duration for which it would last.
He wasn’t alone. With the fresh notification being misconstrued as an old order, even members of the elite that should be aware, if the unlettered can be excused for inability to read and understand English Language used in conveying the message, were oblivious of the imminent closure and its attendant unavoidable traffic crisis.
A road like no other
The volume of vehicles that ply the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway on a daily basis cannot be quantified, especially due to the presence of internationally-acclaimed centres of worship like The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) camp, Mountain of Fire Ministries (MFM) camp and other religious centres along the highway, making the expressway the busiest in the West African sub-region.
With the announcement of the repair work by the Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing, the Lagos State government is already bracing itself for the attendant gridlock that the partial shutdown needed for the work will usher in, given the fact that the RCCG’s 67th annual convention is billed to start on the 5th of August and run till the 11th, while Muslims’ Eid al-Adha, popularly referred to as Ileya Festival, starts on the 11th of August through 13th of the month.
Speaking exclusively to Saturday Tribune on the expected traffic gridlock, the Permanent Secretary of the Lagos State Ministry of Transportation, Taiwo Salaam Olufemi, explained that the state was ready for the attendant traffic gridlock.
“You know that Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is the busiest road in West Africa, and in recent past, everybody has been clamouring that the Federal Government should repair the road, so the Federal Government is now ready to expand the road.
“The repair works have begun in sections of the road not within Lagos State, but now they want to enter Lagos State and the state government won’t allow any repair works on the Lagos-Ibadan Road without informing the public.
“We won’t also allow repair work to begin without redirecting traffic so that motorist will have a palliative measure during the road repair.
“So, it was based on this that the Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing gave us their programme and we discussed with them the traffic management plans,” Olufemi said.
When asked how the state Ministry of Transportation hoped to mitigate the gridlock that naturally comes with such construction activities, considering that this particular repair work is taking place during major religious festivities, the permanent secretary explained that, “We are going to have four locations where we are going to redirect traffic to.
“On ground will be officials of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA), Lagos State Emergency Management Agency (LASEMA), on the Lagos State side, while the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) will be on ground on the Federal Government side.
“The whole place to be worked on will have floodlights placed in strategic places to aid vehicular movement at night. The idea of having the whole area lit at night is also to ensure that Julius Berger is able to complete the repair work on time.
“The repair work is expected to last for four months. Inward Lagos where the work will start from will last for two months, while outward Lagos will also last for another two months.
“Our experience in Lagos will not allow anybody to just begin such repair works without traffic clearance from the state Ministry of Transportation. I will also like to advise motorists in the state that once they don’t have anything to do in that area within the period of the road repair, they should please avoid that area.
“We are expecting heavy traffic in that area during the road repair because Mountain of Fire Ministries (MFM) will have their programme within that time. The RCCG is also having their convention within that time of road repair and also there is Ileya festival for the Muslim faithful.”
Our plans –Govt
Speaking on traffic management on the notorious bridge which in the past had held motorists for as long as 12 hours or even more when there were no repair works, Mr Olufemi admitted that nothing could be done regarding the bridge.
“There is nothing we can do on the bridge as regards traffic. However, we will be diverting traffic before the first bridge. For motorists coming from Kara, we are going to divert them to the other side (outward Lagos) where we will be having an extra lane.
“Once work is done on that section, we will do the same thing by creating an extra lane for vehicular movement,” the most senior civil servant and the current executive head of the ministry explained.
Speaking to Saturday Tribune anonymously, because they had no authority to speak after the Permanent Secretary had spoken, some officials of LASTMA expressed readiness for the gridlock that is expected to come upon that section of the popular road.
“We are ready for the gridlock which will be compounded by the various festivities that fall within the road repair period. We have been fully mobilised and we are assuring Lagosians of steady flow of traffic,” one of them said.
No pain, no gain –Transporters
Speaking to Saturday Tribune on the repair works and how they would affect haulage business, the chairman of the Association of Maritime Truck Owners (AMATO), Chief Remi Ogungbemi, urged the Lagos State government to ensure that the gridlock does not become chaotic like Apapa’s.
“The repair work is a welcome development and we laud the Federal Government for this wonderful initiative. However, there are no gains without any pain.
“We hope the Lagos State government will be up to the task regarding the expected gridlock because we cannot afford to allow the traffic that will arise from the repair works to degenerate into a chaotic situation.
“For haulage of containers from the ports to destinations outside Lagos, many trucks pass through that route and if the traffic is allowed to become chaotic where truckers spend hours waiting to pass, then the haulage rates will become affected.
“Truckers will hike fees charged for destinations outside Lagos because many will be forced to either go and pass through Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway and go through Papalanto or Abeokuta to link the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway at the Sagamu Interchange and this is a longer journey, which will come at a price.
“Even waiting for hours in the traffic due to the road repair will attract a price hike because truckers will burn more diesel trying to maneuver if the traffic becomes chaotic.
“So, it is important that the Lagos State government joins hands with the FRSC to mitigate the gridlock.
“The Ileya festival is near and many of our clients in the northern part of the country will want their cargoes delivered to them before the commencement of the festival. We hope the diversions that will be created will be enough to accommodate the volume of traffic that will pile up if one section of the road is closed for repairs,” Chief Ogungbemi said.
Our fears –Residents
The planned partial closure is already generating concern among users of the road and Lagosians in particular with some expressing surprise at the news which they are getting to know about for the first time through Saturday Tribune when their views were sought.
Michael Daniel, an okada operator plying Alagbole in Ogun State and Ojodu- Berger in Lagos, when approached by Saturday Tribune, said he only got to know that the road would be closed to traffic for that long period to effect major repairs by one of the passengers he transported early Thursday morning.
“I just got to know about it through one of my passengers this morning, I wasn’t in the know before them,” he said.
Michael, who said he could not predict how convenient people would find navigating their way out of and back to Lagos during the period when the repairs would be effected, given the importance of the road, to motorists and other users, expressed the fear that there could be “fight.”
A recharge card seller on the Berger Pedestrian Bridge, Folakemi, popularly known as Iya Sharon, when approached for her reaction, said she was not aware of the development, but quickly submitted that users would find the development shocking and very difficult to cope with. She said, “Which alternative routes are they providing for the people to use? How do they want people to cope?
Another responder, Mr Davies Olaoye, a businessman, popularly addressed as Oloriebi, said he was aware of the planned partial closure for that long period of time but expressed concern that the shutdown would be coming a few days to this year’s Eid-el-Kabir, wondering how those that would be travelling home for the event would cope.
This was just as he also said that the fact that alternative routes had been earmarked for motorists to ply would not be enough succour, contending that motorists were always finding it difficult to navigate the expressway itself, not to talk of the alternative routes that would not be much of a solution.
“I am aware of the directive and I look at the alternative routes earmarked and I see that that cannot help much because even right now users are confronted with heavy traffic and lockdown on a daily basis on the expressway,” Olaoye stated.
Train, flights to the rescue?
The major fear being expressed by those planning to use the road during the partial closure and the expected traffic logjam is the unavoidable cost in terms of man-hour and paying more for their movement. For example, during any kind of festivity, Lagos to Ibadan by public transport is always standing at N1,500 when the traffic flows on both sides of the expressway. Now with the coming complete closure of a side of the road, the fare is expected to jump, considering that the planned diversion would make the usual one hour-15-minute-journey longer, since the diversion is believed to be Abeokuta, Ogun State-bound.
However for now, none of the stakeholders could be categorical on how long such trip would take and the revenue that would go into it.
The fact that awareness is also very low among residents and users of the road, as revealed by the findings of Saturday Tribune is contributing to the uncertainty surrounding the fate awaiting those who would be using the expressway during the partial closure.
For people intent on travelling out of the state during the Sallah festivity, train is an option, though rail transportation during the festivity is commonly taken to be a project of Osun State, considering that the administration of the immediate past governor, Rauf Aregbesola, made it popular by moving residents of the state free to the state capital.
Air travel is also expected to increase during the Sallah celebration for those with financial capacity to escape the hard times awaiting travellers on the road.
Apart from Oyo State with a second-rate airport in Ibadan, only Akure, the Ondo State capital, boasts of another second-rate airport, where aircraft can land and take off.
Incidentally, the expressway is the major connecting point for anyone travelling out of the state or coming into it from any part of the country. The other available route out of the stat is Epe en route Ijebu in Ogun State, from where the expressway can be reconnected, leaving behind the troubled and troubling spots.
Fashola’s renewed headache?
Findings by Saturday Tribune showed that the repair programme was at the instance of the immediate past Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, who has been re-nominated as minister by President Buhari and is expected to retain his old portfolio and return to spots like the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, for which Nigerians were very critical of his first four years as minister.
An informed respondent in the system who preferred not to be named found the timing a bit worrying.
“We gathered that there were consultations between Abuja and Lagos before the date was fixed. Maybe it was an oversight on the part of the Lagos team that gave Abuja the go-ahead to choose a period like this. When you want to help the people, you try to minimise their pains. There were even suggestions that the [National Union of Road Transport Workers] NURTW people that use the road more than any other person or group in Nigeria were not adequately consulted. We wish this isn’t true but feelers within them suggest it is. While this entire repair thing is laudable, the discomfort, pain and agony that would come with it at a time like this will not be worth the pleasure of driving on the road again when it is finally done. Four months at a stretch?! Without imputing any religion undertone since this is purely developmental agenda, a better way should be found to do this. At least there is now a new administration in the state,” he said.