By Chijioke Iremeka
Just like it happened in 2011, this year would also end on a sour note for residents and road users of the Lekki-Epe expressway.
It was a peaceful protest by aggrieved Lekki residents under the auspices of Lekki-Etiosa-Epe Estates Indigenes and Stakeholders Association (LEEEISA) that turned gory at the Admiralty Circle Toll Plaza on the ever-busy Etiosa-Lekki-Epe expressway on December 17, 2011, exactly 24 hours to the commencement of tolls collection on the road.
The protest had started out peacefully until thugs allegedly sponsored by the ruling party in the state and carrying banners that read: “NURTW Supports Tolling,” showed up with machetes and started attacking protesters. According to eyewitness account, the protesters resisted the attacks but mobile police officers arrived the scene and beat up the people, firing tear gas and canisters at them. Some, who were not so lucky, were clamped into Black Maria vans.
One of the victims was beaten to coma. Among those driven away in Black Maria vans to the State Criminal Investigation Department (SCID) Panti, Yaba, were chairman of Lekki Residents Association, Mr. Wole Akala; leader of the Northern Foreshore Estate, Lekki, Eze; Wole Ogunkoye, a community leader; and Tony Nwaeze, a resident.
This, however, did not stop the commencement of tolling on the road the next day as the governor, Babatunde Fashola, in a great spectacle, drove himself to the toll-point, paid his way through, drove off and with that gesture, consigned the peoples’ agitation to the trashcan.
One year after, as advertised, the second tolling point will take off at the Conservation Plaza, which is 10km away from the first toll-point at Admiralty Circle Plaza. Expectedly, history will repeat itself: residents will seek to resist tolling, but Lekki Concession Company (LCC), with the full complement of the state’s security apparatus, would begin the toll collection, while Lagosians agonizingly wait the for the next toll-point on the expressway.
Despite promises made by Lagos State government and the construction firm in a Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme to provide a coastal route as an alternative to the toll-point at Admiralty Circle Plaza for road users, as contained in the contract documents for the project, it still remains an intention on paper. Instead, the goalpost is being shifted in the middle of the game with the creation of a single-lane route along Oniru Estate.
Sad Tale By Residents At Toll Plaza
According to residents of the area, the collection of tolls on the road and commencement of a second point by the LCC amounts to unfair treatment and injustice without the construction of an alternative coastal route, as contained in the project scope.
The experiences of some users of the road, whose vehicles were smashed by the boom barriers at the first tollgate have not been pleasant, despite series of complaints lodged daily. There has been a deluge of complaints ranging from smashed vehicle windscreens by the electronic boom barriers to non-issuance of balance after payment by toll tellers on the excuse of no sufficient Naira notes.
This situation has led to frequent altercations between motorists and toll tellers. According to one of the victims, Chizea Nonyelum, prior to the day her car was hit by the barrier, she had lodged a complaint to LCC about the EZ-Pass toll-point that was malfunctioning but her complaint filled in the firm’s liability form, was not given due attention.
“I was told they were having problems with the EZ-Pass lane but nothing was done about it. On the day my car was damaged, I was driving to Ikoyi and the officials regulating the lane said I should keep moving just as they did to other drivers before me. As I was driving through, the barrier came down suddenly and smashed my car,” she said.
She noted that since then, she had lodged several complaints and sought legal assistance to extract rapid response from LCC, but nothing has so far been done, despite their 48 hours promise to investigate and repair her car. Nine months after, Nonyelum is still keeping faith, waiting on LCC to fulfill its obligation by fixing her car and iPad damaged during the incident.
Another complainant, Ibrahim Alao, who alleged that his balance was not given to him by a toll teller, said it has become the norm to decline road users their balance on the claims that the tellers do not have lower denomination of Naira notes.
According to Alao, when the teller refused to give him his balance, he insisted by refusing to drive away. This created a scene and the teller was forced to return his money to him without collecting the toll. “This has been going on since the tollgate went operational; some people would just ignore and sacrifice their money but I wasn’t in a hurry to do the same on that day,” he said.
Although no statistics is available yet on the number of vehicles plying the revamped expressway and users of the toll plaza, over one million vehicles are believed to ply Lagos roads daily with about 500,000 of that number commuting between the mainland and Lagos Island.
Residents of the Epe, Ajah and Lekki axis are wondering why the governor has decided to punish them so much, a situation, which is worsened by the ban on motorcycles, popularly called okada in the area. They also moan the absence of infrastructure such as hospitals and schools in their communities, while the cost of transportation has increased.
“Already, in anticipation of the commencement of the second tolling, the fare has increased from its post-January adjusted price after the first toll started. This is coupled with increasing cost of food items in preparation for Christmas and the New Year. Is this our Christmas gift from Fashola?” asked Olusegun Adeleye, a resident of Epe.
Mrs. Margaret Okon, a resident of Ajah, said commuters of public transport do not benefit from the alternative road. “The commercial bus drivers prefer to pay the toll and transfer the bill to passengers. The alternative routes only favour private vehicle owners and not the masses.”
Rasheed Ajasin, a bus driver plying the route, said it was justified for them to increase the fare first from N100 to N150 and now to N200 in anticipation of the second toll collection on the road.
“We have to start before Sunday, so that our passengers can get used to it. It would be a surprise to them on a Monday morning. By the time they commission the third tollgate, we will increase it to N250 or even N300. It is not our fault at all. That’s the way Fashola wants it and we have to comply. If the governor is interested in helping the masses, then he should make it toll-free for transporters like it is done on Murtala Muhammed Airport road.”
Adegboruwa: Why We Oppose Tolling
A human rights activist and lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, holding brief for LEEEISA, said as long as the driving force of LCC is profit at the expense of safety, the state will continue to record more injustices at the toll plaza.
“The questions, which no answers have been provided to include: what exactly is the project about? Who are the financiers? Who are the owners and promoters of LCC? How did the government and LCC arrive at the prices they fixed as toll? How much is the cost of the project that would require a whooping 30 years to recoup? What about the alternative route, what happened to the Coastal Road? Why three toll gates in a 20 km road?”
On the website of the project financier, African Development Bank (AfDB), http://www.afdb.org/en/projects, the project comprise rehabilitation and widening of the first 23km and rehabilitation of the last 26.5km of the 49.5km Lekki-Epe expressway; building of a new ramp at Falomo junction to carry right-turning traffic onto the Falomo Bridge; building of new foot bridges along the right of way to carry pedestrian traffic; building of the first 6km of the coastal road by Lagos State government; and the rehabilitation/building of 10 inter-connecting roads between the expressway and the coastal road.
“This simply means that a coastal road should have been constructed before or at least simultaneously alongside the main Lekki-Epe road, to serve as an alternative road, not some single lane hidden in the Oniru Private Estate. This means the conditions for the collection of toll under the contract have not been met.
“This is the basis of our resistance to the tolling regime. Till date, Lagosians do not know the details of the concession agreement signed between the state government and LCC. Huge loans have been secured on behalf of the people without the slightest information available to the people. This should not be so in a transaction that is to last for as long as 30 years, and which is subject to renewal,” he said.
State Of The Alternative Roads
REGARDLESS of the initial hitches, the Lagos State government last week unveiled a toll free alternative road for motorists plying the newly upgraded Eti Osa-Lekki-Epe Expressway. The 3.6km road is to provide opportunity to those who choose to avoid the newly completed toll plaza.
Accessing the road, commuters coming from Lagos Island-Victoria Island en-route Lekki-Epe, who wish to bye pass the plaza would make a detour at Chevron Drive Roundabout, passing through Poroku Village and exiting through the back of Oluwa Ni Sola Estate.
The infrastructure is accompanied with drainage facilities, streetlight, sidewalk and 24-hour police patrol to ensure adequate security.
Briefing journalists during the project tour, Special Adviser on the Public Private Partnership (PPP), Mr. Ayo Gbeleyi, said the road was designed as an alternative for those who might not want to use the plaza and that it was part of the on-going reconstruction of the main expressway.
Gbeleyi, who was conducted around the 3.6-kilometre road by the Managing Director of Metropolitan Construction Company, Mr. Carlos Franji and an Executive Director, Mr. Tony Fagbuaro, said that the alternative road is part of the original design of the 49. 36-kilometre highway.
According to him, the alternative road, which did not exist before, was constructed to have a 90 degree angle and there is no road alignment along the route, noting that the angle would aid easy maneuvering of vehicles on the road.
Govt Defers Tolling
On Second Toll Plaza
THE Lagos State government and LCC on Friday evening announced a deferment of the commencement of tolling at the second toll plaza.
In a joint statement signed by the Special Adviser/Director-General of the Public Private Partnership Office, Mr. Ayo Gbeleyi and Acting Managing Director of LCC, Mr. Mike Edington, both parties said the decision was in deference to appeals made to the governor by well meaning Lagosians and also in the spirit of the season.
The statement added that both parties would in the days ahead continue their constructive engagement towards addressing the impact of the situation within the purview of their respective contractual obligations. It also wished motorists on the Eti-Osa Lekki-Epe expressway a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in advance while they continue to observe all safety regulations and continue to drive safely, giving due consideration to other road users.
It would be recalled that it had earlier been announced that tolling at the second toll plaza would commence by midnight of today, December 16. Present at the briefing, which preceded the issuance of the statement, were other representatives of LCC, including Opuiyo Oforiokuma and the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Ade Ipaiye.