Last week, two construction companies handling rehabilitation and expansion works on the Lagos-Ibadan highway, Reynolds Construction Company and Julius Berger, abandoned work on the road, citing poor funding.
In June, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, accused the National Assembly of slashing N21 billion off the N31 billion vote for the road. “We were asked to complete those abandoned projects; the budget of Lagos-Ibadan highway was reduced by the National Assembly from N31 billion to N10 billion. We are owing the contractors about N15 billion and they have written to us that they are going to shut down,” Fashola had said.
It is indeed saddening that work on the highway, the busiest inter-state route in Nigeria, said to handle more than 250,000 PCUs daily, has dragged on since 1999. The government has carried on as if it was unaware of its importance as an economic artery that connects Lagos, the economic hub of the nation boasting unique access to sea and air, to other parts of the nation, and even land borders to other countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, at the regional level, the road constitutes a section of the strategic Trans Saharan highway, which links Lagos on the Atlantic Ocean to Algiers on the Mediterranean Sea.
Kicking off the reconstruction of the road awarded to Julius Berger Nigeria and Reynolds Construction Company Limited at a sum of N167 billion, equivalent to $838.986290 on July 5, 2013, former President Goodluck Jonathan had said that the move reflected the Federal Government’s “commitment … to practically and relentlessly meet the yearnings of our people and also to improve our national transport infrastructure.” A 2017 deadline was even set for the project, with the hope that it could be completed earlier if the enthusiasm that attended work on it was sustained. Sadly, however, the high hopes that Nigerians had in the project has been crushed, particularly since the current administration took office in 2015.
Now, more than anything, the project is being threatened by political intrigues and brinkmanship. While the road suffers, Fashola and members of the National Assembly are locked in a battle of supremacy. The minister was summoned to a hearing organised by the House of Representatives’ Investigative Committee on Breach of Privilege, Violation of Appropriation Act and Incitement of the Nigerian Public to, among other concerns, clarify statements credited to him alleging that the lawmakers had demonstrated poor knowledge of the budget process.
The minister, on his part, insisted that with the disposition of the lawmakers, there is no way that the project can continue. But Nigerians are interested in the completion of the project, not the claims and counter-claims between Senate and Fashola which give the impression that the governing party is actively hosting an internal civil war instead of attending to the needs of the Nigerian populace.
While Fashola ought to have been more circumspect in his choice of words even while justifiably aggrieved, the lawmakers on their part failed to provide a rational basis for their action. Senator Sabi Abdullahi, the Senate spokesperson, said: “What we reduced from Lagos-Ibadan highway in the 2017 budget estimates was spread on Oyo-Ogbomoso Road in the South-West, Enugu-Onitsha Road in the South-East, and two other critical roads in the North-East and North-West.”
The tragedy behind such convoluted logic could not have been more stark. It beggars belief that the lawmakers could whimsically slash the budget proposal for Nigeria’s busiest road. Indeed, their ignoble action has already provoked ethnic tension as reflected in the reaction by the Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) which stated that its “interpretation of this vacuous act is that the National Assembly wants a showdown with the Yoruba people of South-west and they should be ready for this if they would not restore the allocation.”
But if, as noted by the ARG, there are, at least, 300 crashes and incidents along the 127km road leading to the death of at least 100 people, alongside hundreds of cases of incapacitate and inestimable loss of revenue and man-hour, it is time to shelve politics. It is time to stop playing politics with the project. It is a needless controversy and delay, and totally diversionary.