The Ogun State light rail project
The Ogun State government’s announcement of its decision to construct three light rail lines, covering the four divisions of the state is certainly heart-warming, even though ambitious, given the lean times. But there is power in dreams and in vision.
These lines, from Agbara Estate to Berger Bus Stop in Lagos (57 kilometres), Ofada to Sagamu (54 kilometres); and Abeokuta to Ijebu-Ode (84 kilometres), when constructed, would boost the economy and living standards of the people. The construction is scheduled to commence in January 2017 and completed in 2019. The total length of 195 kilometres constitutes the first phase. The broader mission encapsulates development of housing as well as agriculture; all benefitting from the population pressure generated by Lagos metropolis.
In Nigeria, the railways has suffered from years of neglect and of states deferring solely to the Federal Government which had yet to expand the national rail network beyond the structure left by the colonial government. The dearth of rail transportation has placed an overbearing burden on roads for the movement of goods across the country, causing heavy damage to roads nationwide and ruining the economy.
The light rail routes announced by Ogun State are clearly laudable for political, economic and social reasons. Agbara Industrial Estate, with its proximity to Otta, has the highest concentration of industries in the state. The estate is the take-off point for the Lagos (Badagry) – Igboho – Borgu- Sokoto Federal Highway, that was commenced in 1978. The Lagos-Badagry expressway passes through the state.
This choice of a rail line is therefore justified because it links with the Lagos- Badagry Light Rail project of the Lagos State government. The Agbara Estate to Berger line traverses Atan Otta, Ifo and the high density communities of Ijoko, Adiyan, Lambe, Akute and Ojodu. This is a viable route based on the population. In passing through Ifo, it has the potential of utilising the existing standard gauge line running through Ilaro to Idogo in Ogun West Senatorial District. In days gone by, the Idogo line was a major service for moving agricultural produce from close to Benin Republic border down to Iddo Terminus in Lagos.
The line from Abeokuta to Ijebu-Ode is a west-east route linking the state capital (as well as the Ogun Central Senatorial District) to two divisions constituting Ogun East Senatorial District. For decades, the illustrious citizens of the area (Ijebu and Remo divisions) have established industries; benefitting from the proximity to Lagos and the road network traversing the area. This rail route also benefits from alignment of the existing federal highways (Abeokuta-Sagamu Interchange Route 521; and the Sagamu-Interchange – Benin Expressway (Federal Route).
A segment of the Ofada-Sagamu line would seem to run parallel to the Abeokuta Ijebu Ode route. This raises questions of justification; considering the well-publicised plan of the states in the South-West Zone to construct a rail line from Lagos to Ibadan and beyond. This other rail line would be located beyond the right-of-way of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway (Federal Route 20). It is here that the need for synergy stands out; especially as Ogun State is involved in the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN).
The proposed rail projects require the acquisition of land for the right of way. While the Abeokuta-Sagamu Ijebu Ode line would benefit from the alignment of existing federal highways, the Agbara- Iseri (Berger) line poses great challenges. The segment running north along the Sokoto Highway to Atan Otta is already built up. From Iju Otta onwards, the entire area is highly developed although there is no planned layout. How do the project executors intend to handle the herculean demands of acquisition, demolition and compensation? A notice of acquisition deriving from “Overriding Public Interest” is no longer sufficient, with residents who know their rights. Citizens are now awake to the universal requirements of Resettlement Action Plan that are enforceable under human rights laws. These require consent to offers of compensation, without which there is the right to litigation that could drag on for years. In its existing road projects that have transformed the urban areas of the state, there are lingering issues of compensation with wailing displaced house owners. Many of the roads and bridges are uncompleted, causing skepticism despite assurances that all would be commissioned by May 2019 when the tenure of the current governor ends.
The decision of the state government to embark on developing the light rail service should be commended and supported. The assurance of Federal Government endorsement of the Ogun rail initiative, notably and gladly, was evident in the words of the Minister of Transportation at the conference where Governor Ibikunle Amosun announced the Ogun Light Rail Programme.
While there are many questions on the modalities, funding and sustainability of Ogun State’s light rail project, it is highly commendable. In a federal structure, however, there is need for its harmonisation with the transport infrastructure programmes of the broader political zone and linkage to the existing national transportation network.