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Lagos, FG and an airport road that must be taken


Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode (left), discussing with President Muhammadu Buhari.

The squalor that has characterised the access road to the nation’s gateway, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos has deservedly attracted the outrage of all citizens over the years. It has been a monumental embarrassment to the country and has done incalculable damage to Nigeria’s image as appeals for the road to be rehabilitated have gone unheeded.

Therefore, it is a commendable step the Lagos State Government is taking with the bold plan to upgrade the road to international standards and with its own funds. In the interest of the people of this country, everything must be done to expedite the process for the work to commence.

However, as has happened in the past, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode has cried out that his government has not received the necessary Federal approval for the reconstruction and expansion of the Airport access from Apapa-Oshodi Expressway. This should not be. And all Nigerians must prevail on the Federal Government to cooperate with Lagos State without delay.

In the design prepared by the Lagos State Government, the segment from the airport terminal building to the junction of Apapa-Oshodi Expressway would be developed into a 10-lane highway. The design includes structural separation of three express lanes for local road users to Ajao Estate and Mafoluku on either side.

The engineering details require rehabilitation of the collapsed roadbed on the northbound lanes from Toyota Bus Stop and the replacement of the enclosed drainage that had been silted for years. The drainage channel constructed on the Apapa-bound lanes in the 1990s has also been blocked with debris.

The present imbroglio between Lagos and Abuja brings to the fore, yet again, the need for true federalism in Nigeria. Roads are classified as federal highways, state roads and local government routes. The statistics are outdated but the federal highway network is around 34,000 kilometres. The total length of state roads nationwide is put at around 30,000 kilometres. The 85,000 figure stated for all the 774 local government areas kilometres is, of course, laughable given that streets are increasing in a nation lacking clearly demarcated city limits.

The Federal Government is grappling with the herculean challenge of funding and administering the longest road network in Africa. When the proposal to establish Federal Highway Authority was not ratified in 1973, the reason given was that “the Federal Ministry of Works can adequately cope with management of the federal road network of 11,000 kilometres at the time.” Since the 1974 take-over of 17,000 kilometres selected state roads, that reason ceased to be valid. The ministry cannot cope; especially because there has been no executive will to set up an efficient road agency, despite several attempts from 1980 to date.

Given the inadequacy of funds for federal roads, the Federal Highways Department ought to encourage and promptly accept offers from state government to maintain, rehabilitate or redevelop routes within the states’ borders. The handling of the present Lagos State offer is being closely watched; as it presents a healthy potential for the necessary synergy by the two tiers of government. The due process must be complied with. Protocol requires that whenever a state decides to work on a federal highway, the request must be written by the state governor to the president. For roads, the president could approve in principle and direct the minister or relevant agency to sort out the details.

Given the public interest in a speedy commencement of the Lagos Airport Access Highway, it is not sufficient that the Minister of Works has refuted accusations of delay, he needs to be overtly expressive of his appreciation for the offer and a determination to push the process through the bureaucracy, giving deadlines for each stage. The success of this project will serve as a template and encourage other states to make similar proposals.

There are cases of states having reconstructed federal roads but whose claims are yet to be settled. Experience has shown that this would not have happened if due process was followed. This process includes formal request, written approval, approval of engineering design works, vetting of bills of quantities, supervision of construction by consultants and federal highway officials and verification of payment certificates, which must be settled promptly, given the inflation in the economy.

More importantly, there is need to re-visit the issue of roads taken over in 1974, from the 12 states at the time. In the attempt to list federal roads at the time, Broad Street Lagos was first! In the massive construction during the Third National Development Plan Period (1975-80), all bridges and flyovers in Lagos metropolis are federal roads. At present, this is the case with federal roads passing through urban areas nationwide. All the flyovers recently constructed by Governor Amosun are on federal highways. From inception, roads in the Federal Capital Territory were developed by the Federal Capital Development Authority (later Federal Capital Territory Administration). At present, there is no appropriate designation for FCT roads and Abuja City roads. This urgent re-classification nationwide is a task for the annual meeting of the National Council of Works. There is need for weaning roads from this general “works” tag, so as to have a regular National Highways Conference.

A ready agenda for a special meeting on roads will include establishing the principle of “matching funds” and the recognition that some states do not have the financial capability to handle major works on federal roads. This must be considered in the move to hand some routes back to the states. With the volume of proposals and claims from the states, the Federal Highways Division may well consider setting up a department for liaison with states.

The Federal Government certainly cannot cope with the challenge of funding the rehabilitation, maintenance and management of 34,000 kilometres nationwide. Since 1973 to date, there has been no executive will to carry out the institutional reforms that will enable the Federal Government to harness funds to solve the challenge. It cannot justifiably earmark the amount that Lagos State is ready to spend on the airport road. Given all these facts, it is important for the Federal Government to immediately grant the approval for Lagos State to reconstruct the access road to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport.

The three tiers of government must be cognizant of the fact that they are working for the rights, welfare and benefits of all Nigerians.

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