Toll on Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge: Discordant tunes keep pulsating
Protests have continued to trail the commencement of tolling on the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge, which was suspended after the tolling device was damaged during the #EndSARS crisis in 2020.
Over one year after toll collection was stopped, the state government and its concessionaire, Lekki Concession Company Limited (LCC), in the penultimate week, announced April 1 for the re-commencement of tolling, a development, which was kicked against by many, including motorists who ply the route, activists that took part in the protest, as well as residents of the Lekki-Ajah corridor.
This is not the first time that the tolling of the bridge is generating controversy. A similar scenario played out when the facility was completed and about to commence tolling. Then, motorists and residents, especially those living on the Lekki and Ikoyi corridor also protested the development.
Then, members of the Lagos State House of Assembly, as well as a Lagos-based lawyer, Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa SAN, opposed the state government’s decision to sanction the tolling of the facility.
However, while Adegboruwa placed charges against the state government, the lawmakers stylishly backed out.
In announcing the re-introduction of tolling recently, the LCC said that tolling would resume on April 1, but commuters plying the corridor will start paying two weeks after, April 15, 2022.
The Managing Director of LCC, Yomi Omomuwasan, said the re-introduction of tolling is coming after extensive consultations with, and the support of key stakeholders, including the residents’ associations, traditional rulers/community leaders, professional bodies, as well as the state government.
Omomuwasan said that new technology and innovations have been introduced to make passages at the toll plaza seamless and faster for commuters, as the LCC is replacing old toll devices with upgraded ones for faster throughput.
Ironically, while speaking on the issue, the state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Gbenga Omotoso, said that the LCC owes foreign and local moneylenders over N28b. About N29b was spent on the construction of the bridge in 2013, by the Babatunde Fashola-led administration.
In his speech at the commissioning of the facility years back, Fashola, who listed individuals and organisations that contributed to the successful completion of the project, was silent on LCC neither did he mention whether the project was done through PPP.
But in his interview, Omotoso said: “It has taken LCC over 18 months to get back to work after the extensive damage to its equipment. The LCC must return to duty because it is owing local money lenders N11.6b and foreign lenders $31.1 m. Hence, there is no way that the LCC can stay away from tolling on that route.
“There are about 500 LCC workers who have been idle for the past 18 months, some without salaries; some with half salaries. They all have families to feed, friends, and relations to cater for.
“Most of the people who are protesting against the re-tolling are those who do not reside around the axis. So, calling on people to resist the re-tolling is unnecessary.
“For example, if you look at the tax GDP of Lagos, it is one of the lowest in Africa. In Lagos, about six million people are within the tax net but only about 4.2 million are active taxpayers.
So, if you want to build a modern road like the Lekki Expressway, all you can do is seek funding from money lenders and when you obtain such a loan, you must repay so that other businesses that want to use the money can have access to it, and this is good for the spinoff.”
However, residents of estates around Lekki, under the aegis of Lekki Estates Residents and Stakeholders Association (LERSA), have given the Lagos State government, and the LCC some conditions for the re-commencement of tolling.
LERSA President and secretary-general Olorogun James Emadoye, and Gbemi Adelekan respectively, in a statement that they jointly signed said that the residents urged the state government and managers of the road to provide viable alternative routes to the tolled roads, implement round figure fees at the toll and immediately improve the tolling system technology to guarantee free flow at the toll gates before re-commencement.
LERSA observed that its members have been victims of insecurity and disruption of movement since the #EndSARS protests in October 2020, which led to the destruction and eventual closure of the tollgate.
While appealing for restraint among angry youths, LERSA called on the government to tolerate free expression of discontent in a way that guarantees the protection of lives and properties.
The association also called on the LCC to create an enabling environment for people and businesses on the axis, adding that the experience of road users at the toll plazas before the shutdown was very unpleasant.
“Our road experience before the October 20 shutdown of the tollgates was that of hardship and suffering, with the long traffic at the toll plazas. A tolled road is supposed to provide a quick, safe, and motorable experience where users will be happy to pay,” the statement said.
It added that the government, through the LCC should realise that the toll plazas could not re-open and operate the way they were run before the shutdown.
“Without a doubt, we are the only citizens in Nigeria that are forced to pay toll on a road that is less than 25km, completed in 14 years. With the poor experience and services at the toll plaza, we are paying for inconveniences rather than for convenience, as we spend, on average, 20 to 30 minutes to pay.
“We, therefore, ask for viable alternative roads to the tolled roads, implementation of round figure fees at the toll, and the immediate improvement of the tolling system technology to guarantee free flow at the toll gates before the commencement of tolling,” the statement added.
A resident, Ben Atebe said that the re-introduction of the toll may create hardship for motorists taking into consideration, the poor management of traffic by the present administration.
“The toll is going to create traffic on that axis with journeys that should take thirty minutes extending to an hour or two. Roads are tolled to generate revenue to maintain them. Tolling road is not a bad idea but provided the process is properly managed in a way that it will not create an unnecessary burden to motorists in terms of traffic and others. If the government can ensure seamless traffic movement, it is good because it will help to check the unregulated inflow of commercial bikes into Lekki and Ikoyi. But if it is incapable of managing traffic to ensure seamless movement, it should be suspended,” Atebe said.
On his part, a former president of Lekki Phase 1 Residents Association, Prof. Olumide Ajose, said that the toll can be collected on the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge, but no toll should be collected at the Admiralty tolling point.
Also speaking, the current President, Lekki Phase 1 Residents Association, Mr. Yomi Idowu, argued that the introduction of the toll has its pros and cons, noting that the #EndSARS protest destroyed the toll and many houses and businesses in Lekki.
He stated that there were fundamental and critical issues yet to be addressed, which decide to recommence tolling “unjust, oppressive, and illegal.”
Idowu said that the Lekki Concession Company Limited (LCC) and the Lagos State government have continued to use the instrumentality of the law courts to foist hardship on the community.
He said: “We recall that the Federal High Court in Lagos had, in the recent past, effectively declared the tolling of the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge illegal and unconstitutional. The Lagos State government characteristically secured an order of stay of execution because it had appealed the court’s decision but has so far failed to prosecute the subject appeal.
“With this Sword of Damocles hanging over our community, one expected the Lagos State government to pursue the best interest of its citizenry, rather than use the machinery of the state against law-abiding citizens.”
Also commenting on the ownership question and lack of transparency in LCC’s activities, Idowu said that in making a case for the resumption of tolling, the Lagos State government had stated several times that the LCC is a privately owned entity. As such, it has the burden to cater to its over 500 employees. “Nothing, however, could be more disingenuous.
According to LCC’s website, the Lagos State government “… acquired the shares/equity of the previous owners of LCC in December 2014.”
This was supported by LCC’s managing director, Omomuwasan, and the Head of Service to the Lagos State government, Hakeem Muri-Okunola, during the Judicial Panel of Inquiry on Police Brutality that LCC is 100 per cent owned by the state government.
“It was, therefore, clearly misleading that LCC presented itself to members of the Lekki Estates Residents and Stakeholders Association (LERSA) as a private company. This was recorded in the minutes of the Monday, March 14, 2022 meeting between the LCC Managing Director, LERSA members, and other stakeholders.
“I don’t think the matter has been mutually concluded between the youth and the government. The reopening may result in another uproar, coupled with the fact that everyone is suffering from economic hardship; poverty is everywhere; youths are roaming the streets looking for where to vent their frustration; inflation is high, and the blackout is everywhere, just as diesel has become untouchable. Reopening may present an avenue for another uproar.
“The traffic situation in Lekki Phase 1 has become a nightmare because of the bridge. The situation needs to improve before it is reopened. There should be traffic lights at the roundabouts, no parking red lines on the entire Admiralty Way, and more police presence everywhere to react to attacks on vehicles by robbers. The benefit of the bridge to Lekki residents has not been agreed upon yet.”
Nonetheless, Idowu said that the over 500 staff of LCC who are Nigerians that have been idle without pay for this long can, at last, get back to work and have money to look after their families.
“The traffic on the bridge will reduce as not everyone will want to pay the toll. The revenue to Lagos State can also increase so that the government can have more funds to attend to the needs of the people. The illumination on the bridge too will continue.”
“Apart from the toll gate at the International Airport that is being operated by a federal agency, the only functioning toll gates in Lagos State are the two toll gates managed by LCC in the Lekki axis within a 5km radius. In addition to the Land Use Charges, Infrastructure Development Charges and sundry levies and fees paid by residents in the Lekki-Epe axis, what services has the Lagos State government provided in return? There is no general hospital; no central market; no public primary or secondary schools in the area. But the residents are paying an additional tax in the guise of tolls and this is framed as LCC providing services.”
Idowu, who noted that security is a major issue for Lekki residents, as the #EndSARS protest exposed the security deficiency within the area, added that if not for the gates erected on some of the streets, the death toll among the residents would have been unimaginable.
“The Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Maroko is always on the ground to protect us, but how many men does he have? He is over-stretched, and the Ministry of Transport always threatens us to dismantle our gates so that we can be attacked. We have written to the Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu many times, but no single response has come from him.
“We appeal to the state government to allow us to have our transport system so that we can control the type of vehicles, drivers among others, but it refused through Ministry of Transport that is bent on bringing the chaotic transport union to our estate. There are a lot more.”