The Lagos airwaves are agog with the news of the impending completion of the Lekki seaport. The Lagos state government sees it as the ultimate solution to the perpetual Apapa gridlock. Similarly, the 650, 000 barrel per day Dangote refinery located in the same Lekki is said to be on track to be operational later this year.
Also, the Buhari administration and the Central Bank of Nigeria is desperately waiting for this to happen as they see it as the entire solution to Nigeria’s fuel importation and foreign exchange problems.
Another important point to note is that the refinery – the largest in Africa – has no plans to deliver fuel to any part of the country through pipeline, the usual global standard. Fuel, according to the Group Executive Director of the company, Devakumar Edwin, would go via “shuttle” boats to Nigerian cities of Warri and Calabar, and other deliveries would go in trucks. And this is in spite of the inadequate and dilapidated road infrastructure in the country.
Ordinarily, the expected take-off of these enterprises would have been a cause for optimism. The Lekki seaport will help to decongest the Apapa ports and Dangote refinery will hopefully end Nigeria’s dependence on fuel import that takes a huge chunk of its foreign exchange. But trust the Nigerian governance curse of thoughtlessness and lack of planning to ruin the smooth operations of these enterprises and the lives of the millions of people living and working in the area. Lekki is about to become a living hell, far worse than Apapa had ever been.
Currently, the section of the road from Sangotedo to Ibeju Lekki (built since 1980) has virtually collapsed and is almost impassable and no work is being done to repair the narrow road not to talk of expanding the road or even building new roads. Pray, how can trucks evacuate fuel from one of the world’s largest refineries through a single, narrow and virtually collapsed road to all parts of the country? How can a seaport operate with no access roads or more appropriately with only one single, narrow and collapsed road?
The Lekki-Epe Expressway, built in the 1980s during the administration of Lateef Jakande and when the axis was just a rural settlement, became one of the busiest and most congested roads at the turn of the 21st century. Then, workers and school children had to begin their journey as early as 4 am to have any hope of getting to their workplaces or schools in Victoria Island or Marina by 8 or 8.30 am. Commuters and motorists along the route groaned in pains for many years until the Lagos state government, in 2006, heeded their call and concessioned the reconstruction and enlargement of the 49.4 kilometre road (and the building of a 20 km coastal road) to the Lekki Concession Company Ltd. (LCC) on a build, operate and transfer basis.
The government justified the Public-Private Partnership deal as a strategic partnership with the private sector to ease the discomfort of Lagosians and boost the economic prosperity of the Lekki-Epe vicinity especially as the road will serve as the gateway to the proposed Lekki Free Trade Zone, new model cities and residential accommodations, business centres and financial and tourism hubs. Guaranty was provided and work began in 2008. Sections 1 and 2 (0-15 kilometre) of the road were constructed but Sections 3 and 4 (15 -49 kilometre) and the coastal road were never constructed.
Like all things Nigerian, the concession has since gone awry. Several delays and agitations over the payment of tolls at three designated gates in less than 25 kilometres led to the stoppage of work. The entire concession agreement has since collapsed with the Lagos state government revoking the concession and paying off the concessionaires.
During the 2019 campaigns, the residents of Lekki managed to get the Lagos governorship candidates to commit to building the coastal road. While Jimi Agbaje promised to do it, Jide Sanwo-Olu would make no such commitments. He curtly told them the state has no money to embark on such a project and that was it.
This is, in many ways, the Nigerian story. Governments are incapable of planning for future developments and even if they claim to plan, the plan remains only on paper. In 2006, the Lagos state government developed an Integrated Rail Transport System to link the major population and activity centres in Lagos state. Seven lines including the 26 kilometre Greenline that will run from Marina to the Proposed Lekki Airport was planned. Due to lack of funds, the government decided to start with the 27kilometre Blue Line from Okokomaiko to Marina via Iddo. The contract was awarded, and work started in 2008 and was supposed to have been completed in 2011 and other lines begun. But to date, the Blue Line is yet to be completed and the other lines remain only plans on paper.
Lekki residents and those plying the road are about to face the Apapa experience. Only that Lekki’s will be worse. While there are multiple access roads to and from Apapa, Lekki residents don’t have that luxury.