The rehabilitation was meant to last only 18 months. But the contractor, Julius Berger, is no longer at the site, leaving rot and pain for motorists and residents, writes ADEYINKA ADERIBIGBE
…We don’t abandon projects once they have been given to us. But we also must work with the funding schedule of the project. Our people are there – Contractor
…Maybe they submitted their certificate of work of certain sections and they are yet to be paid, due to budgetary constraints and are forced to stop work – Govt
…The contractor has stopped the job and we are suffering…the last time it rained, over 354 houses were submerged – Resident
Nothing but huge sandcrete B busts at Joju and Ota, Ogun State are the only signs of Julius Berger’s presence on the Lagos-Ota-Abeokuta Expressway. Yet, the project is supposed to be completed in December.
When Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola inaugurated the road repair on May 14, 2018, he gave one and a half years completion mandate.
The reconstruction of the expressway was meant to reduce the travel time of hundreds of thousands of commuters and was awarded to Julius Berger at a sum of N22.38 billion (equivalent to $61.380 million).
The project was divided into two sections, Section I being the Lagos-Ota, (from Ile Zik to Ota), while section II is from Ota to Abeokuta. The project is expected to terminate at kilometre 80.
Fashola, at the inauguration of the reconstruction at kilometre zero, Ile-Zik, said the road had been abandoned many times and contract variations in the past, owing to the paucity of fund.
He, however, said the Muhammadu Buhari administration prioritised the road and assured that it would be completed on time. Fashola, represented by Director of Highway Construction and Reconstruction in the Federal Ministry of Works, Olalekan Busari, said the Federal Government was committed to the completion because of its socio-economic importance, and as an alternative to Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Ilorin-Ile-Ife, as well as a gateway to the Benin Republic.
Fashola emphasized that the rehabilitation signifies a new vista as the contractor had been mandated to recover the failed portions.
He said the project would generate tons of direct and indirect employment. He was happy the contractor has commenced anticipatory palliative work mostly on the damaged portions and directed that it should focus on critical portions that have failed.
Busari declared that the contractor had been mobilised to site with a 15 per cent down payment (representing about N3.8 billion).
He demanded the complete overhaul of the drainage system occasioned by new developments, especially the inclusion of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor being constructed by the Lagos State government.
Head of Julius Berger, West Division, Mr. Wolfgang Loesser, who spoke at the event, expressed readiness to complete the project on schedule.
Loesser’s promises have become what it is – empty promises. Motorists and residents could swear that the contractor had left the site since February and there are no signs that they will return anytime soon.
Abidemi Balogun, who lives at Sango, said the residents’ hope which had risen sky-high when Julius Berger resumed rehabilitation work had turned into ashes. From the Lagos end, the distressed points have remained the same.
“Some sections of the road at Amje, Ojokoro, Salolo, Meiran, Araromi, Abule Taylor Abule Awori, and Ijaiye had remained in their bad state and gradually getting worse,” Balogun said.
He said several sections on both carriages of the expressway, are in different stages of disrepair, from mere distressed to multiple potholes, and craters.
According to him, while residents and motorists are expecting a super rehabilitation befitting the image Julius Berger had carved for itself, what is emerging is far short of the standard for which the contractor is well known.
Ismail Eboda, a driver that plies the Abule-Egba-Abeokuta Expressway, wondered why the contractor would be taking the Federal Government for a ride. He wondered whether the contractor is already constipated by the many projects that are falling on its laps unsolicited across the country and wondered why local contractors could not be trusted to deliver world-class jobs.
Eboda said the last time he saw Julius Berger work on section II of the Lagos- Abeokuta road repair was in October last year, when they carried out palliating work at Joju, in Sango Ota, and the Ilogbo –Ojuerin axis.
They were also at Itori where they carried out some rehabilitation work on Itori to the Temidire Cow Market axis.
He said: “At these places what Julius Berger did was to apply the stone base, and especially at both carriageways at Joju where there was usually some ponding on the road as a result of the depression of the road, they had dumped some truckloads of hardcore. Though this provided initial relief to motorists, it soon went bad because of the huge volume of vehicular movement, especially trucks. Today the road has relapsed and the pond is bad right in the middle of the road, just because the contractor is not doing what it should.”
The Nation checks revealed that while the contractor’s palliative works from kilometre zero at Ile Zik, all through to the old toll gate, inward Sango still subsists making the road ‘motorable’, the reverse is the case at Section II, from Sango Ota inward Abeokuta, where Julius Berger seems to have abandoned the people to their fate.
Worst hit is the Sango Ota axis, a major industrial zone in Ogun State. Both carriageways at Sango are in an extremely bad state. A Youth Corps member, Demilade Adeneye, who graduated from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAB), described the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway as the rot of a nation. According to him, many lives and properties have been lost on the road while the government and its contractor continue to play with “high power economic politics” with the project.
“I can say without equivocation that the contractor is never on this site at all. They have not and have never done anything meaningful here outside palliative works and it is sad that the government claimed to have facilitated their movement to site with close to N5 billion.
“What is happening here is similar to what is going on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway where the same contractor has continued to behave as they liked, delaying the execution of projects that are critical to the nation’s economy and yet despite its attitude to work, this same contractor continues to win more juicy contracts to the detriment of local contractors,” Adeneye said.
Busola Thomas, who works in the Ota Branch of the Nigerian Breweries, said the Ota axis despite being a huge economic net for the nation has continued to be the most neglected and abandoned.
She said despite the huge losses being recorded by companies along the corridor, the state as well as the Federal Government have continued to look towards them to generate VAT, Company and Income Tax, the withholding tax and several others on which the health of the nation’s economy is benchmarked.
Titus Oku, who works in Lafarge Cement Plc, said companies on the Ota-Abeokuta corridor, deserve a better deal from the Buhari government.
He said because of the peculiar mixed nature of traffic pattern on both sections of the road – which would be serving light as well as large capacity and articulated vehicles, the repair ought to reflect this with a lane dedicated as a truck route to address such peculiarities.
A frequent traveller on the road, Chidinma Okoro, said the road disrepair has worsened the motorists into worsening travel experience.
He said the preponderance of traders and growing population of Okada and tricycle operators are not only worsening the deplorable traffic situation but have thrown insecurity into the mix.
According to Okoro, many now dread coming into Sango and environs and many more dread using the road to link Abeokuta especially during peak periods.
“Terrible traffic has become the known feature of Sango as a result of the abandoned project. Motorists are usually caught in the terrible traffic and some drivers complained that besides the stress being encountered, the road made their vehicles rickety.”
A trader, Maryam Idrisu, said she would appreciate the government fixing the Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway.
While recounting her ordeal, she said: “The only thing that can make me pray for this government and make me enjoy the dividend of democracy they promised us is for this road to be reconstructed.
“I have been rushed to hospital on two occasions after being injured while trading in the area,” she said.
A resident, Timothy Ebhoroghe, said living in the area had been hellish. He said his three kids never had any better experience since their birth.
“Sometimes in our attempt to compete with motorcyclists, many have been knocked down and died. May God save us from this hardship and neglect we are been subjected to by the government and its contractor.”
A commercial bus driver, Sadiu Salaau, said his job had been made difficult since the road went bad.
He said: “Since this road went bad, I have been taking a pain reliever (drugs) after every meal to subdue my body pain. Even my bus, which I bought last year, is already looking very old. The painful part is that passengers are at the receiving end because they will always pay more.”
Mr Habib Kazeem complained about the abandonment of the construction. He said the abandonment is causing a huge crisis to the people.
He said: “The contractor has stopped the job and we are suffering. For instance, the last time it rained, over 354 houses were submerged in a flood because the canal in this area was filled up and that was because the construction company constructed the drainage and channelled water into the canal without expanding it.”
Residents living close to the bad portions of the road described the situation as capable of discrediting both the federal and state governments.
“From indications, work started on the project before the elections and stopped after the polls,” a bus conductor,” Jamiu said.
Besides the Owode axis, other bad portions of the road include Iyana Onigbedu, Iyana Egbado and Lakatabu to Osofin Estate.
When one of our correspondents visited the office of the Federal Ministry of Works at Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta, a senior officer in the ministry declined comments. “We will get back to you,” the officer, who refused to leave his name, said. But the contractor handling the rehabilitation of the road, Julius Berger Plc, said it had not abandoned the project.
The spokesperson for the company, Moses Duku, said the contractor work rate is affected by “funding crisis.”
Duku said: “The project is ours. We have a tradition, which is that we don’t abandon projects once they have been given to us. But we also must work with the funding schedule of the project. Our people are there.
“For every project we have, we work with the funding schedule, and if it is low, then it may reflect on the project.”
The Special Adviser on Media to the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Hakeem Bello, expressed shock at the development. He said the minister still had the impression that work is still ongoing at the site.
“Maybe they submitted their certificate of work of certain sections and they are yet to be paid, due to budgetary constraints and are forced to stop work. I think the Controller of Works in Ogun would be able to explain what is going on. I thought work was even going on there,” Bello told The Nation on the phone.
For now, it is the people that are suffering and from the look of things, their pains are not about to go away.
Credit: The Nation Online