How roads are constructed in Lagos

by Ademola Thomas Olarewaju

The first step to constructing a road in Lagos is to first look for a road construction company. It could be any company, it matters little whether it has reputable pedigree in road construction, the only criteria is if the company is willing to come into Lagos and allow the ruling cabal to appoint members into its board and part with a substantial part of its shares. In some cases, the chairmanship of the company might be ceded to a crony or ally of the cabal: what matters most is that the sharing formula is explicit and the contractor must feel a perpetual sense of gratitude knowing that without the cabal, it wouldn’t have a chance for profit at all.

The next step is to determine which road is worth constructing. The word ‘constructing’ is a little misleading because roads are not constructed in Lagos, only rehabilitated, upgraded, refurbished or something similar. The road to be chosen must have some features: it must be conspicuous enough to attract the attention of some media or sensitive enough to point the media to. It does not matter if the road is passable at the time, so long as it is a viable one. If the road is motorable, it can be upgraded by adding an extra lane, road median, bus termini (terminuses), drainage or something.

After identifying the road, the next step is to erect a billboard announcing the rehabilitation of the road. While this might seem simple, it is actually a tricky business. The pictures to be displayed depend on the area. If the House of Assembly representative is an opponent of the incumbent with whom negotiations are ongoing, his picture would appear alongside the governor’s to show the residents that all is seemingly well. If the area is an area where a strong party member is resident, his picture will be included. If it is areas where a particular commissioner is resident, then his picture will appear. Same applies to LG chairmen and even transport union chairmen who are the enforcement arm of the cabal.

The billboard must have some other features in addition to the pictures: the name of the construction company, the nature and extent of the work, the commencement date and the proposed end date. Once it is exactly a month to the end date though, the column is mysteriously blotted out with white paint or heavy tape stuck over it. At the top of the billboard is perhaps the most important inscription like that above the cross at Calvary: PROMISE FULFILLED…not BEING FULFILLED, not TO BE FULFILLED but PROMISE FULFILLED. One hears some have lost their jobs solely for that semantic error.

After several weeks of erecting the billboard, heavy duty equipment are brought in and parked in front of the gates of major opposition leaders as if to say: ‘una say we no dey work abi? Oya see wetin we dey do!’. The heavy duty trucks may be there for as long as the project supervisor can find excuses. The weather, area boys, environment conditions, inadequate financial mobilisation, lack of cooperation from the residents etc are all valid excuses that escape the lips of the white supervisors. When finally excuses have gone on too long and the end date has been obliterated, the earthmoving trucks are brought in to do one thing: destroy the roads! This is perhaps the most important part because you see, in the view of this administration, the can never be advancement without retrogression; destruction must precede construction in its warped logic and so as in the Egbeda road case, the earthmovers actually break the about 6-8 inches of tar on the road ab initio and render it impassable for all. The inconvenience is just to let you know that serious work is going on and the longer the inconvenience, the more the apologies and the conviction that the government is performing.

How can you say they are not performing, when heavy duty trucks come in to cart away the broken tar to sand-fill some godfather plots in Lekki? You should see how commuters argue as they are stuck in early morning traffic on a road that has been four years under construction. ‘They are working so hard to get it just right!’ and one would be foolish to engage in a debate with such folks who cannot see beyond their noses. The best thing to do in my experience is to smile like a sage, maintain eye contact with the gullible irritant for a fleeting second, look away and shake your head ever so slightly. One of two things will happen depending on the intellect of the speaker: either he pauses to ponder what he just said or he continues to argue with himself to you through others about the righteousness of the ruling group.

At the stage where commuters have lost hope on the improvement of the road, sand-filling starts and where there once was good and durable tar, you now have white sand underlay and red soil middle-lay. The top layer is always done in the midnight so that you cannot see how thin the coal tar and stones to be used are. Of course the truckload would have been deposited in the evening. By the time you wake up in the morning and start to regret ever mocking the constructors, the other side of the road is destroyed, leaving only the rehabilitated side for all vehicles to pass, thereby inflicting the same hardship on you for another four years…dependent on if, of course, you vote for them a second time!

All in all though, if you stay in such areas as described, count yourself lucky that you are not to be tolled as in Lekki or as in the case of Alimosho that the elected state administrator does not go to London School of Economics to complain that what it will take to construct your road will construct several roads elsewhere and that your road needs adequate planning; the question we ask though is if it takes four years to plan a road, how long will the construction take? And in the Lekki case, if government can no longer afford to finance road construction with the NGN18billion average IGR it makes monthly, why not abdicate and hand over to private capitalist mercenaries, rather than partner with them to impose a thirty year toll at three points on a road constructed by Jakande in the 80s which was merely expanded and fenced in at the ridiculous price of about a billion per kilometre and for which the contractors got hundreds of hectares of land to construct a golf course and housing estate with a proviso in the contract that forbids the government from building any other means of transportation into the peninsula except by air and that empowers the state to seize any property that the contractors feel might be useful for them? Of course though, the government had lied about the project financing when it claimed it was a private initiative: Standard Bank reveals that the state had invested $42million into the project from the start.

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