Much like other Nigerians, whose livelihood makes it inevitable for them to commute frequently on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, I have always followed with keen interest every bit of news and reports on this road, which Mr. President, Goodluck Jonathan, once, correctly, described as “an important economic artery”.
It is, indeed, for this reason that I have become extremely worried since news of plans by the Federal Government to re-concession the road broke out about two weeks ago.
Besides, there have been reports of government’s insincerity in handling issues relating to the road. These range from accusations that some powerful forces within the current administration deliberately sabotaged Messrs Bi-Courtney Highway Services Limited, which won the initial concession agreement for reconstruction of the expressway, to provide a seemingly valid ground for hijacking the project, while pretending to be serving our common interest.
And the facts adduced by the proponents of this argument eminently justify the notion. They have observed that since November 19, 2012, when the 25-year Design-Build-Operate-Transfer concession agreement, won by Bi-Courtney, was unilaterally revoked by the Federal Government, the company had consistently maintained that it was as much a victim in the shenanigans surrounding the concession as fellow Nigerians, who are being made to suffer severe hardship on the road.
And Bi-Courtney’s stand seemed to have found support from no other than the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), the government’s most authoritative voice on concession matters, when it reportedly said in a 2011 report that the approval for a final design was granted Bi-Courtney on May 10, 2011, “two years after the concession agreement was signed”.
Some commentators have also queried the government’s failure to offer Bi-Courtney the kind of confidence building support it is now offering the present arrangement, vis-à-vis the pledge of an irrevocable payment guarantee, which would have enabled the company raise the required capital.
Other issues raised by the plethora of commentators, include the unexplained jerk up in the value of the contract by almost 100 per cent, from the N89.53 billion, which Bi-Courtney was to spend on the project, to the current N167 billion, as well as the desperate attempt by government officials to deny the planned re-concession of the road, a fact that had become very obvious to the public.
I have no doubt that more issues will come to light over the coming weeks, until the government comes clean with its real intentions for the much abused expressway.
As for me, the summary of all these is that President Jonathan and his lieutenants knew exactly what they wanted with the expressway all along and were merely taking the rest of us for a ride. Or what could explain the kind of false hope the government gave us, on July 5, last year, when the president bragged that arrangement had been put in place to mobilise the funds needed to deliver the road in 48 months?
It will now seem like the entire flagging-off ceremony, with the needless pomp that accompanied it, and the current flurry of activities on the road, were all part of a grand design or smokescreen to shield government’s ultimate intentions from the populace, which is the backdoor re-concession of the expressway to a favoured bidder, as opposed to the preferred one that would have emerged through competitive bidding, as the case was with Bi-Courtney.
It is most disconcerting to me that any government could take the citizens so much for granted, as to subject their welfare, indeed their very lives, to the whims of some vested interests. It is even more painful to realise that the road may not be completed in several years to come, no thanks to the government’s seeming determination to make as much money as possible for some private pockets from the contract.
That aside, there is also the imaginable legal challenges that could dog this clearly illegal and surreptitious approach being adopted by the government.