You have to read a lot. You can’t do this business without reading. I welcome you to a life of service to your nation and state. Forget about prayers, it is what you do that matters. You have signed up for a difficult job but it is a noble undertaking to serve your people. You have to prove you deserve to be here …”
These are former Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola’s words at the closing ceremony of Lagos exco members’ retreat on Saturday.
Fashola, like other resource persons selected to charge the 2019 class of commissioners, special advisers and permanent secretaries, reminded them of the huge challenges ahead, and the need to gear up and translate the vision of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of returning a prosperous, smart and healthy state to Lagosians within 48 months.
With a population of 26.6 million, according to the state Bureau of Statistics, and an economy estimated to be the fifth largest in Africa, Lagos State, which is Nigeria’s financial capital, is reputed to have become a victim of its success story as a ‘working and prosperous’ city-state.
One of the critical areas in which Lagosians may judge the impact of the Sanwo-Olu-led administration would be transportation.
The governor, in his inaugural speech, unveiled six focal areas aptly called THEMES with transportation and transport safety and systems topping the list of priorities.
Barely 24 hours in power, Sanwo-Olu signed an Executive Order declaring zero tolerance on traffic congestion, mandating more efficient traffic management, and road rehabilitation by the state’s Public Works Unit aimed at the removal of potholes, as well as the clearing of all drainage channels of impediments.
The appointments of Dr Frederic Oladeinde and Mr Oluwatoyin Fayinka as Commissioner for Transportation and Special Adviser on Transportation elicited excitement among stakeholders of the sector.
Oladeinde, a United States-trained transportation expert, holds a doctorate degree in Transportation Planning. He was until his appointment the Executive Director, Corporate Planning, at the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA). They are to be assisted by a new Permanent Secretary, Mr Olawale Musa, who was the General Manager of the Lagos State Traffic Management Agency (LASTMA).
Before their appointments, intra-city travels was a nightmare, with experts saying Lagos had been seized by the worst of road crisis.
A former Commissioner of Transportation, Comrade Kayode Opeifa, described the past four years as the “years of the locust”. He said they were years when transportation collapsed.
The new team will deploy solutions to resuscitate the comatose sector.
Fashola admitted that the Sanwo-Olu administration was coming at a time the state is most challenged, with transportation the weakest link in the chain.
The saving grace, he said, is that the challenges are surmountable, challenging the governor and his team to perform the magic. He advised the administration to prioritise the blue light rail.
Almost all the 700 road networks in the state are in various stages of dilapidation with the three asphalt plant production centres at Ojodu, Imota and Badagry abandoned. A Ministry of Transportation official, who craved anonymity, claimed the former governor abandoned road maintenance for legacy projects.
The change in the transportation masterplan in the last four years saw the delivery of the Jubilee flyovers at Ajah and Abule-Egba, 24 roads and six bridges in Alimosho, and about 171 inner city roads.
Hanging are the Oshodi interchange and terminals, the six other terminals at Maryland, Yaba, Agege, Ojodu-Berger, Maryland and Obalende, the Agege Flyover Bridge, and the Oshodi-International Airport Road and ramp, as well as the remodelling of the Abule-Egba-Oshodi Expressway with median BRT lane.
Safety Without Borders Executive Director Mr Patrick Adenusi said though former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode’s most profound legacies were executed in the transportation sector, the same sector became his nemesis as Lagosians had the worst travel experience.
He wondered why the government would abandon the Blue Light Rail, despite being at about 70 percent completion stage since the Fashola era. He said the train meant to move on the Mile 2-Orile-Marina corridor would have redistributed traffic.
Experts say one of the priorities of the commissioner and his team is resuscitating LAMATA and restoring it to its pride of place as the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), coordinating the government’s policies, programmes and interventions in public sector transportation.
They argued that the blurring of the line of demarcation between LAMATA and the ministry in the past led to the friction that affected the sector.
“While the ministry formulates policies LAMATA in the past was coordinating the implementation in line with best global practices,” a senior staff member of LAMATA said, expressing the hope that with a former LAMATA staff member in the saddle, a return of that tradition might not be long in coming.
Former Dean, Lagos State University School of Transportation (LASU-SOT), Dr Tajudeen Olukayode Bawa’Allah, gave the new helmsmen three mandates – infrastructure renewal, policy implementation and professionalisation of the ministry.
Decrying the absence of alternative routes across Lagos, the nonagerian charged the government to prioritise alternative roads, especially along arterial roads and from the interland or inner cities to link the urban centres.
Citing the recent shut down of Mile 12 by the Public Works Corporation (PWC) for repairs, he said the absence of alternative roads from Ikorodu shut many people out of Lagos as their only link was shut down for repairs.
“That chaotic experience was avoidable if the government had constructed alternative roads,” he said.
Bawa’Allah called for the prioritisation of the Mile 12-Ishawo-Isheri Road, which links the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which was 70 percent completed by the Fashola-led administration, but abandoned by the succeeding administration.
He also called for the construction of the Fourth Mainland Bridge, which was also abandoned by past government.
He charged the commissioner and his team to push for the actualisation of the transportation policy, the first by any state government.
He said the approval of such a policy would change the face of the transportation sector.
He urged the government to sustain the professionalisation of the ministry.
“The Lagos State government has professionalised the Ministry of Transportation, just as it has done for the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Justice. Instructively, this has been adopted by the National Council on Transportation and other states are copying it.
For the Dean LASU-SOT Prof Samuel Odewunmi, the first critical task for the commissioner should be the sustenance of efforts to palliate all road networks in line with the zero potholes policy of the Sanwo-Olu administration.
According to him, the maintenance of the state transport infrastructure should be statutory and not ad hoc or episodic. He called for yearly budgetary allocation for road maintenance.
For Odewunmi, his second priority for the government should be the completion of Lagos State portion of the Badagry Expressway up to Okokomaiko, with the federal portion up to Agbara and Badagry addressed, in collaboration of state government.
Describing the corridor as the spinal cord of road travel in Lagos, up to Epe, Odewunmi said as the only international highway into the state through the West coast, it is strategically important to make the corridor attractive, especially for local and foreign tourists.
Also important, according to Odewunmi, is the sustenance of the drive to clear Apapa of its age-old gridlock. He said a decongested Apapa is in the utmost interest of the economy of the state and the country.
He called for the speedy completion of ongoing road projects, including the Abule-Egba-Oshodi Expressway as well as the Agege flyover bridge and roads.
The don also wants completed the Oshodi Interchange and Ikeja terminal as well as the roll out of the Bus Reform Initiative (BRI).
“All the 850 buses delivered to the government for the BRI project must be put to the roads systematically and not just packed and abandoned by the government,” he said.
Odewunmi charged the government to build on the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Nigeria Inland Waterways Authority and the government on the waterways to ensure the enthronement of stiff regulations for craft operators on the waterways.
He called for more steps at intermodality of the road-rail, water and air transportation, arguing that the state has comparative advantage to make success of all the modes of transportation if appropriate parameters are in place.
Odewunmi challenged the commissioner to “a matter of urgency develop implementation roadmap for the Transport policy document.”
He said: “Fortunately, the commissioner is aware of the policy document and was there at several stages of the formulation of the policy. I am aware he may have reservations about some aspects of the policy but he should not jettison it. He could get whatever amendment he deemed fit to improve the policy and implement it, as it was put together by experts who have the best interest of the state at heart.”
Activating some, or all of these, is the least, Oladeinde and his team could do to prove that their choice at this time is not a a mistake. Lagosians earnestly look forward to a new, reinvigorated sector.