If there was a competition for bad roads in Lagos, the Lagos-Badagry Expressway will most likely outshine other numerous ones across the state. But the large potholes in-between Trade Fair under Bridge and Barracks bus stop along the road are the worst of the terrible fate that has befallen the road, findings by Saturday PUNCH revealed.
On days when that portion of the road is flooded as a result of downpours, vehicular movement stops at the waterlogged spot, rendering many passengers stranded for hours.
For those who cannot wait for the flooding to subside before they continue their journey, they are left between two horrifying options of either walking through a very narrow pavement to connect the flood-free spot or asking miscreants, popularly known as ‘area boys’, to carry them on their backs across the large pool of water.
In most cases, commuters opt for the miscreants’ service for fear of falling off the pavement into the muddy water.
Our correspondent gathered that on such days, the whole place is usually in a frenzy during flooding, as ‘area boys’ go back and forth to pick helpless passengers from one spot to another.
In such instances, many women wear a scornful look as they rest pitiably on the louts’ filthy backs. Those who cannot stand the mess of submitting their ‘precious bodies’ to the miscreants, brace themselves for the pavement amidst the risk of falling into a pool of murky water.
“Thank you, Lord,” a commuter, Mrs Esther Chukwu, had exclaimed after walking through the narrow pavement a few weeks ago when it rained heavily.
“I was returning from my workplace at Mile 2 that day around 7 pm,” she went on, narrating the daily horror she and many others plying the road go through.
“This spot (pointing at an area between Trade Fair under Bridge and Barracks) was flooded that evening. ‘Area boys’ started putting people on their backs to take them across the flood water for N100 each. Most of them have not had their bath for days, yet they are putting married women on their backs.
“Some of them would even be stylishly fondling women in the process as their breasts will rest on their backs. There was an area boy who put a young beautiful lady on his back that evening. He carried her back and forth twice before dropping her at the other end. That lady looked so beautiful that there was no way he would have had the opportunity of touching her except in that situation,” she said.
During our correspondent’s visit, it was observed that young men had turned a section of the bad road to “a tollgate” of some sorts. They arranged stones along a pavement along the median to assist motorists to cross to the other side of the road and drive against traffic. It was learnt that the ‘area boys’ collect sums ranging from N50 to N100 for the service rendered. Tens of vehicles took turns to navigate the awry path that day to the excitement of the ‘toll collectors’ who were busy tucking cash in their dirty palms and pockets.
One of the ‘area boys’, who spoke to our correspondent and identified himself as Ganiu, said on rainy days, which he described as “good days”, he takes home as much as N5,000 to N10,000 daily. This is made from the money he gets from the pedestrians he puts on his back to help cross the flood water and his share from what is generated from the ‘mini tollgate’.
On the allegation that they enjoyed taking women on their backs and had their breasts pressed against their backs, Lawal described money as the most important benefit and any other thing as added ‘fun’.
“Na the money dey important to me o; I no fit carry woman for the sake of touching breasts alone na, but after the money, na fun sha because we dey carry fine-fine girls dey cross water for here (the money is what is important to me as I can’t take any woman across simply because there will be opportunity to touch her breasts. However, beyond making money from this, it is also fun because many beautiful women come here requiring our service),” he said in Pidgin English.
Another ‘area boy’ there, Lukman Alatise, also noted that the area turned to a mini carnival for them each time it rained because of the money they made.
“Some days when it rains here, I make as much as N5, 000 from the ‘tollgate’ and just carrying people on my back. The road is very bad and flood water is collected there. It has been like this for a long time but it is getting worse.
“We also have the opportunity to ‘enjoy’ when we carry women that are beautiful and ‘blessed’ (endowed),” he said.
Residents relocate, shun homes for days
Five years ago, Mrs Chuwku secured a job at an Information Technology outfit in Mile 2, with a monthly pay hovering around N60, 000. Even though the salary was far from her dreamed earning as a graduate, she took up the job in good faith, while waiting for a better opportunity to come her way. Supporting her husband in the upkeep of their three kids and spending an average of N15, 000 fare every month to and from her workplace, the resident of Ijanikin managed to save N10, 000 at the end of the month. But for some months now, her savings and well-being have been brought under constant threats; no thanks to the bad state of the road.
A journey to the office that hitherto took 34-year-old Chukwu less than 45 minutes now consumes about four hours due to the poor condition of the expressway. She also has to cough up over N30, 000 in transport fare monthly as a result of a fare hike.
Saturday PUNCH learnt that buses, most of which have terribly worn out owing to the persistent impact of the deplorable road, travel at a snail’s pace, thereby forcing many commuters to patronise commercial motorcyclists (popularly known as okada riders) at a higher fare and risk.
“Every major bus stop along the road has big potholes,” Chukwu lamented while waiting at Trade Fair under Bridge for a motorcycle that would take her to Mile 2 after the vehicle she had boarded broke down.
She went on, “There is always traffic here because the road is bad. Many landlords, tenants and business owners have relocated from this place. People leave home very early in the morning and come back very late. They don’t have good hours of sleep.
A commercial bus being pushed by people at a bad portion of the Lagos-Badagry Expressway
“Those who have not relocated find somewhere to squat and come home to spend the weekend. You can’t imagine what people go through every day. I spend at least N1, 500 every day on transportation. How much do I earn?
“I usually board a bus from my house to Iyana Iba. From there, I will take a motorcycle to Mile 2 for N600. To reduce the fare, I have to sit on the motorcycle with a stranger who may have body odour. That is how I have been suffering daily on this road.
“Coming back from work, the fare is usually higher because a lot of people are rushing to return home. I normally take a bus from Mile 2 to Okokomaiko because the okada rider will charge between N800 and N1, 000 for the same distance. If I continue to take motorcycles every day, I would have spent all my salary on transport by the end of the month.
“I was on a bike one day with an elderly man. He was shouting ‘national calamity, national calamity.’ The man said he had two houses and had put them up for sale. He said his strength could no longer cope with the stress of plying the road and that he wanted to go back to the East.”
Chukwu’s plight is a representation of the grim reality thousands of residents, traders and students along the expressway contend with on a daily basis with little or no solace in sight.
Since the road became almost impassable, Mrs Peace Oladele has devised a new means to ameliorate the burden of plying it regularly.
The mother of two, who is an accountant at a company in FESTAC Town and resides in Oko-Afo inwards Badagry, now stays at her elder brother’s house around her workplace and spends the weekend at home.
Peace’s husband, a NIPOST official in Apapa, has been using the same tactic too, with the couple staying together on weekends.
“Our saving grace is that our children are in a boarding school. When they are on holiday, we take them to our relations within the neighbourhood and pick them up at the weekend,” Oladele added.
Even though they go home once in a week, the couple also grapples with their own slice of discomfort the road poses. “I don’t know how to describe the road,” she bemoaned.
“If there is anything worse than worst; that it is what I will call it. I left home one Monday morning around 7 am, but I didn’t get to the office until 12noon. The traffic was very terrible that day. Since then, I have stopped leaving home for the office on Monday. I leave on Sunday so that I will be able to resume work on Monday on time.
“I stay at my younger brother’s house from Sunday till Friday. My husband does not come home either until the weekend. One will just break down because of stress, passing this route every day. The government should do something about it.”
A nightmare for firms, traders
As a transnational highway linking Nigeria to other West African countries like the Benin Republic, Lagos-Badagry Expressway is unarguably a gateway to the economy of Lagos and Nigeria at large. Major markets such as Trade Fair Complex, Alaba International Market as well as small businesses are located along the highway.
It was in recognition of these invaluable roles that the Lagos State Government commenced the reconstruction of the expressway in 2010 during the administration of former Governor Babatunde Fashola. Sadly, nine years down the line, the road has become an eyesore, taking a huge toll on business owners and dwellers.
Oluchi, as she simply identified herself, is among the entrepreneurs who are counting their losses occasioned by the deplorable road. The owner of a farmhouse at Volks area has lost a fortune to the highway since the crisis heightened towards the end of last year.
“I have to abandon my two cars because they have been damaged by the road,” Oluchi, who was a passenger in one of the commercial buses trapped in the potholes around Barracks bus stop, told our correspondent during the visit.
She continued, “I now have to use public transport, yet I can’t get to my workplace on time because the road is bad. It is a nightmare. I dread coming to do business here every day. I have reduced the number of days I come here to once or twice a week.
“It is a horror that a federal road that links another country can be in this state for a long time. Unbelievably, this is what we have in a place called the Centre of Excellence. It is horrifying. I have tried to use Ikotun-Iyana Iba axis to connect my workplace, but it is a nightmare as well.
“There were times I had to go back home because the road was in a total mess. In December last year, I was conveying live and dressed chickens to Mile 2 for supply. I was held in traffic at Trade Fair under Bridge up till 1 am. I lost N50, 000 worth of live chickens that night.
“All the dressed chickens got bad because the ice I used to preserve them had thawed out. They were preserved to last in traffic for two hours but I spent almost eight hours in traffic. That was my nastiest experience. Now, I am contemplating closing down the business.”
The Manager Optimal Device Technology, a mobile phone store in Trade Fair, Mrs Obiora Ogachukwu, also lamented that the poor state of the road had affected her business badly.
“The last time a trailer fell here, I found it difficult to access my shop. Business is not moving again. We come to shop without doing anything tangible. We hardly see customers because the road is bad,” she said.
At a protest held in August 2018, the Vice-Chairman, National Union of Road Transport Workers, Mr Oloyede Edun, said many lives had been lost in accidents on the road.
“Some passengers and motorists have also lost their lives during robberies. When the drivers slow down because of the potholes, robbers shoot at tyres, causing accidents,” he had said.
In May 2019, residents and students at some tertiary institutions along the expressway protested against the poor state of the highway, describing it as a road of “anguish and pain.”
The protesters blocked the Badagry Roundabout for some hours, carrying placards with various inscriptions such as, ‘Fix Lagos-Badagry Expressway,’ ‘Our businesses are dying,’ ‘Bad road: Our pregnant women are having miscarriages.’
The Chairman, Gunuvi Rights Initiative of Nigeria, Mr Bokoh Oluwole, who participated in the protest, said two kids were recently killed at a bus stop by a vehicle which was going against traffic.
“How long shall we continue to suffer like this, while the government pretends as if all is well? We just can’t continue like this,” Oluwole had lamented.
Suffering continues amid endless promises
The construction of the expressway is being jointly executed by the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government with each of them handling some portions. On the side of the state government, Fashola handed over the project to the immediate past administration led by former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. The new Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, has also inherited the uncompleted project.
During the inspection of the road, upon his assumption of office, Sanwo-Olu assured the residents that rehabilitation work would commence on the expressway from Mazamaza to Okokomaiko in June.
He had said, “In June, we shall be moving to the site. Work will commence on this road, so all the T’s and I’s will be done this week to move to the site immediately. We will ensure that we firm up discussion with CCECC and move to the site because work has been abandoned here for almost four years.”
In the build-up to the 2019 general elections, precisely in January, the Senator representing Lagos West Senatorial District, Olamilekan Adeola, assured residents of Badagry during his campaign that he would ensure adequate funds were appropriated for the completion of the expressway if reelected. He won the election.
In October 2018, the Federal Executive Committee revealed via Government of Nigeria Twitter handle, @Asorock, that a contract for the repair of the Lagos Badagry Expressway had been awarded.
The Federal Government said the contract would be focused on the 46 kilometres stretch of the road from Agbara to Badagry-Seme Border alongside the repair of the section from Eric Moore to Okokomaiko being carried out by the Lagos State Government.
Fashola, who is the immediate past Minister of Works, Power and Housing, failed to deliver the section under the Federal Government.
On June 19, 2019, the Managing Director of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, Mr Nurudeen Rafindadi, assured motorists of speedy completion of repairs on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway.
He said the government awarded N3.6bn for the general maintenance of the expressway in May, covering the portion from Igbo-Elerin to Agbara Junction.
He promised to ensure strict supervision of the rehabilitation, saying that the contractor was on the ground to complete the work on time.
“For the next 12km, FERMA will be doing repair maintenance works on the road and we should be done with it within the next six months to one year,’’ he had stated.
If Rafindadi’s promise is anything to go by, it means commuters and motorists plying the expressway still have several months of anguish to endure before some respite can come their way.