Lagos State, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, was on lockdown and business activities were grounded on March 26, 2018 when the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), visited to inaugurate the Ikeja Bus Terminal.
One year and nine months after, the project has not been put into use.
The multibillion naira park, which was opened with pomp and circumstance, as the state claimed the facility would serve 4 million residents, is virtually deserted.
Our correspondent visited the terminal, which is believed to occupy a land mass of about 10,000 square metres, last Tuesday and he observed that there was no human presence there. Besides, the environment was untidy and the walkways had been invaded by weeds.
The flower bed overlooking the inauguration board unveiled by the President was crushed and left unattended to. Some of the signal boards, though still draped with nylon, had started gathering dust.
A guard kept watch on the other side of the terminal, where there is a cinema house, an eatery and what looked like a shopping mall under construction.
The guard told our correspondent that nobody could tell when the terminal would be put to use.
“I don’t understand what is going on there. May be they want to turn the place to a garage for BRT buses. Last night, I saw hundreds of BRT buses parked there. But by 5am, they were driven out. There is nothing going on there,” he said.
At the Oyingbo Bus terminal, which has been under construction since 2017, the story is the same. From the prototype of the design released to the public that year, it was clear that the terminal was intended to accommodate between 50 and 60 BRT buses at once.
During a visit to the site last Wednesday, our correspondent observed that work had not only stopped on the project, but also the environment oozed neglect.
Somebody had hung some clothes to dry on the blue wrought-iron fence around the terminal. Unused roofing sheets, a concrete mixer and a front loader littered the premises, while a few idle men were taking a nap.
In August 2018, former Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, promised that the terminal would be completed “soon.” But some residents, who spoke with our correspondent, claimed that work stopped at the site shortly after Ambode left office.
“Work stopped here in August this year. I can’t say when it will be opened. I have no idea,” a man, who happened to be on the premises of the terminal during our correspondent’s visit, said.
“You know what happens when a new government takes over from an old government? The new person in charge will not want to spend money on the project of his predecessor. That is what is happening here,” another Lagos resident added.
The Akinwunmi Ambode administration in Lagos State had chased away many traders to create space for the terminal. Some of the displaced traders, who managed to find space around the terminal sell their wares, lamented that they were asked to leave because the administration said it wanted to ease transportation in the state. They accused the state of destroying their market over a project that it was not committed to.
In September 2019, the Commissioner for Transportation, Mr Frederick Oladeinde, said the state government had asked the project contractor to resume work on the terminal.
He insisted that the project would be completed in due course. But during our correspondent’s visit, there was no sign that work was about to commence at the site.
The Oshodi Transport Interchange was also among the projects inaugurated by the President when he visited the state again in April 2019. While Terminal 3 had been functional, Terminal 1 and 2 still remained closed, eight months after their inauguration.
When our correspondent visited both terminals, only a few security guards were seen around and movement was restricted.
Unlike Ikeja and Oyingbo, the two terminals appeared to be under serious security surveillance. “I learnt that the place will soon be opened to the public,” one of the guards told our correspondent.
According to the Lagos State Government, statistics show that 12 million residents of the state use public transportation without standard facilities.
Also, Ambode had once said he would embark on the construction of 13 terminals designed to change that narrative by exposing residents to a “befitting and comfortable environment.”
In what he called the Bus Reform Initiative, he listed areas that would benefit from the terminals to include Ikeja, Oyingbo, Yaba, Ojota, Agege and the Tafawa Balewa Square.
He said some of the terminals would be fully air-conditioned, with facilities, such as relaxation spots, eateries, free Wi-Fi, restrooms, ATM galleries and food courts.
However, like most Lagos projects, there are no available records of the funds expended on the projects, making it difficult to gauge the amount expended on the terminals, whether completed or abandoned.
A civic technology organisation, with specialises in fiscal transparency, BudgIT Nigeria, had in May 2018 requested the financial details of the Ikeja terminal from the Commissioner of Works and Infrastructure, Mr Ade Akinsanya.
Despite writing several letters under the Freedom of Information Act for the project, which was believed to have been awarded in May 2015, the government refused to heed the request.
The Lead Partner of the organisation, Mr Seun Onigbinde, told our correspondent that more than one year and six months after, the government had still refused to budge. Onigbinde said he believed the government wasted a lot of taxpayers’ funds on unnecessary projects.
He said, “It is typical of Lagos State and this has been going on for a long time. The government does not publish the actual amount used in delivering public services and it is awful. It is also antithetical to the idea that citizens should pay taxes and their taxes will work for them. I believe that funds used for public services should be transparent and open to the public.
“And this is why we can’t even deeply interrogate these issues because you don’t have a clear idea of how much was spent on these projects. Many believe that Lagos should be far better than what it is now in terms of the inner roads, road network, health care, mobility and others.
“There is a lot of wastage. Whether you are looking at what was done at Oshodi or those bus terminals spread everywhere. Some are already broken down and are being reconstructed; so much wastage.”
He asked the state government to focus more on what would make most impact in the lives of the people.
The Executive Director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Mr Adetokunbo Mumuni, said government’s penchant for abandoning capital projects had become a way of life in the country.
He said, “In a democracy, there has to be stringent accountability and that is to say, all projects that are awarded must be dutifully executed to finality. That projects are abandoned in Nigeria is not a new thing. We are getting used to it, but this must change so that we don’t continue to waste taxpayers’ money.”
Mumuni urged the government to speedily complete the terminals for the benefit of Lagosians.
The Lagos State Commissioner for Transportation, Dr Frederick Oladehinde, however, said the projects were not abandoned.
He explained that there was a modification of the plan conceived by the former administration, adding that the terminals were being integrated by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Oladehinde said, “The Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority is planning several routes from the Ikeja Bus Terminal and that is ongoing. It has been renovated and will be operational soon. What has happened is that because of a change in government, there is a slight modification of the bus reform. And they are all part of the plan.
“The two terminals at Oshodi will start functioning soon. A plan is being developed to ensure that they are all integrated.”
The Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotosho, said that all the projects started by the previous administration would be completed in due course.
He said, “When Governor Sanwo-Olu came in, he said categorically that no project would be abandoned and he has kept to his words. Very soon, you will see many of these projects being commissioned. Just a few days ago, he was at Ojokoro Local Council Development Area where he commissioned 31 roads, which were also started by the immediate past administration.
“But you also have to consider the figures. I don’t think that the kind of money that was once available to go round all the projects is available now. So, it has to be one after the other. You cannot put too many pieces of iron in the fire at the same time. What the governor is doing is to attend to one after the other.”
The commissioner said he did not have the detail of the funds expended on the bus terminals, adding that he could not comment on it.