The promise by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State that the multibillion blue light and red light intra-city rail system would be ready before the end of 2022 has brought the project to the front burner, FUNMILAYO FABUNMI reports
The light rail project of the Lagos State government has suffered several years of delay due to various reasons. It appears Lagosians have waited endlessly and stakeholders are raising questions about how long it will take the state government to deliver the project.
Obviously, the state government has made several promises on the timelines for its delivery which did not come to pass.
However, the Lagos light rail project has failed to see the light of the day, several years after it was birthed amid high expectations.
As a result, Sanwo-Olu’s promise that the project would be delivered later this year has been seen as a political statement. But top officials of the Lagos State government insisted that the governor meant what he said.
However, keen observers and stakeholders familiar with the project said it would take a miracle for the governor to keep the promise he had made to Lagosians and Nigerians in the general project.
Officials close to the project said it was nearly impossible for the government to deliver the project by the last quarter of this year.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the matter, argued that many of the rail stations were not ready while also noting that several aspects of the infrastructure were yet to be constructed.
One of the top officials said, “I wonder how the state government will fulfil its promise to deliver the project by the last quarter of this year. This is a huge project that has several aspects. It will be difficult to deliver it by year-end.
“For example, many of the rail stations are yet to be completed. This is in addition to the fact that other major aspects of the infrastructure projects are yet to be ready. Several other things are yet to be on the ground. I wonder how this will happen.”
Another top official close to the Lagos State Metropolitan Agency said if the project would come on stream by December, the state government ought to have commenced the recruitment of personnel that would run the project by this time.
He wondered how this would happen when nothing of such was happening.
“Rail system relies on a significant number of personnel to run effectively. By now, they should have commenced the recruitment of personnel but nothing like that is happening now. To me, this December date appears like a political statement,” he said.
However, some stakeholders have defended the state government, insisting that the state government would fulfil its promise.
Several stakeholders have however spoken about the project.
The Secretary-General of the Nigeria Union of Railway Workers, Segun Esan, in a chat with The PUNCH, believed the December date is feasible.
He said, “Lagos State government, for what it is, is a very serious government; it is a people-centred government. The Lagos State government is taking the act of governance as a serious business. So, knowing the government to have cultivated this attitude, I don’t have any reason to doubt the promised date of delivery of the light rail system.
“I have had a number of instances to support my position about how the government has been committed to its efforts of bringing about an effective rail transport system that will serve as a kind of infrastructural backup to the transport economy of Lagos State which happens to be highly cosmopolitan. So, I don’t have any doubt in my mind. The experience I’ve personally had with the Lagos State government proves to be that it is a government that says it as it is and does it as it says.”
He added, “So, on the delivery date the state has promised, I have no doubt in my mind except for natural reasons like rainfall or anything that can be attributed to weather conditions which usually stop engineering work. Outside that, I really don’t see the Lagos State government reneging on its promise to deliver a complete rail transport system in the last quarter of this year.
“With this in mind, I think we should also join in good solidarity and support the government in any way we can to deliver on its promise.”
A former railway analyst and President, of Campaign for Democracy, Adebayo Obatungashe, also believes the project’s December date is feasible. He, however, said the ongoing political activities might affect the delivery date.
He said, “There is nothing that is not achievable, it depends on the level of the work that has been done. Also, when you look at the political climate, you will observe that elected leaders or representatives work for only three years and use the last year for electioneering ahead of the next voting cycle.
“The campaign season is here already. As a result, the possibility of completing the project is low. However, if funds are released to the contractor handling the project, works will go on.
“Since the contractor and state government know the value of the job and what it takes to complete it, I believe it is between the two parties to know the possibility of completing the project. I cannot say in a very categorical manner whether the project will be completed or not.”
When contacted for reaction, the spokesperson for LAMATA, Mr Kolawole Ojelabi, said, “The governor has already given his word, and when you look at the rate of construction, we will meet up with that mandate. “
The idea of a metro line for Lagos State was conceived and initiated by the first civilian governor, Alhaji Lateef Jakande (1979-1983). When Jakande initiated the metro line in 1983, it was meant to be delivered in 1986, with all the paper works done while the contractor was ready to be mobilised to the site. However, the project was yet to begin when the military coup headed by then Major-General Muhammadu Buhari took place. The project could not continue.
However, the scheme was later abridged. The present light rail project has been colour-coded in different phases, comprising the Blue Line (Mile 2 to Marina); Red Line (Agbado to Marina); Purple Line (Redeemed to Ojo); Yellow Line (Otta to Iddo); Brown Line (Mile 12 to Marina); Orange Line (Redeemed to Marina) and Green Line (Marina to Lekki). The construction of the Blue Line, which covers 27 kilometres, started during the administration of former Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola and is being handled by the China Civil Engineering and Construction Corporation.
The contract includes the fundamental design and development of the rail infrastructure, while the construction is also being done in phases. The first phase includes the National Theatre to Mile 2 section and the second involves the Mile 2 to Okokomaiko phase.
The rail project, which was initially scheduled for completion in 2011, has recorded some failed delivery dates.
On assumption of office in 2015, the former Governor of Lagos State, Akinmunmi Ambode, promised that the project would be delivered in 2016, but this was never achieved.
In 2019, when Sanwo-Olu was handed the baton, he assured Lagosians that it would be ready on schedule.
Early this year, the governor restated his commitment that the project would be delivered by the last quarter of the year 2022.
He said, “Our promise on the blue and the red line is still on course. We believe that before the end of this year, we will see the trains on top of the tracks. That is our commitment, and we will begin to monitor and check ourselves.
“It is a landmark project that we are truly proud of. Our contractors are very committed; and they have assured us that whatever it takes they will complete all the projects on schedule and on budget,” the governor said while inspecting the project early in January.
To show his commitment to the project, the governor earlier in the year paid a visit to the factory of Talgo Incorporated, a train manufacturing company in Milwaukee, the largest city in the United States state of Wisconsin, to attend a ceremony ‘marking the purchase of two Series 8 trains’ for the red line project.
According to Milwaukee Public Radio, the two trains were originally designed for a high-speed rail line to connect Madison and Milwaukee in the US, but the Lagos State Government was able to defeat others competing for the trains.
The trains are set to become part of ‘West Africa’s first operational metro system.’