Nigeria: Bi-Courtney and the Expressway Fiasco

On Monday last week, the Federal Government took the very drastic step of revoking the concession granted to Bi-Courtney Highway Services to repair, upgrade and manage the 106-kilometre Lagos-Ibadan Expressway.

The revocation announced in a terse statement by Minister of Works Mr. Mike Onolememen came less than 24 hours after President Goodluck Jonathan expressed indignation with the snail slow pace of work on the critical road during his presidential media chat on Sunday night.

The minister also announced that government would commence the immediate rehabilitation of this road, this time through direct contract which was awarded to the construction giants Julius Berger Plc and R.C.C Nigeria Limited.

While Julius Berger would handle section 1 from Lagos to Shagamu interchange, RCC Nigeria Limited will be responsible for section II from Shagamu to Ibadan, according to the minister.

Government’s action was received with great excitement and relief by many Nigerians, especially the hundreds of thousands who ply the Lagos-Ibadan expressway every day. Needless to say, this is the single busiest road in the country, the artery to the nation’s commercial capital city of Lagos which leads to and from it to all parts of the country. The dilapidated nature of this road and the epileptic efforts by Bi-Courtney to repair and upgrade it, coupled with the deaths and injuries and great sufferings suffered by motorists every day on this road, easily explain the relief and excitement felt by many that help is at last on the way.

Yet, there are many serious issues and lessons to learn from this sorry episode. The Lagos-Ibadan road concession is the flagship event of the government’s new policy of Private Public Partnership, under which a private firm wins a concession to build or rehabilitate a major infrastructure, then collect tolls on it for a number of years before it returns to public ownership. Under such terms, Bi-Courtney Highway Services owned and led by Dr. Olawale Babalakin signed a Build, Operate and Transfer deal with the Federal Government on May 8, 2009. It is to source its own funds of N90 billion to repair and upgrade the road within 4 years, then erect toll gates and collect tolls on it for the next 25 years before it reverts to government ownership.