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Tension mounts over Lekki Tollgate reopening

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Tension mounts over Lekki Tollgate reopening

By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

If not properly handled the proposed reopening of Lekki Toll gate may prove a sticky one for the administration of Babajide Sanwoolu of Lagos State.

Last Friday, Abiodun Alabi, commissioner of police in the state warned citizens planning to converge at the Toll gate to protest to shelve the idea, saying much as they have rights to protest, the state Police Command will not take kindly to attempts to infringe on the rights of others in the name of protest.

This subtle sabre rattling on the part of the police command in the state comes amidst meetings with stakeholders by the Lagos officials, where majority of speakers voiced their opposition to reopening, even as the representatives of Lagos State pleaded for understanding. The spectre of trouble hovers, and crisis looms over the polar views held on the matter by the government and the people.

Background

In 2020, as #Endsaars protests which started as ripples of discontent against police brutality – especially its special branch responsible for robbery – raged across the country, rapping the knuckles of Nigeria’s state actors lost sleep and became jittery. Then, wave after wave of soft pressure on the protesters, which included the deployment of street urchins to scuttle the protests failed to make their mark, before force was deployed.

On the night of October 20, 2020, while young Nigerian protesters sat at the Lekki Toll Gate, wrapped in the national flag and singing the national anthem, a hail of bullets cut loose from guns procured with their taxes, felling about 11 of them in the process while leaving others with horrific injuries. About a year later,

responsibility for the bloodbath, which effectively ended the protest was placed at the doorstep of the Nigerian police and the Nigerian army.

In scorching findings penned by the Justice Doris Okuwobi-led judicial panel of inquiry set up by the Lagos State Government to investigate the disturbances, the killings were poignantly described as a massacre. But that was not before the Lekki Concession Company, operators of the Lekki Toll Gate, where the killings happened, was indicted.

The panel was unequivocal and unsparing in its findings that the company lent a leprous hand to those who carried out the massacre.

Recently, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotoso, announced plans by the Lagos State Government to open the Lekki Toll Gate closed for over 18 months since the massacre. Pegging the planned opening for April 1, 2022, Omotoso said operators of the facility had huge debts to pay.
Omotoso puts the debts at N11.6 billion to local lenders and about $31.1 million to foreign lenders. He also announced that about 500 workers with families to feed had been affected by the closure. But Omotoso said nothing about the blood debts owed by the Lekki Concession Company for its complicity in the killing of October 20, 2020. This, Omotoso, conveniently glossed over.

“For money, reopening Lekki Toll gate without the state paying adequate compensations to victims and publicly apologizing is not the path to go”, said Professor Adeagbo Moritiwon, a political scientist.

He told this newspaper that reopening “ought to be the last on the menu.

“The first is to come clean by accepting responsibility for what happened, and paying adequate compensation, then the state can call a meeting of stakeholders to negotiate and haggle on how to reopen.”

Ben Adamson, a lawyer told Business Hallmark that “I think this administration should have shown more sensitivity and compassion, placing profits above every other thing is not the best. We are talking about the feeling of Nigerians, their psyche was assaulted at the same Lekki, and we are yet to resolve this, only for the government to be talking of reopening the toll gate.”

In the past one week, the Lagos State Government has been intensifying its plea to the people of the state, especially residents of Lekki and Ikoyi, to show understanding ahead of the proposed reopening of the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge toll plaza by the Lekki Concession Company Limited.

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According to a statement on Wednesday, the Lagos State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotoso; Commissioner for Transportation, Dr Frederick Oladehinde and Commissioner for Home Affairs, Anofiu Elegushi, disclosed this during a stakeholders meeting held in Lagos.

Omotoso and his counterparts assured the residents that the government will look into all the requests and recommendations made by the stakeholders which included the President of Lekki Estates Residents and Stakeholders Association, Olorogun James Emadoye; human rights activists, the media and several other residents of Lekki and respond appropriately.

He said, “We are here to seek your understanding as a government about the matter at hand. We are also citizens of Nigeria. We are all Lagosians. I have listened to all of you talking about our rights, privileges and how government should be responsible for everything. I also feel that as citizens, we should have some responsibilities.

“Lagos is a city of about 25 million people and out of the 25 million people there are about six million taxpayers and among six million taxpayers, only 4.2 million are active taxpayers.

“So, let us reflect on all these things. I know how people feel and I understand what has been said but I believe that the matter at hand is about seeking your understanding. It is a matter of showing some compassion for people who have one thing or another to do with this company.”

Oladehinde explained the decision of the government to re-open the toll plaza was not to punish people but to create an enabling environment for more jobs through private sector participation.

“What Lagos State is trying to do is to create an enabling environment to create more jobs and when you create more jobs. We should not be shortsighted. The only way to create jobs is to create an environment where we can attract the private sector to build more infrastructure in the state. Let us look at the issue from the view that we are trying to resuscitate the economy of Lagos State,” he said.

Elegushi, said the purpose of the stakeholders meeting was to engage key stakeholders on the matter of reopening the toll plaza and appealed for cooperation from the people to work together with the government.

The Managing Director of LCC, Mr Yomi Omomuwasan, on his own hinted on the necessity for the resumption of operations so as not to continue to default on its payment of local and international loans as well as to cater for the welfare of its workers.

LCC has also introduced new technology and innovations to make movement at the toll plaza seamless and faster for commuters.

Meanwhile, Nigerians of all hue had asked the Lagos State government to halt the April 1 planned reopening of tolling of the Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge by the Lekki Concession Company Limited, LCC. This comes as appeal from Lagos State government calling for understanding on the side of the people mounts.

However, the residents said they want the reopening halted based on the harsh economic situation in the country. They said the tolling would aggravate their hardship. Some Nigerians also took to social media to demand justice for people killed and injured at Lekki Toll Gate during the #EndSars protest.

 

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