Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM



We Condemn the Crushing of Anti-Tolls Protest by Police and Thugs

The Struggle Must be Stepped up despite Repression

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) condemns the brutal crushing of a protest against tolling of Lekki Epe expressway organized by residents of Eti Osa Local government on Saturday 17 December 2011 by the police at the behest of the Lagos State government. We condemn the arrest and detention of about 20 protesters and demand a halt to such attacks on democratic rights.

We also condemn the tolling of Lekki-Epe expressway and join residents of Eti Osa Local Government to demand the immediate reversal of the tolls. The tolls residents and commuters have being asked to pay are N50, N120 and N150, for motorcycles and tricycles; saloon cars, Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs); minibuses and pick-up trucks respectively. In addition commercial buses will pay N80, light trucks and two-axle buses N250 and heavy trucks and buses, N350. Aside the outrageous increment of tuition fees of Lagos State University (LASU) and the imposition of savage taxes, this represents another neo-liberal attack by the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) government on the working and middle class people of Lagos state.

As far as the DSM is concerned, the neo-liberal idea of Public Private Partnership (PPP) as a means to build public infrastructures, which is the crux of the current dispute between Eti Osa Local Government residents and the Lagos state government, is an anti-poor policy that must be condemned by trade unions, civil society and pro-masses organizations.

For a long time now residents of the community have been agitating against tolling of the expressway. On Thursday August 19 2010, hundreds of protesters took to the street under the aegis of ‘Stakeholders Forum on the Lekki-Epe Expressway Expansion’ and marched from Chevron Roundabout to Jakande Housing Estate Junction. They equally took the matter to the court of law. Indeed when commencement of tolling was first contemplated in early 2011, it faced fiery opposition and protest by residents of the area. Scared of the political repercussion especially as the April general election was approaching, the idea of tolling was hastily postponed.

Now having won its second term bid, the ACN government felt confident enough to announce that tolling would commence on the road on Sunday 18 December 2011. Residents of the community who came out on Saturday 17 December to peacefully protest this decision were confronted with a hail of tear gas as armed police men and hired thugs descended on them. At the end, about 20 of them, including some leaders of the movement, were arrested and detained.

It is important to recall that the concessioning of the road started in April 2003 by the Bola Tinubu administration. It was concessioned to Lekki Construction Company (LCC) to upgrade and expand the 49.5 kilometre road in a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) model for 30 years under the Private Public Partnership (PPP) scheme.

Meanwhile the construction of this same road was started in 1982 by the Lateef Jakande administration and completed by subsequent administrations in 1987; little did Lagosians know that 28 years later the road would be an avenue for exploitation. The road was built with public resources at a period when public resources were far more invested on the people, though with bureaucratic control as one of the major limitations. Now public resources are majorly used to assist private companies with the sole aim to help them, and their associates, make profit. Now under the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) mechanism of the Lagos State government, the rehabilitation of the road by a private consortium (LCC) means that residents of the area and commuters on the road will continue to pay tolls for the next thirty years!

The so-called alternative routes provided are so narrow that many people really have no choice but to pay the tolls. Besides, the so-called alternative routes are said to lead to a private housing estate which is usually closed to non-residents.

The Lekki-Epe road is now fenced to make it impossible for road users to by-pass the toll gates. It also closes businesses to the view of passersby- a situation that may force several (especially small and medium scale) businesses to close down. Besides, while it is used to shut out other businesses, the fence is also meant to generate additional revenue for LCC as it is to be rented out for mounting of advert billboards. All this is meant to make sure LCC make huge profit. This exploitative arrangement has pitched about 50 communities in the Eti-Osa local government against the Lagos State Government and the LCC.

One of the major grouses of the people of these communities with the Lagos State government and the LCC are that the 3 tollgates that are stationed at 3 locations (km3, km13 and km23) will fundamentally jerk up the cost of transportation and living. It is outrageous that the company is charging tolls after completing only about 6km out of a 49.5km road. Three toll points within a distance of 23km is outrageous. But this shows the real brutal exploitative calculations behind the idea of Public Private Partnership (PPP). The whole agenda is to create avenue for profit-hunting private companies and their backers in the government under the guise of helping to build public infrastructures to rip off working and middle class people.

According to the lawyer to the residents of the community, Ebun Adegboruwa “There is no way you will erect toll plazas in a metropolis where a majority of the people are residents. Even the alternative route they promised is so narrow that you can see for yourself that the gridlock from that end has joined the Lekki expressway. So they have not fulfilled the conditions they set before they commenced collection of fees and we will continue to resist this.” (ThisDay, December 19 2011).

This is not an overstatement! The experiences of commuters and residents of the area alike since the commencement of tolling since Sunday 18 December have been only a little short of hellish. Since the tolling commenced heavy traffic gridlock has been the daily experience. According to most residents and commuters interviewed, this is even worse than before the LCC rebuilt the road. Without the toll barriers and the time wasted on each vehicle to make payment, the road will be freer with less traffic. But the LCC is not bothered by this because the central aim of the private sector is to make profit, every other things are only incidental. They will not remove the toll barriers even though they are the real obstacle to free flow of traffic on the road until the next 30 years.

The Managing Director of LCC, Mr. Opuiyo Oforiokuma revealed that the whole road will cost N50billion to construct. This means that with almost N100bn annual revenue, this is perhaps one of the most profit-yielding businesses in the world at the gross expense of the working people and poor.

The major reason for the expansion of the Lekki road was not to ease traffic on the road as claimed by Governor Fashola, but to satisfy the profit greed of the so called investors that the Lekki Free Trade Zone (LFTZ) may attract. A group known as Lagos Progressives has alleged that the company (HITECH) handling the road construction is co-owned by the immediate former governor, Bola Tinubu who is the chairman, while Fashola’s crony, Dr Tunji Olowolafe is the chairman of LCC. All this goes to show the fraud of Public Private Partnership (PPP) and the self-serving character of the ACN and the capitalist ruling class in Nigeria.

The Lagos State ACN Government has shown that it is no different from the PDP federal government in terms of implementing harsh neo-liberal policies on the poor masses in Lagos State. The state government feels unconcerned about the hardship of the masses who are trying to make ends meet. Rather it is contented to make the poor go hungry so that LCC will reap huge profits. This is an example of robbing the poor to pay the rich.

The masses have to fight back and demand an end to tolls on our roads and privatization of social infrastructures. We call on the people of Eti Osa Local Government to step up the struggle against tolling despite the repression. More rallies, media campaign and protests need to be organized in the coming days and weeks. Equally a mass campaign of non-payment of tolls need to be launched to involve residents of Eti Osa Local Government, commuters and all working class people of Lagos in a common struggle to defeat this anti-poor policy. We also call on Labour and pro-masses’ organizations to publicly support the struggle.

However, to permanently win, the struggle against tolling has to be linked with a movement to defeat all neo-liberal policies and to enthrone a working peoples’ government that is committed to socialist policies and programs both in Lagos and Nigeria as a whole. Such government will put under public ownership the commanding heights of the economy with the democratic control and management of the working people in order to be able to massively invest on people with provision of basic needs and social infrastructure on a lasting basis as against the massive exploitation of the working people to satisfy the profit-motive and greed of a privileged few.

Segun Sango
General Secretary.