About 37 years after the Lagos metro-line project was aborted, the state has yet to recover from the colossal losses resulting from the action, RASHEED BISIRIYU reports
Expectations were high when the Lagos State Government signed an agreement with Interinfra, a consortium of 19 French firms, in the early eighties for the construction of a metro line.
Indeed, Nigeria was said to be heading on a path that would successfully address the chaotic traffic already being experienced then in Lagos.
Interestingly, the Lagos metro project commenced almost at a period similar rail projects were being developed in other major African cities including Cairo in Egypt.
The Lagos metro project initiated by the Lateef Jakande administration under the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria-led by the late sage, Obafemi Awolowo, at a total cost of N700m, was to be completed in two years.
Ironically, the contract was terminated in 1985, the year the rail project was meant to be delivered and the nation paid a heavy fine for this.
“We ultimately paid a heavy penalty, which could have been used to handle a substantial portion of the project,” said a professor of political science, Femi Otubanjo.
Dr Abimbola Ogunkelu, a former minister, in an interview with our correspondent, said the metro-line project was disrupted when the Muhammadu Buhari-led military regime came to power on December 31, 1983, adding, “Movement in Lagos would have been much better and ease the difficulty of transportation in Lagos State.”
According to Otubanjo, the general impression was that the cancellation was political and that the Buhari regime was said to be “unsympathetic to the UPN government, which was the party in power in Lagos that initiated the project.
“The other side, which the Buhari group tends to promote, is that Nigeria was already heavily indebted and that the country could not afford the indebtedness that would arise from the project.”
The civilian government that preceded the Buhari-led military administration was also said to be culpable as it was accused of laying the foundation for the eventual cancellation of the contract
The Shehu Shagari-led Federal Government under the defunct National Party of Nigeria was said to be unenthusiastic about granting the required guarantee for the project.
It also reportedly delayed the approval of the 10 per cent first payment, amounting to N70m, to commence work.
Jakande’s successor, Air Commodore Gbolahan Mudashiru, who was favourably disposed to the project after the committees he set up to review it had recommended its continuation, became helpless when a more superior power ordered its cancellation.
The man at the centre of the project, Jakande, said many years later, “Reflecting on the metro-line project, I think it is a major disservice to many Nigerians. Imagine how many people would have benefitted. It would have made life easier and changed the face of transport in Lagos. Whoever cancelled it or gave the advice towards its cancellation didn’t do right.”
In a later interview, he bluntly blamed Shagari and his successor, Buhari, for the failed project.
He said, “President Shagari was angry for two reasons. First, I did not congratulate him on his re-election in 1983. Second, he stopped the funds because I was not his party member.”
He added, “I later approached him and explained the problem facing the execution of the project and that the CBN had refused to release the N70m reserved for its take-off.