Lekki: Protests, traffic crisis as tolling begins

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Amidst a flurry of protests and counter protests, traffic gridlock and outright disorder, the planned tolling of the Eti-Osa -Lekki Expressway, took off yesterday on a shaky note. Commuters plying the axis had a hellish time as traffic spanned almost two kilometres on both stretches of the ever-busy road. It was confusion galore as some motorists refused to leave the plaza until they had collected to the last kobo, the balance of the money they paid as tolls.

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Although the toll fees announced by Lekki Concession Company Limited LCC, the concessionaire handling the expansion of the 49.5 kilometre road, is N50 for motorcycles, N120 for saloon cars and tricycles, N150 for Sports Utility Vehicles, SUVs, minibuses and pick-up truck, N80 for commercial Danfo mini-buses and N250 and N350 for light trucks and heavy trucks and buses with two or more heavy axles respectively, most of the drivers did not come with the actual fare.
They search for “change” compounded the traffic crisis and fears are that if the traffic could be that bad on a Sunday noted for the lightness of its traffic, the situation may become unmanageable on work days. But both Governor Babatunde Fashola and the Managing Director of LCC appealed for calm, explaining that the problems associated with the take-off will ease as the days go by. Also, there was a high presence of Mobile Policemen on both sections of the road to maintain orderliness. Some of the motorists who spoke with  expressed grievances at the tolling and called on government to fulfil its earlier promise to provide alternative route saying the only alternative route at Oniru Estate cannot serve the large population of residents of Lekki, Ajah and Epe respectively. Some residents of the area who spoke to Vanguard said the tolling will cause a lot of problems on work days and may result in many people reporting late to work. As a result of gridlock, commuters were stranded for hours and could not get buses to their respective locations. Similarly,  some commercial motorists increased their fare and made it unaffordable to commuters.
 Being a Sunday, many worshipers could not get to their places of worship on time as the gridlock lasted for hours.
 Residents of the area who had vowed to resist the government and the concession, gave up the fight when heavily armed policemen dispersed them from the scene. What was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration against the tolls turned sour when the policemen shot sporadically and arrested key officers of the Residents Association. *Traffic congestion on the Lekki-Epe expressway toll gate Brandishing placards some of which read “Who is behind the LCC? Why not collect tolls Bourdillon, No tolling on Lekki axis, Where is the real Governor of Lagos”, among other placards. The protest which started at about 10 am, saw many protesters wounded when the anti-riot Policemen, led by Commander of the state Rapid Response Squad, RRS, Hakeem Odumosu fired tear gas canisters to disperse the teeming protesters.
 The protesters were made up of both the young and old working professionals resident in the area. Shortly after dispersing the anti-tolls protesters, another group, allegedly to be thugs of a former Governor of the State, stormed the plaza and its environs, chanting pro-tolls collection songs and daring those opposed to the collection According to sources, no fewer than 18 people were said to have been arrested by the police and taken to Maroko Police Station before they were later transferred to State Criminal Investigation Department SCID, Panti, Lagos. Fashola visits Governor Babatunde Fashola also joined other motorists to observe the long queue as he bought a ticket around 1.22pm. Fashola who was dressed in a Blue short sleeve shirt and black trousers addressed journalists as soon as he purchased the ticket. He appealed to people to exercise patience with the Concessionaire saying he was in office to serve his people. According to him, the project would boost commerce in the state especially in the area of provision of jobs, ‘’Lekki Construction Company is a Nigerian company with international investment and it has employed many Nigerians since inception,’’ he said. On grievances from people, the governor said, ‘’that is democracy, we expect another side from people but we beg them to see the brighter future rather than the present. I think we are making progress in adapting to an experience.
All we need is feedback and we shall promptly respond, this will help us and the Concessionaire. people should let us know where it pinches them because we are here to serve the people,’’ he said. On the gridlock witnessed at the toll, Fashola said, ‘’I saw that many were not driving on the lane, there are alternative routes, I saw that many people were not driving on the lane, all we need is to  create more, today, everybody wanted to strive and come to the toll plaza but if they were able to exercise caution, everybody will access into the toll. The story out there is that there are no alternative routes but we shall always improve on it as time goes on. This is a change, any time we have to adapt to something new, we always have this type of experience.
I remember the day GSM was introduced in this country, so many people dropped calls at that time and we could not connect but today, everybody is enjoying GSM today, that is what innovation can achieve,’’ he noted. On his part, the Managing Director of LCC, Mr. Opuiyo Oforiokuma expressed the hope that the level of compliance by the people will improve overtime. …secures release of detained protesters Meanwhile, Governor Fashola has taken a passionate look at the case of people arrested by the police during Saturday’s protests against tolling of the Eti-Osa –Lekki – Epe Expressway and appealed for their release by the police authorities. Heeding the call, the police has effected the release of the detainees. The Governor, who appealed on their behalf, however, urged the people to always maintain law and order and give peace a chance in their lives so that they could continue to benefit from the programmes of government. He, however, implored them to always guide against the danger of taking their liberty to express their fundamental human rights to the extreme, saying though it is their legitimate right to protest, they do not have the right to breach the peace and order in the State by inciting others to violence.
 The Governor also appealed to the people to exercise restraint while seeking redress for any grievance adding that they should refrain from acts that could make them infringe the rights of others or lead them to breach the peace and stability of the State. Our experiences by victims Following this development, those that escaped arrest narrated their ugly experiences, saying the police and some unidentified miscreants manhandled and attacked therm during the peaceful protest. Two Video Cameras belonging to Mr. Sunday Alamba of Associated Press, AP and Mr. Maxwell kupe of Silver_Bird Television, STV and Richard Edoki of Rhythm 93.7 Fm’s tape recorder were seized by some unidentified miscreants belonging to one of the popular land owners in the area.
Our correspondents who monitored the protests observed that at about 10 am,  men of the RRS stationed at the Admiralty Plaza, apparently to forestall any violence in the area, repelled the protesters when they (protesters) insisted on carrying on their peaceful protest. In the process, the policemen started shooting teargas canisters to disperse them. The protesters As the protesters scampered for safety, some of them sustained various degrees of injuries while those who were arrested were whisked away in a black Maria vehicle. At about 11 am later, normalcy returned to the area with armed policemen cordoning off the entire area. There was however no apparent disruption of free flow of traffic as motorists moved without any form of molestation or intimidation. Government, ACN justify tolling Lagos State chapter of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN condemned the last Saturday’s  protest  describing it as “cheap, crude and wicked politics with no substance“. Speaking to newsmen shortly after the commencement of the Tol,l the Director General Office of Public-Private Partnership Mr. Ayo Gbeleyi described the commencement of the tolling as an historical moment. Gbeleyi, while reacting to the Saturday’s protest by residents and other stakeholders on Lekki-Epe corridor against the collection of the toll explained that the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
 According to Gbeleyi: “In order  to ensure that available infrastructure is commensurate to the ever increasing population, and  achieve its vision of making Lagos State an investment destination of choice in Africa, the state as a matter of priority made  rapid infrastructure renewal and upgrade as a cardinal  policy of the present administration. “To achieve this objective, the government embraced as a strategic policy thrust, the Public-Private Partnership, PPP model in accelerating infrastructure delivery having arrived at the safe conclusion that its current resources are insufficient to deliver the model mega-city dreams without augmenting with private sector resources, its entrepreneurial approach, innovations and managerial efficiency.
 Activists kick against the tolls A concerned resident and human rights lawyer, Ebun Adegboruwa, who was part of protesters on Saturday, vowed that nothing will stop the aggrieved residents from continuing with their peaceful protests. Adegboruwa narrated his ordeal thus: “As from 7am this morning (yesterday) residents came out in large numbers and gathered. We were conducting ourselves peacefully, there was no incident until thugs that were recruited by LCC came and disrupted the process and then the Lagos State Environmental Sanitation Task force led by Odumosu started shooting live bullets and tear gas into the crowd at a close range.
 “A man was shot and was left lying in the pool of his own blood but was later taken to the hospital and we don’t know his fate at the moment. Kate Henshaw an actress was beaten and manhandled. But later we heard the report that the man is dead.” “The cameraman of Silverbird Television was beaten black and blue and his camera seized.  The chairman of Lekki Phase one resident association, Mr. Wole Akala and another chairman Mr Martin Eze and others were within the Lekki zone were ambushed and arrested as slaves.
 They are now being taken from The Maroko Police Station to Panti. They were denied access to their families or their lawyers and we are afraid because we do not know the destination or the purpose for which they were being taken away. “Armed policemen took over Lekki Phase One Estate, which is a private residence. They have pursued the residents into their private homes. The policemen barricaded everywhere and turned Lekki Phase One into an ungovernable area. This is barbaric, this is illegal. We are operating under a democratic system. “Governor Fashola being a SAN has displayed total disrespect for the rule of law, he has displayed class intolerance for democratic system, and he does not deserve to rule this state. We are calling on Fashola to resign. “He is a governor who cannot keep up to his word.”



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