In the last eight months, motorists on Eko Bridge in Lagos have been suffering and smiling, enduring long hours in traffic gridlock. They have expectations. They have a date with relief and joy which are to come in December this year. It has been a dream of sorts.
But, suddenly, that dream, like ether, is now thin air. For inexplicable reasons and for avoidable actions, the Ijora Olopa end of Eko Bridge went up in flames a couple of weeks ago and that has meant an abrupt stop of repair work on Apongbon Bridge. That repair work was planned to end in December.
“There will not be Apongbon for Christmas, as much as we tried,” Babatunde Fashola, the minister of works and housing has said, adding that the delivery date of Apongbon Bridge, earlier fixed for December 2022, had been extended to May 2023. That’s six whole months.
The reason for this, the minister explained, was because of the emergency repair of burnt Ijora Olopa section of Eko Bridge. “Government would not be able to actualise its plan of completing Apongbon Bridge because its materials had been deployed to the burnt section of Eko Bridge,” Fashola said.
The minister recalled that efforts to quickly complete initial emergency rehabilitation on Eko Bridge were slowed down when Apongbon Bridge was affected by fire in March.
He said that construction materials imported for completion of Eko Bridge were deployed to begin urgent repairs on Apongbon, lamenting that even that could not be completed because of the latest fire incident which he blamed on illegal activities of a few residents, which could lead to collapse of the bridge, posing threat to lives.
“We regret the hardship faced by the road users; that is what happens every time you burn the bridge; it is a collective pain; I use the bridge too,” the minister said, disclosing that the decision to shut the Ijora Olopa section of Eko Bridge pending integrity tests was a painful one.
But the decision, he said, had to be taken to avert a gory situation where a bridge weakened by fire could collapse and lead to loss of lives.
Since March this year when a section of the Apongbon Bridge got burnt by fire, leading to a partial closure of Eko Bridge, repair work had been going on on the burnt bridge and, for so long, motorists have been having more than a fair share of suffering commuting to the Island and vice versa.
Now, the hope of ending the suffering on that bridge, which increased in intensity with the closure of another section of Eko Bridge, has been dashed.
And that is not even the bad news. The bad news instead is that there are uncertainties surrounding the May 2023 completion date. Election season is one. Import delays and port process is another.
“Unless something dramatic happens, I don’t see major work happening on those bridges this election season. Where is the money coming from? And I learnt that materials for the repair work have to be ordered and imported from abroad,” Funso Oguntade, a Lagos resident who lives in Festac Town and works on Lagos Island, told this reporter.
Oguntade had his fears that the May 2023 date might not be realistic as the materials to be imported could take over a month to arrive and about a week to get cleared from the ports. “And don’t forget that this is election season when governance has practically given way to politics,” he said.
Motorists and other commuters have, on many occasions, expressed worry that Lagos State government has been largely non-committal to ameliorating residents’ suffering on Eko Bridge in the last eight months.
“It is regrettable that a state government that dutifully collects taxes from its citizens could turn blind eye to the suffering and long hours spent in traffic on its roads and bridges,” Innocent Okafor, a port worker said, noting that the fire incidents on the bridges happen as a result of the state government’s inactions.
After the fire incident on Apongbon Bridge, the state government ordered traders under the bridge to vacate the place. That order is yet to be carried out. During the inspection of the burnt section of Eko Bridge, Obafemi Hamzat, the deputy governor of the state, promised that government would take action.
“Quick action will be taken against illegal occupants under the Eko Bridge because of the hardship their activities have inflicted on commuters as a result of the closure of the bridge,” the deputy governor assured.