By Kazeem Ugbodaga
The entire nation was thrown into mourning on Thursday following the death of first civilian governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Jakande at the age of 91.
Jakande piloted the drive for a modern Lagos, scaling up infrastructure like no one ever did since the creation of Lagos State in 1967. With all his achievements, Jakande’s only aborted dream was the truncation of the Lagos Metroline project by the then Military Head of State, Major General Muhammadu Buhari.
Buhari had staged a coup in 1983, overthrowing the government of the then President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari and sacked all governors. Jakande’s dream project to give Lagos, what would have been the first metro rail in Africa, was upended by Buhari.
The groundbreaking for the metroline was August 29, 1981, for the rail line from Ogba to Yaba, passing through Ikorodu Road, work had started and Lagos had paid $80 million, its share of the $800 million project, when the military overthrew the civilian administration and cancelled the whole project.
The objective of the project was to ameliorate the traffic congestion in Lagos city and provide cheaper alternative to urban transportation that would benefit the ordinary people. This was in line with the welfarist ideology of his party, the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), under the leadership of the late Sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, which also had free education, free health care and full employment, as its cardinal programmes.
The cost of the project was to be within the region of N700 million, while the financing was through a commercial loan from a consortium of private firms and contractors. Lagos State was to put down 10% of the costs, as mobilization for the contractors. Incidentally, the duration of contract execution was put at two years which also was expected to match with the loan repayment.
Instructively, before the project could take off, there was a lingering issue related to issuance of guarantee by the Federal Government. Recall that it has been a standing practice in Nigeria’s debt management policy that external borrowings of the State Governments must be guaranteed by the Federal Government. Moreover, during this period, the Federal Government managed the entire debt for the whole country, including debt repayment through the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN).
Till this day, Lagos is still suffering from the pains and anguish of the cancellation of the metroline by the Buhari administration. The then government of Buhari had no foresight, or the metroline should have stayed as it will cost extremely more to build it again. Till this day, The Lagos State Government is still struggling to build the Blue Rail system, with funding a major challenge.
The Jakande’s metroline abolition was the beginning of the end of a high-impact project that would not only have equipped the state to solve the perennial traffic challenge it still faces, decades after, but would also have pushed other states to follow suit and propel the country’s development.
Jakande was quoted in a book published by ‘Tunde Fanimokun, titled: ‘Jakande: His Story, His History,’ published in 2009, page 320, that “The Buhari government did a disservice to Lagos State.” He was responding to a question that metroline appeared to be finally coming to Lagos. He expressed his regret that the Buhari and Idiagbon military junta stopped the original metroline.
“It was a great disservice that the Buhari government did to Lagos State. Somehow, the problems which I sought to solve with the metroline, the problems are still here, I think the problems are even getting worse. So my view is that the metroline is the only answer to the serious transportation problem in Lagos State.
“I have seen some attempts being made by some governments, but all these attempts cannot be substituted for the metroline. So, I insist the solution to this problem is metroline.”
Jakande had also told the Nation in 2011 when Buhari was seeking election that “Today, metro line still remains the answer to transportation hurdles in Lagos because of its objectives and purposes. It is a relevant strategy to improve the problems of transportation in Lagos.
“By now transportation in Lagos would have been much better if it had been allowed to stay. We understood the predicament of ordinary citizens in Lagos and we felt we needed a change from the usual way of doing things.”
But Buhari had defended himself, saying at a Town Hall meeting in City Hall, Lagos Island, in 2011 that the allegation that he deliberately cancelled the project was “mischievous.” He said the project was cancelled because with the regime’s large debt profile, it made no sense to incur more debts.
Till his death, the aborted metroline for Lagos still hurt him. His dream was never realised till the cruel hands of death snatched him away. If Buhari had had foresight, the traffic nuisance in Lagos, with billions of naira lost to traffic on daily basis, would have been solved. The main actor has gone to the grave with his dream, which government will awaken that dream and bring it to reality now? Time will tell. Adieu Jakande.