Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has criticised former Lagos State governor Akinwunmi Ambode for abandoning the Lagos light rail project while he was the governor of the state between 2015 and 2019.
“We borrowed to build a light rail in Lagos, embarked on the project and a succeeding governor abandoned the project for his full term of four years at 65 per cent completion when he should have started paying down on the loan,” Obasanjo said on Friday in Lagos as a keynote speaker at the “Why I am Alive” campaign.
Obasanjo also criticised Ambode of prioritising the construction of Oshodi bus interchange. The terminus was commissioned by President Muhammadu Buhari days before Ambode left office even though the project was not completed.
The formal construction of the rail lines began under Babatunde Raji Fashola, who is now Nigeria’s works and housing minister. He was succeeded by Ambode, who Obasanjo said abandoned the rail project that was almost completed.
State officials said, at different times, that the rail lines were a part of the blueprint for the development of the state. Ambode, who was kicked out by his own part after first term, was accused of abandoning the blueprint by his party.
On July 16, 2015, about two months after he came into office, Ambode assured that he would deliver the project to Lagos residents in 12 months.
That deadline fell on July 2016. However, five months after he promised to deliver the project in 12 months, he shifted the completion date to December 2016. But in November 2016, the governor made another volte-face, saying it would now be completed before the end of 2019.
The idea of developing a light rail network for Lagos was first muted in the 1980s but was resuscitated by former governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, in the early 2000s, while Obasanjo was also the president, with a formal announcement of its construction in December 2003.
The entire rail project was designed to run through various areas of Lagos, under a seven-line network codenamed: Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Purple, Brown and Orange lines.
The initial $135m proposal was part of the greater Lagos Urban Transportation Project, which was to be implemented by the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA).
But a decade after, the Lagos rail project, despite its benefits to Nigeria is yet to materialise. Lagos State government said in August 2018 that the Mile 2-Marina section of the project will be operational in 2022.
“This light rail is important for the whole of Nigeria not only with respect for man-hours of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that would have continued to be saved but because such loans are federally guaranteed,” Obasanjo added.
“This type of situation was not in Lagos alone but variously in other states like Rivers and Cross River. And the problem is not limited to states.”