The Lagos State government on Wednesday said the reopening of the Lekki tollgate cannot be avoided as the company in charge, the Lekki Concession Company (LCC), owes both local and foreign lenders billions of naira.
Gbenga Omotoso, the commissioner for information and strategy, while speaking on Arise TV’s The Morning Show on Wednesday, said LCC owes local lenders about N11.6 billion and foreign lenders $31.1 million.
The Lekki tollgate, situated along the Lekki-Epe expressway, began operations in 2011 despite protests by Lekki residents.
The tollgate was shut down following the 2021 deadly #EndSARS protests which saw men of the Nigerian Army open fire on unarmed protesters at the toll plaza.
The nearby Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge, also operated by LCC, was similarly shut down after the incident.
Reacting, singer and former chairmanship aspirant, Bankole Wellington in a tweet on Friday said the decision shows a lack of empathy by the Lagos State Government.
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According to him, the timing of the decision was unfair.
He wrote, ”The intended resumption of collections at the Lekki toll gate is yet another example of a serious lack of empathy by the Lagos State Govt. Life in Nigeria has been extremely difficult.
”Lagos State is exhibiting a blatant disregard – not just for the pain felt by all the young people who were hurt by the events of #EndSARS, but also the pain and difficulty being experienced by the majority of Lagosians just trying to survive in these difficult times.”
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But the company, however, announced on Monday that it would resume activities on the link bridge on April 1.
But the Lekki tollgate remains shut.
Mr Omotoso said the reopening of the Lekki tollgate was due to the engagement and encouragement from the residents’ association of the area, transporters, and traditional rulers, adding that there won’t be “any resistance at all.”
“The first time that LCC went to the place, it was not just to open the place and begin to collect toll, it was just for the company to go there and see the kind of damage to its equipment and how such damage can be redressed. And not for them to go there and begin to toll,” he said.
“Even this one, you would agree with me, has taken about 18 months for LCC to plan to return to the toll gate because it has no choice after owing local lenders about N11.6bn and foreign lender about $31.1m. So, there is no way that LCC can just stay away from going back to tolling on that road.”
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The commissioner also said that the company has about 500 staff members on its payroll and they have been idle for about 18 months.
“Also, there are about 500 workers at LCC, about 90 per cent of them have been idle for the past 18 months and they have families to feed; they have friends and relations to attend to. So, for the company to want to return now, and like I said, people have shown tremendous understanding,” the commissioner said.
Mr Omotoso said that he discovered that people who have resisted the reopening of the Lekki toll gate are residents outside the country.
“They send messages from thousands of miles away asking people not to go there and pay a toll while saying all manners of unprintable things about the tollgate and others,” he said.
He said if the company stays away from toll, “I do not know how it is going to pay its debts, I do not know how about 500 workers, most of them young men who are just starting their families, I don’t know how they are going to be able to cope with their lives.”