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Why did you have to go to court to stop the Lagos State Government for collecting toll from users of the Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge?
I am a Lawyer and activist and I have been at the forefront of holding government accountable to the people, because under Chapter two of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the welfare and security of the people should be the primary responsibility of the government. The way I understand it is that society exits like a social contract; we come together, raise money through taxes, through resources and then we appoint a cabinet called government and say manage the money for us in trust. We tell the government to manage our resources, our lives on our behalf. For some time now, I have not seen any corresponding responsibility on our behalf from the people we call government. So, I became disenchanted and by 2011 I thought it was okay to do this struggle of ensuring that the resources of our people are used for building infrastructure, free of any cost or charges.
So, we started this toll gate issue because I thought it was unfair, particularly with the Lekki-Epe expressway for government to, in the name of concession, ask an individual or registered company to expand the road and then to collect toll from the people who use the road. Not long after that we saw that the Lekki-Ikoyi bride was started and we were very happy because we thought it was an alternative to the toll road. At that time, we embraced the project because our thinking was that given the protest that was going on in the Lekki-Epe expressway, government was trying to give in to the yearnings of the people by providing an alternative.
Part of the reasons why we opposed tolling on the Lekki-Epe expressway was because there was no alternative and so we thought that this bridge was going to be an alternative until we started hearing that there was going to be toll collection and we didn’t believe it. We went to investigate the reason why there was going to be toll. I went to the internet and I also checked the Lagos State Government and they said yes there is going to be toll collection because they needed the resources to build other infrastructure and also to maintain the bridge. At least, I confirmed that it was not a public-private partnership initiative; it was being built solely by the Lagos State Government, even though at a very exorbitant cost.
So, we waited because if we started the agitation at that time, they may stop. When we saw that they had gotten to a point that they could not go back, it was then I decided it was time to challenge the project.
The reason I went to court was because I felt that it was unfair. If you look at the makeup of Lagos State, you will see that this Likki/Eti Osa area is unique in terms of denier of infrastructure. In the whole area, there is no General Hospital, we have to go to Broad Street; Island Maternity is where women deliver; there is no University, College of Education or Polytechnic. So, the children go to other local government areas of Lagos State and then there is no market or central area for shopping.
As for market, it is either you go to Sura or Sandgrouse or Oke Arin or you go to Obalende; they are all outside. There is no court here; not a single Magistrate Court or High Court here.
The reason I am saying this is that in order to enjoy these infrastructure, we have to move out to hospitals, markets, or to court. We are highly mobile because we can’t afford to remain in our enclave here since there are no facilities. So, if they are going to give us a road, then it must be a road that is free because we move a lot. Unlike Yaba, Ikorodu or Ikeja, there are too many villages in this area. I counted about 74 gated estates around here and there is very high volume of traffic here that you cannot build this bridge and toll it. We asked why the government of Lagos State is doing this. I felt like it was discriminating, because if you see Bourdillon road in front of the home of the former governor of Lagos State, Ahmed Bola Tinubu it is very good but it is not tolled. There is a link bridge from Opebi to Kudirat Abiola Way that is free of charge. If you go to Surulere now, which is the local government of the governor, everywhere is tarred and no single toll gate. We then asked to know the justification for this toll bridge. He just looked at Lekki and said let me burden these people. I felt it was wrong since it was not being done in other areas.
The second reason was because the amount of money we pay to acquire land here is so high. We pay infrastructure development charge, capital gain tax and when you buy land in Lekki, you pay the government almost about half the cost of the land for infrastructure and, the impression I get is that as soon as you pay these charges, the government would be pursuing you with road, electricity, water and with other infrastructure, but it is not so.
What was the court process like?
We were in court for a long time. I filed the suit on the 26th of November 2012; we served the Lagos State Government and we also served the Federal Government, because we also felt that the Lekki Lagoon is under the control of the Federal Government since it is an inter-state Lagoon. It goes to Badagry from where it comes to Epe to Ijebu Ode and to Ondo State at Ijere. It is just flowing like that and I felt that the Lagos State Government had no power to control anything on inter-state waterway. Definitely the Governor didn’t think about that when he was building the bridge. When we got to court, I saw that they were surprised that such a law exists.
On the 29th of May, last year, when the case was pending, after the governor noticed that we had concluded argument, he came here and commissioned the bridge and said it was going to be a toll bridge but we reminded him that we were in court and asked him why did he decided to toll when the court was yet to give a judgement. By the 3rd of June, 2013, they started collecting toll, while the case was pending.
On the 27th of March, this year, Justice Salisu Saidu gave a decision that there was no justification for the charge in respect of the road and that the toll was unlawful because there is no law in existence that supports the toll.
What did you do after the judgment?
Immediately the judgement was delivered, I proceeded to the toll gate on the bridge. I felt that because the Attorney General of Lagos State was in court, it was his duty to call the governor and all other agencies of government to inform them that a judgement had been delivered. So, at the toll gate, I was shocked that the barrier was still there. I explained to them that a judgement had been delivered nullifying the collection of toll. Those people had armed Policemen guarding them and they did not mind me and you would not pass through the bridge unless you pay the toll. I was shocked. It was later at about noon on that very day that I noticed that the Attorney General had called a press conference to say the Lagos State Government would not obey the Judgement because they were not happy with it.
I was really sad, not because I was personally affected but because of the impression; the precedence that was created by the utterance that they would not obey the judgement because they were not happy with it. I have received many judgements that were not in my favour but I advised my clients to comply with it until such a time when we can appeal and get it set aside and that is what we know in law and, I expected that as a government that was led by a senior member of the profession as a senior advocate of Nigeria, I thought that he would be interested in setting a good process for all of us but I was very disappointed that they never obeyed the judgement and, the claimed that the reason was because they wanted to file an appeal against the judgement but an appeal against a judgement does not mean that you will not obey it.
The appeal can be successful or may not be successful. That judgement should have been obeyed by the Lagos State Government. It is sending a wrong signal to society that might is right and discouraging people who go to court from proceeding with such cases when you discover that lawlessness is preferable to due process and, coming from government. If government will not obey the law what would you want individuals and private citizens to do? It was on Friday towards the close of work that I saw that they had filed an appeal on the 28th of March and, I said we would go back to court and convince the court not to grant any stay of execution because it would be ratifying impunity if the court should allow the Lagos State Government to run away with this illegality and lawlessness. Even if they had obeyed the judgement for a day, the effect of that judgement should have been given to the people of Lagos State. The court should been obeyed. Respect should have been given to the verdict of the court. Lagos State should not be allowed to run away with this impunity.
Our next move is to convince the court to dismiss their application for stay of execution, because number one, they said the judgement did not nullify the toll and, if it does not nullify the toll, then why are they asking for a stay of execution. They said the court did not make any order and rubbished the verdict of the court that was granted.
We heard that you have some sponsors in this crusade. How do you react to the allegation?
In all of these agitations, I have been asked where I get my resources and have been told that I work for the Peoples Democratic Party. Another question I have been asked was why Lagos State? Those who ask these questions do not know my record. Right from the university, Obafemi Awolowo University, I have been an activist. I was the principal liaison officer of Law School in my year one; in my second year, I was the public relations officer of the student union and in the third year, I was the president of the student union. I was an active member of the National Union of Nigerian Students. When I left the university, I have been active as a member of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR). I am an active member of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO). I have worked personally in the CDHR with the late Dr. Beko Ransome Kuti and with Chima Ubani before he died. I have been an activist and then I worked in Chief Gani Fawehinmi’s Chambers for six years.
I was active in the Ogoni Tribunal. I defended Ken Saro Wiwa with Chief Gani Fawehinmi in Port Harcourt. I was active in the Ogoni Civil disturbances Tribunal. I was the one who argued the bail application for the Ogoni 19 in Port Harcourt to release them. So, I am not just somebody who stumbled on activism. I have a track record of activism in my blood. I have been detained several times in several Police Stations and I was in the custody of the Directorate of Military Intelligence during the Abacha era from November 9 1997 to July 1998; I spent six months in custody. So, it is not a passion that is driven by financial consideration. I sponsored the case of the Lekki Toll with my resources; filed all the cases, applications with my resources. I did not receive any naira or kobo from anybody; I don’t even have an NGO that I use; I have no government organisation, no foreign finance, I did not liaise with any organisation and, I challenge anybody, whether a politician or an NGO or civil society group or individual or group who has advanced any amount of money or have held any meeting with me to come out publicly to make it known.
It was an individual struggle. I must say that in the course of that struggle to abolish the toll gate, I worked with many people; Lekki Phase I Residents’ Association; working in meetings to plan, but I didn’t collect any single money from anybody. The services, advice I gave to them, I gave free of charge. I worked with so many other people and, I must acknowledge Kate Henshaw, the actress, she was with me planning; Tolani Animasaun and, so many other people. It was not based on any political consideration or religious consideration or social consideration. It was just a struggle against oppression, injustice, neglect. That was the motivation and, I am not a member of any political party or organisation or of the Peoples Democratic Party or of the All Progressive Congress and, I challenge any Party to state whether I have attended any of their meeting. I recall that in January 2012, I worked with the Joint Action Forum on the oil subsidy protest. We fought President Jonathan and, when they deployed soldiers on the streets of Lagos, I led Lawyers of the Nigerian Bar Association, working with Governor Fashola then, we marched all over the streets and were dispersed by armed soldiers; myself with Bamidele Atturu, when we were marching from NLC office to deliver a letter through Fashola to the president.
We were shot at with live bullets by soldiers that were drafted by Jonathan. So, I am not a PDP person and I am not working for President Jonathan. I instituted a case against him in court and it is still pending. I am not working for federal or state government. I am working for the people of Nigeria; I am working for the people of Lagos State. I am working for my conscience; I am working for justice and equilibrium; I am working for a society where our public leaders can be held accountable to provide infrastructure and resources for our people. I look at myself; I am responsible for provision of water, electricity, for security here, road maintenance. So, I am a government of myself. It is an impediment for our people; the struggle our people are facing; Nigerians are very intelligent and so if government takes of power, roads, infrastructure then they can take care of themselves. The problems of infrastructure weigh people down and reduce life expectancy and, make our people die before their time. I have nothing against the Fashola regime. I respect him. I have done a personal study about his life. His personal attribute; how he rose up in life. He is like a role model for me. I am encouraged with his sterling qualities. I see him as a beacon of hope for leaders in Nigeria because with the eight years he has spent in Lagos State, apart from his excesses, he has served as a role model to other governors in order to become a measuring yard to other governors in Edo, Ogun, Oyo States, even PDP governors are coming to copy his model. I am quite impressed and I maintain that inspite of the credentials he parades, when there are excesses we don’t have to follow him blindfolded. There must still be people that should call him to order; people who should say do it this or that way, because he is a governor of the masses; not a governor of the aristocrats that would say poor people should leave Lagos if you don’t like me. He is a governor of all; that is my own take.
What is your assessment of the Civil Society in Nigeria?
I must say I am disappointed. Let us go back to the days of Pa Imoudu, Tai Solarin. The understanding of Civil Society is that it is a crusade that you take upon yourself on behalf of the people. It will cost you money, it will cost you your freedom, family convenience; it will cost you a lot of things. A civil society means that I take upon myself a cause like Jesus Christ that I want to come and save the world and he had to die. It is not something you do for gain. You do civil society and you are collecting computers from US Embassy, you are collecting dollars from people. I mean it is not a vocation. My understanding of civil society is that it is something that you are giving back to society; like a corporate social responsibility. Society has raised me as a Lawyer, as an individual and I having gotten to this level, I now say what can I give back to society? I can pay the toll for a year or for five years, but I am looking at civil servants or other people who cannot.