Newly built Ikeja Train Station as one of the Red Line infrastructure. Inset (l-r): Managing Director, Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA), Engr. (Mrs) Abimbola Akinajo; President Bola Tinubu; Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Commissioner for Transportation, Mr. Seun Osiyemi at unveiling of the plaque to commission the LMRT Red Line project at the Ikeja Train Station, Kudirat Abiola Way, Lagos, on Thursday, 29 February, 2024.

Bode Lawal

In the beginning, the Lagos Metroline Rail Project was launched at a groundbreaking ceremony held on the 29th August, 1981 by the then Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande from Ogba to Yaba, passing through Ikorodu Road.

This is to ameliorate the traffic congestion in Lagos city and provide a 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.

As Lateef Jakande explained, “The Metroline was designed to carry one million passengers per day, using 30 trains travelling at a commercial speed of 40 kph. The journey from Yaba to Lagos would take 15 minutes. Thus, the 30 trains could carry 57,000 commuters at a time in one direction within 15 minutes or 40 minutes as the case may be.’’

The former governor added: “We are making history today. One hundred years from now, generations yet unborn will thank us for the wisdom. At that time, the Metroline would have expanded from the North-South route to other states. I dream of a comfortable future and I thank God for making me and this administration instruments for the future.”

 Lateef Jakande within the first year of his administration, placed an international advert calling on international manufacturers to submit proposals to build a modern Metroline in Lagos, with a view to solving the problems of bottlenecks in Lagos State, as well as providing jobs for the people of Lagos.

Six manufacturers from six countries: Canada, Spain, France, Great Britain, Japan and West Germany responded. Only the Japanese consortium, MITSUI and the French consortium, INTERINFRA, were shortlisted on the basis that they were leaders in the state-of-the-art train technology.

In this regard, the Jakande administration eventually signed a contract on a feasibility study with the MITSUI in June 1980 at a cost of N1 million. The choice of the Japanese consortium was largely influenced by cost considerations.

The MITSUI offered to build the LML for N370 million, while the French INTERINFRA tendered to build the LML for N590 million. The understanding of everyone was that the project would be made in Japan, but it was designed not to be so, a situation that prompted Governor Jakande to place another advert based on the MITSUI’s feasibility report in June 1981 to determine the definitive contract price.

Again, the French consortium tendered to build the Lagos Metroline at its initial quotation of N590 million, while the Japanese increased its own from N370 million to N500.24 million. In light of the cheaper price of the MITSUI, and particularly because the MITSUI was already registered as a company in Nigeria, the Japanese quotation was given preferential treatment.

The contract was given to the Japanese and the project was colorfully launched in August 1981.

Most unfortunate, however, it was a dream did not come true for poverty of ideas driven by lack of foresight. Group Captain Gbolahan Mudashiru, who succeeded Lateef Jakande as Governor of Lagos State, came up in the usual military style, to suggest that the Lagos Metroline (LML) contract sum was too expensive and cancelled the whole project. His decision was based on the report of the Professor Ojetunji Aboyade panel, which he set up to have a review of the LML project.

The cost of the project was to be within the region of N500 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.

According to Kazeem Ugbodaga in his article, “Lagos Metroline: Jakande’s unfulfilled dream and Buhari’s complicity”, published in the PM NEWS of 12th February, 2021, Lagos is still suffering from the pains and anguish of the cancellation of the project by the Gen. Muhammadu Buhari military administration.

Ugbodaga noted that the abolition of the project 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, but would also have pushed other states to follow suit and propel the country’s development.

In a book published by Tunde Fanimokun, titled, ‘Jakande: His Story, His History,’ published in 2009, Jakande stressed that “the Buhari government did a disservice to Lagos State. Somehow, the problems which I sought to solve with the Metroline are still here “.

Decades after the abolition of the project, the Lagos State government under the leadership of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu signed a track-sharing agreement, Red Line Rail Project with the Federal Ministry of Transport through the Lagos Metropolitan Area Transport Authority (LAMATA) and the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) in 2018.

The idea is to utilize the standard gauge railway track planned to convey commuters between Abuja and Lagos through Ibadan and Alagbado to Iddo. The State considered this a strategic point of reference to collaborate with the NRC who will only run three services into Lagos at three sets and defined service hours during each day.

The government, through LAMATA, awarded the survey, design and construction of the civil and fixed infrastructure of the first phase of the project to China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC).

The groundbreaking ceremony and commencement of civil works for the Lagos Rail Mass Transit (LRMT) Red Line Project were performed by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu on Thursday 15th April 2021 at Ikeja.

The governor described transportation as the backbone of any economy, saying the State must invest in transport infrastructure for Lagosians to meet their daily targets and aspirations.

“Today, we begin another journey into making our State competitive as we further our commitment to building an enduring infrastructure for our transport system,” he noted.

According to him, based on the first pillar of the Administration’s policy thrust, which emphasises transportation and traffic management, the State’s commitment is to develop an efficient and sustainable transportation system that will improve mobility, promote economic growth and enhance the living conditions of our people.

“This all-important transport project, the ground breaking of which we are all gathered to witness today, represents a major step in this direction.

“We are, therefore, committed to renewing our infrastructure, building new ones where necessary, expanding and improving facilities that are prerequisite to an efficient and integrated transportation system based on our Strategic Transport Master plan, which encompasses several projects that are germane to achieving our vision for a Greater Lagos,” he said

He noted that the plan is founded on several imperatives, which include “increasing transport choices for all users, making the transit system integrated, attractive, convenient, affordable and accessible, reducing urban transportation-induced emissions, optimize usage of the current road network, integrating land use development (urban physical planning) and urban transport planning and secure long-term financing of the investment plan.”

Sanwo-Olu assured that his administration would continue to search for every available means of funding for transport infrastructure, in a bid to ensure that the two rail lines become operational.

He, however, appealed to Lagosians to bear with patience the temporary pains and the inconveniences that would be experienced in the course of this project.

“I implore you to cooperate with the contractors as we implement this life-changing and impacting project for the seamless mobility of all Lagosians,” he said.

The Managing Director, LAMATA, Engr. Abimbola Akinajo noted that the project speaks to the significance of having a robust and thriving transport sector which is strategically the backbone of the economy.

She described the effort as a major step in bringing the Babajide Sanwo-Olu-led administration’s commitment to an enhanced integrated transport system into fulfillment, based on the policy thrust encapsulated in the THEMES Agenda.