Of ghost writers, fly overs and fair play

dele adigunFor some time now the airwaves and newspaper pages have been awash with claims and counter claims about the inflated cost of the Mokola flyover bridge in Ibadan by the Government of Oyo State. While the Government and its sympathisers claim that the flyover is the best thing that has happened to the city since about 35 years ago, the opposition too has been strident in its call that when compared to the flyover bridge built in Abeokuta by the Ogun State Government, the cost of the Mokola bridge is a big rip-off.

To ascertain the veracity of both claims in order to hold firm to the truth, I have indeed, visited the two bridges and I have been able to confirm that the Abeokuta bridge is indeed, over twice the size of the Mokola bridge with double lanes, while the Mokola bridge has a single lane. On the costing aspect, the news report established that the Abeokuta bridge, which also has 2.4km adjoining road, was built at a total cost of N1.5billion while the Mokola bridge, which is about half of its size, cost N2.9billion. The Abeokuta Bridge measures 528 metres on each side, making 1, 056 metres in all, while the Mokola flyover is just 470 metres. Here lies the crux of the matter.

It is indeed, very puerile to state that the escalated cost of the project by the same contractor was brought about by the cost of aesthetics, as, to my mind, the Mokola bridge should not have cost more than N800 million when compared with the Abeokuta bridge. The contention of the defender of Oyo State government that the terrain of the flyover bridge is waterlogged is insidious, infantile and laughable. The terrain in Abeokuta and Mokola are practically identical. The pertinent question to ask Oyo State government is why there is a wide gap in the cost of the two bridges.

In a bid to offer a very flimsy defence, the services of a certain literature teacher in Monatan by name Akinlolu Hassan was sought to pull wool over the issue. To discerning members of the public the said ‘Akinlolu Hassan’ has always been coming to the aid of Oyo State government reeling out vile and false statistics, which can only be obtained from the secret documents of the government. The said Akilolu Hassan had earlier been asked by the Accord Party to drop his mask and collect a whooping N5million from the chairman of the party if indeed, he exists. Regrettably, the masquerade refused to unmask! To discerning members of the public Akinlola Hassan exists only in the laptops of some unimaginable functionaries or perhaps, in Sango Cemetery, but definitely not real. It beats one hollow to understand that an elected government should continue to use ghost writers to defend its actions. It clearly portrays the fact that the government is clay footed on the issue and it is an exhibition of marked want of intelligence.

The impression of writing under the mask to defend a government is that those who are saddled with the responsibility are not convinced about the facts made available to them, hence resorting to ‘ghost writers.’ The interview granted the Hon. Commissioner of Information by Splash FM a couple of days ago also did not help matters, as he could not offer any plausible defence for the difference in cost. The government has erroneously believed that like children of the blind they must lead us by the hand without we complaining. What we are writing about is neither abstract nor far away, as it is not in Borno, Sokoto and Balyesa states, but in next door, Abeokuta, Ogun State. Members of the public are invited to visit the flyover in Abeokuta and the one in Mokola and come out with their judgment. The Oyo State government has an explanation to make on the disparity in the cost of the two flyover bridges in Mokola and Abeokuta. No browbeating, ghost writers, and grandstanding can help on this issue!

This brings us to the nagging issue of demolition of buildings before the payment of compensations to the displaced owners. During the military administration, I served as Permanent Secretary in an agency of government saddled with urban renewal project at Mokola, Yemetu, Agugu and the channelisation of Ogunpa River. Under the project, hundreds of houses were indeed, demolished, but due to the superb handling through proper and adequate consultation with relevant stakeholders, particularly property owners, no person was left at the mercy of government after the demolitions.

The modus-operandi was that the owners of the affected buildings were first invited and government intentions were laid bare to them. This was followed by valuation of the structures and payment of compensation. For those whose buildings were completely demolished they were relocated to a resettlement scheme and the bulldozers subsequently came in six months after payment of compensation. Thus, there were no hues and cries during the demolition exercise. This was under a military dispensation! Regrettably, under a democratic dispensation, houses of hundreds of people have been demolished before any thought of compensation which has made them to be homeless or living in half demolished houses.

A drive through Iseyin, Ogbomoso and Oyo will readily confirm this claim, as one would not but feel sorry for this inhuman treatment. The case of Prince B. A. O. Okanlawon, a 92-year-old man in Ogbomoso, as published on Page 8 of Punch newspaper of August 8, 2013 readily comes to mind. The nonagenarian has appealed to the governor to compensate him on the demolition of his two-storey building. There are hundreds of people like him. It will be most inhuman and uncharitable to send such people to their graves in a democratic dispensation. Oyo State government should adopt a more civilised approach in going about future demolitions in order not to put the affected people in despair after all they too deserve the good life with shelter on their heads.

All said and done, government should be responsive to the yearning of the people since everything that has a beginning must have an end and as the saying goes, no condition is permanent even in the graves where demolition and excavation can still come in.

• Adigun, a retired Permanent Secretary and former commissioner/Secretary to the Oyo State Government, writes from Ibadan.