A TOLLGATE OF DEATH AND TAXES By Emmanuel O. This opinion article has been rejected by several media houses who prefer to keep their brand in business and protect bad brands/governance.
Following the #EndSARs protest championed by Nigerian Youths in October 2020, the Lekki Toll Gate became a historical antics for Nigeria. On that tollgate lives were irresponsibly wasted, dreams shattered, democracy crushed, lineages ended, and a dreadful message from the Government passed to the future generations – we do not care about you. The taxes collected on the tollgate seized as the youths vowed not to see the tollgate resume. But all that is about to change, and this is an opinion about the appropriateness of same.
In February 2021, the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) via Mr Yomi Mr Omomuwasan, said the company was owing debts in local and international banks to the tune of N11.5 billion and $31 million respectively as of 2020. He noted that the company needs to pay its debts, retain staff and that it was no right that the place be shut down forever. To this end, Justice Okuwobi and few other panellists of the #endsars saga gave a ruling for the commencement of operations. That ruling did not seat well with some other panellists and the youths.
The youths all over social media called out the government and the LCC for being irresponsible and brutal should the tollgate resume its collection of fares (taxes).
The Youths (puritans) reminded us with graphics less we forget:
The Government Response
The Government response to the sensitive feelings of the people, and by that, I mean the majority of the people, was to call out special forces on the day set out for another protest against the resumption of the Tollgate. The forces came with ammunitions and as BBC reported, those who dared to come out or even walk past the toll gate were chased and arrested. There were a few cases of reported brutality. The message was clear – Don’t try us, your opinion does not matter.
An Evaluation of A Tollgate of Death and Taxes
Let us begin by clearing the fog on who owns the tollgate.
Aurecon Group priding its achievement on its website reported:
Asset and Resource Management Limited appointed Aurecon, in joint venture, in 2003 to conduct a pre-feasibility study and feasibility study for the Lagos Infrastructure Project on behalf of the Lagos State Government. The objectives of these studies were to identify and determine feasible public private partnership (PPP) projects to alleviate the prevailing traffic problems in Lagos State as well as to provide future direction for highway infrastructure projects. The outcome of the study was a prioritised list of tolled highway projects, inclusive of the Lekki-Epe Expressway. The full scale detailed feasibility for the Lekki-Epe Expressway commenced in 2004, which was followed by the preliminary and detail design, completed in 2006. Aurecon was closely involved in both of these.
During this period ARM established the Lekki Concession Company Limited (LCC) as the special purpose vehicle to execute and operate the 30 year toll concession, as well as appointed Hitech Construction Company Limited as the engineering procurement and construction management (EPCM) contractor.
Further evidence by the Cable Report showed that the Lagos State Government acquired the ownership of the LCC and the Lekki-Epe TollGate. So, in fact, it is the Lagos State Government that we are dealing with here behind the shadows. The Lagos State Government is responsible for the taxes on the tollgate.
If we are in doubt, the Lagos State letter further confirms it thus:
Who then is responsible for the deaths on the tollgate?
By responsible we do not mean who-killed-who. But who is responsible for seeing that nobody kills another. Yes, you got that one right – the Lagos State Government where the incidence took place. The government is responsible for lives and properties.
We will recall the series of back and front explanations over who ordered the soldiers and police to go open fire on the protesters. We will recall the apologetics of the Lagos State Governor. We will recall that not even a 24hours notice was given to those protesters. We will recall that the protesters bore no harm but the national flag when bullets pierced their hearts. We will recall that they were singing the national anthem in belief and love for their country when they were mercilessly shot down on the tollgate of death.
Should the tollgate of death resume taxes?
What name we choose to call it – it is a tax. Never mind that Lagosians pay other numerous taxes. But let us look at the morality of reopening the tollgate. You were responsible for the death of a Lagosian and you ask the mother or father or brother or friend of the Lagosian to pay you taxes. Pause to think about it for a second.
At a place where you crushed and betrayed the principles of democracy upon which the government begets its legitimacy, you ask citizens to come and pay taxes? Pause to think about it for a second.
The purpose sold to the people when the tollgate was established was to reduce traffic and bla bla bla. Well, evidence over the past few months of the closure of the tollgate has shown that traffic reduced between Maroko and Lekki Phase 1 by 80%. The same can be said for the alternative routes. So, why do we need to reopen the tollgate of taxes upon death? Pause to think about it for a second.
Is the balance of a few workers in LCC superior to the imbalance of thousands if not millions of Lagosians? Pause to think about it for a second.
Since the birth of the tollgate has there been any account made to the public over the profits and use of taxes collected? What stops the Lagos State Government from using one of those giant billboards to display a real-time financial account of the money, nay, taxes collected?
The youths are tired. International communities will not come in. In fact, recently the US has reported that the killings on the tollgate cannot be verified (even though live evidence from Instagram and BBC report says otherwise). The internal Justice Panel set up has over time lamented over lack of cooperation and concealment of evidence. Professionals are all running away from Nigeria. The Naira is dying. Morality and integrity fade into oblivion. The death of the protesters may have been in vain. And all the Lagos State Government can do to validate its brand is to stamp the continuity of a tollgate of death and taxes.
Emmanuel O is a copywriter and critic. He critiques/writes on brands and policy issues.