Court bars Lagos from tolling public bridge

The ruling represents a huge financial loss to the government which was charging a minimum of $1.7 per motorcar per trip

The ruling represents a huge financial loss to the government which was charging a minimum of $1.7 per motorcar per trip

LAGOS – A Nigerian court on Thursday barred the Lagos state government from collecting toll on a major suspension bridge on the ground that it was built with public funds.

"The bridge is not a Public Private Partnership-initiative for which the collection of toll can be allowed," Justice Saliu Saidu of Nigeria's federal high court said in his ruling.

He shrugged off suggestions by the government attorneys that the PPP Law of Lagos enables the government to recoup the $181 million spent on the project.

The 1.8-kilometre Lekki-Ikoyi Link bridge, which was built in 2008, lies within what is known as the Lekki Lagoon, a part of the Federal Navigable Waterways controlled only by the central government.

Lagos state government had secured the approval of the central government to build the bridge, deemed to be the first of its kind in British West Africa.

Codenamed Admiralty-Ikoyi Suspension Bridge, it is suspended from a 91-metre-high pylon and offers a 9-metre headroom above water level to allow for maritime traffic.

The court insisted that the state government has no law empowering it to charge any fee on the bridge.

"The fact before this court is that the bridge was built with the third respondent [Lagos State Government]’s money. I agree and uphold the construction of this bridge as of right," said Justice Saidu.

"The third respondent has power to generate revenue from the subject matter, but the existing law does not cover it," he insisted.

Lagos Attorney-General Ade Ipaye said the court's judgment would be appealed with immediate effect.

"We are grateful for the judgment and we hope to get the full reasons soon. There is actually a law, but this is not the place to talk about it," Ipaye told reporters.

It is not certain if the state government is seeking a stay of execution of the judgment.

Today's ruling represents a huge financial loss to the government which was charging a minimum of $1.7 per motorcar per trip.

A vehicle would pay each time it passes through the bridge, which is used by several thousand vehicles every day.

It is one of the busiest - and fastest - routes in Nigeria's commercial capital where traffic logjam is a daily palaver.

-Implications-

Speaking at the court premises, civil rights lawyer Ebun-Olu Adegboroye welcomed the verdict.

"For now, everybody in Lagos State should be free to pass through that bridge without paying any money," he said.

"It was built with the people's money. We cannot pay tax to build a bridge and pay money to use it," he asserted.

Adegboroye threatened to challenge any law the state may introduce to validate toll collection on the bridge.

Many observers believe the ruling may have far-reaching legal implications.

It may have consequences even for the federal government which hopes to toll some of the ongoing road projects nationwide - most of them funded with public funds appropriated for in the budget.

"This judgment is a warning to all statutory and government agencies, because our people are burdened. The economy is bad," said Adegboroye.

"On behalf of the people of Nigeria, we must continue to challenge all impunity and all taxation that have no backing," he added.

"We are going ahead to challenge other imposition of taxes on our people," said the lawyer.

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