Hitech and LCC – The Many Public Relations landmines of PPP

Lagos has become one big construction site and people are getting impatient with the inconveniences. Traffic jams are longer and the roads are worse than before the works began. It seems a good move that Lagos state adopted the public private partnership (PPP) model as a solution to finding the money to fix decaying infrastructure in the state, concessioning major roads to private companies for as much as 30 years, the latter of who is expected to make back its money by collecting toll. The relationship between the public and the owner of the concession is a public relations landmine, which if handled badly can blow up in somebody’s face. I see it ahead of the Lekki Concession Company (LCC) and its contractor Hitech, those now handling the Lekki-Epe expressway.

They started out well. Do you remember the early days when they would put out those flag men in orange suits waving those piece of cloth to keep traffic orderly and free flowing? That was a public relations success because by maintaining order they reduced tension and disaffection among road users, making everyone happy (or at least indifferent) with the work going on. I used to joke that Hitech would have 3 people working and another 100 hundred waving flags. But it worked.

It is not easy renovating an occupied city, where one would have to “work around” human and physical obstacles to the free flow of construction. I have heard a friend also joke that it would have been better to send everyone in Lagos off to the USA for some months so that Hitech would have unhindered access, and thus be deprived of further excuses for delay.

Despite the inconveniences on both sides, LCC was doing its best to keep people informed. They took out advertisement to inform people of reasons for certain delays, expected inconveniences road users may experience, traffic detours, etc. It cost money, effort, bother and time to put up those Ads but it was a worthy PR move that bought them patience and understanding from Lagosians, who were happy that their opinion was considered important enough to be taken into account.

And then of a sudden, LCC began to slow down and to stop work altogether. The orange men disappeared, construction vehicles were parked, roads were damaged by them and left untended and commuters had to suffer even longer traffics. Everyone wondered if they were still around. It would seem so, because if you did not see them near the Law School, you would surely see some of their orange men near Chevron or thereabouts, sleeping! Never mind that they may have been working all night. Apparently LCC had challenges most people did not know about. People were taking them to court to prevent demolition of structures along the construction path; their financiers were not forthcoming with money; unexpected physical obstacles such as underground pipes were hindering free flow of work, or what have you. Lagosians did not know this and did not care much. What mattered was that life on the road was getting harder. The Adverts also stopped.

There is the added sense that sometimes LCC does not know what to do, setting to work without first “counting the cost” as they say. How else can one explain delays caused by the appearance of “unexpected” geological obstacles along the construction path? You can literarily see Hitech bosses scratching their heads and wondering from where on earth this new trouble sprang. In their defence I can say that they are heroes of sorts, creating order from the chaos that has been abandoned Lagos.

More questions: Has LCC and the Lagos State government been selective in their demolitions of “illegal” structures along the freeway? Why have some obvious buildings not been demolished? Take the case of the Oriental Hotel built smack on the road. What does LCC do? It goes around it, even constructing for them an alternative access road. Will the public not start to wonder if some political exigencies are at play here?

And then LCC began to build that Toll Gate just before Lekki Phase one roundabout, and that, in my opinion, was a huge Public Relations blunder. Why? The ‘mystery’ structure began to take shape at a period when people already began to lose whatever good impressions they had about LCC. On the tollgate, LCC recovered its previous work gusto. Work stopped everywhere else while all effort seemed to have been focused into completing this “community bank” from which LCC expected to recoup its money. How insensible to our feelings can you be to abandon all work to focus on this (useless) monstrosity about which no one (neither you the concessionaire nor the state government) has bothered to give any explanations? Everybody is wondering how much he or she would have to pay when the time comes. It will be a public relations suicide to begin to collect toll before completing all road works. But something tells me that this is likely their plan.

LCC and co should remember that most of us in these parts are alien to this model of road maintenance, and so it would have served LCC well to have educated people before embarking on what many now consider a monstrous distraction. Each time I pass by that tollgate, that seems more fortified than the American embassy, I feel annoyed.

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