Benin by road
We travelled from Lagos to Onitsha by road. We thought we would get a better feel of Nigeria. Living in Lagos, we had seen the tremendous progress Lagos had made: Ogudu, Ogba, Egbe, Ikorodu, Festac, testify to the vibrancy of Lagos. On the way to Badagry, nearly every acre is built up. On the way to Ikorodu the experience is the same. Travelling to Ibadan from Lagos, there is hardly any piece of unbuilt land between Lagos and Sagamu; the same is true on the Otta road. But it is in Banana Island, Park View, Lekki that the development is even more outstanding.
It is now fashionable to travel to Benin via the Lekki Expressway through Epe before turning right to the junction of the major expressway leading to Benin via Ore. For nearly 35 kilometres of the Lekki road, there was not a single unbuilt area on both sides of the road. This is visible, tangible development. Further developments are due in the area when the Lagos Free Trade Zone is opened, Dangote Refinery is built and the airport and new sea ports are opened. Before these gigantic projects are completed, the road and other infrastructure must be put in place now.
The Lekki express road must be widened to take about eight lanes otherwise the whole of that development would be marred by massive gridlock. Already the road is crowded and portions of it are in a terrible state. Coscharis, Globe Motors, Eleganza and a host of others have massive establishments there. There are about three universities, including the Pan African University which houses the monumental Lagos Business School. There is a plethora of expensive schools, like Atlantic Hall and so on there.
But at Epe, the landscape changes from urban to rural. This continues until you hit the expressway at Epe-Ijebu-Ode junction. This rural topography is rather depressing because there are no large farms – only small farms which characterise our agriculture in Nigeria. Someday, Nigeria will again wake up to its agricultural obligations. Presumably then, more land would be cultivated, bringing more jobs and food security.
The further you go, the worse the roads become. Before I discuss the road, I noticed that public transportation is in the hands of Nigerians from small white buses taking about 20-28 passengers to the massive 16 wheeler trucks carrying goods to all locations in Nigeria. This is testimony that in many areas, Nigeria has developed without government aid. The buses go everywhere in Nigeria, with names like God is Good, G.M. Agofure, and Greener Line and a lot of others. It is true that some vehicles plying the road belong to governments with travelling companies like Akwa Ibom Transport Company, Edo line and so on. But by and large the transport section ferrying people from town to town throughout Nigeria is in private hands. I do not believe the Nigerian roads were designed to carry these massive trailers. The roads tend to develop massive potholes and slow traffic down considerably. Where the roads are worse, there you will find Police, Federal Highway officers, Local Government officers, and a host of other traffic personnel. It seems these people deliberately break up the road so as to slow down all traffic. They further contribute to delays by asking nearly every car for “particulars” with no other intention than to extract money from drivers. Drivers to avoid delays now change lanes frequently driving on the other side of the road. The gridlock from there turns the road into a massive market where hawkers sell any and all kinds of wares, food and beverages.
There are major trailer stops along the way. The trailers park on either side of the road, sometimes two or three abreast, leaving one single lane. Sometimes another trailer breaks down on that remaining single lane. Nothing can move although there are several tow trucks on the roads. A local automobile technician would then be found who may or may not be able to repair the broken down trailer. Meanwhile, impatient drivers are trying to go through the road shoulder or even driving on verge outside the shoulder. Oftentimes, these cars and buses get stuck in the mud and need to be pushed. Tempers get shorter, quarrels and fights are regular. At this point I now regret not flying to Benin, Asaba or Warri. During all this pandemonium, the various police and traffic officers are still asking for particulars. One irate driver said to police officers “Oga how many times? No bi me give you money just now back there”. The Police: “no bi me you give. Na road safety or Federal Highway.” Driver – “na lie, na you. Una no dey tire? Oga move traffic make we go”. The passengers all join in, “comot jare, all of una na tief, tief”.
At another road stop, again because of damaged road, the Policemen asked him for “particulars”. The driver refused and the policemen asked him to park by the side of the road. He refused and said to the officer “wetin una dey do here? Particulars, particulars, driving license, road worthiness – all these no bi money we pay Government so una go repair road. Road una no repair. Every day money money. I no go pay. Go tell Government make them repair this road. If this road done repair, how you go fit stop me. Una and government spoil road so una go fit collect money. I no pay, I no go show you any particulars”.
By now a small crowd had gathered and they were all heaping abuses on the officer who had been joined by other officers, one of whom fired shots in the air. “Everybody come down,” he ordered. No one moved. “Kill us if you like because of N50 – when we dey pay each police post since we leave Lagos”. Luckily some top government officials with siren were coming behind. The mobile policemen in the car with the siren had all disembarked. Some crossed to the other side, trying to move the traffic. Others ran further up the road to unloose the traffic knot. As they did, the siren and convoy began to move, other vehicles followed and so we were able to continue our journey.
There is usually chaos around the articulated vehicle parks. It suddenly struck me that someone should build huge trailer parks along the highway where the trailer crew can eat, rest and relax. These parks can be run by the Local Government, State Government and Federal Highways Authority charging a fee for their use. Massive petrol stations could be accommodated there with shops and other recreational activities. This will get the trucks off the highways. For example we were stuck for over 1 ½ hours on the Benin Bye-Pass to Lagos because the trucks simply took over every inch of the bye-pass. These truck parks could be profitable and could even be built by the individual owners like Dangote, Princess and Emmanuel who own hundreds of these trucks.