Deplorable state of federal roads
Nigerians may have been spared another agony arising from fuel scarcity and its unpleasant effects, following the suspension of the strike action threatened by tanker drivers the other day; but the issue of bad roads that directly caused the threat remains unsolved and festering. It has raised a question as to the durability of the strike suspension and indeed, for how long the ensuing peace can last. What is certain is that most of Nigerian roads, particularly those controlled by the federal government, are in deplorable state and will continue to drag Nigerians back in their bid for better living conditions.
The bad roads necessitated the House of Representatives to call on the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, to commence immediate repair of federal roads nationwide. That the roads all over the country are in terrible and pathetic state is not in doubt. There is hardly any state that can boast of having good motorable roads. The strike threat by the tanker drivers only underscores the gravity of the problem. The state of roads in Nigeria has become a matter of national shame and embarrassment for which urgent action is required to redress.
The House’s call on the ministry followed its adoption of the motion of urgent national importance moved by the Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu who lamented that a gully had suddenly emerged on the Onitsha-Owerri Expressway around Oraifute, Ekwusigo Local Council, Anambra State; and that the development had cut the expressway into two leading to the entrapment of a fuel tanker laden with diesel in the gully. Actually, that graphic situation of bad roads is replicated, even in worse forms, in many other areas in the country.
It is unfortunate that government, whether in the executive or the legislative arm, has this notorious habit of waiting for eruption of crisis before acting on time-bomb issues begging for attention. If that is excusable, the failure of government to fully and holistically address roads funding and development is appalling, and a display of crass insensitivity, given the essential nature of roads to daily living of Nigerians and their inaccessibility to other means of transportation.
Worried that many of the federal roads in issue, mostly in the south-east and south-south geopolitical zones of the country are completely impassable, the House had correctly observed that they pose great hardship to motorists, other road users, host communities and constitute threat to the lives of the people; hence the need for urgent government intervention. Their lamentation is not far-fetched, considering not just the frequent vehicular accidents that brutally cut short the lives of Nigerians, but also the fact that dare devil kidnappers have been successfully carrying out their nefarious trade aided by bad roads that ground commuters in the middle of their journey.
On their part, the Petroleum Tanker Drivers under the aegis of NUPENG had threatened to resume their suspended strike if the federal government failed to address issues, including bad roads, impeding their smooth operation. The drivers decided to call off their threat following the intervention of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), which noted that paucity of funds had been largely responsible for the dilapidated conditions of the roads, promising however to invest in the reconstruction of select federal roads, to be done under the Federal Government’s Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Task Credit Scheme.
The increasing dilapidation of roads infrastructure across the various geopolitical zones of the country has prompted calls for the scrapping of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), set up by the Federal Government to maintain federal roads. The agency may have its challenges no doubt, but maintenance of roads require deeper remedies, some of which may necessitate relinquishing some or all federal roads to states, with appropriate funding provisions, including the Federal Government mooted plan to establish a Road Asset Management System (RAMS), which has remained perpetually on the drawing board. RAMS should be carefully formulated and implemented to give the road system a new lease of life. The country cannot afford to continue losing critical opportunities due to bad roads.
For decades, lack of maintenance is the bane of road development in the country. A flawed administrative arrangement, unfortunately, is responsible for the ugly situation where roads are left to depreciate no sooner than they are commissioned. The proposed system, if well implemented, should spin a paradigm shift, whereby, roads would be managed like any other economic asset for value addition. Roads maintenance should be an integral part of road development contracts.
Nigeria needs investment in road infrastructure. Over the decades, investment on road projects has not been commensurate with the boost in economic activities. Very often, condition of roads is a mismatch of public spending on the roads. Some states are compelled to rehabilitate dilapidated federal roads in their jurisdiction and then face herculean task to get a refund. And it is time to pay greater premium to roads development that can stand the test of time and the environmental variables of the regions. It is wasteful and illogical to keep repairing roads with huge sums every year.
Ultimately, roads development and maintenance should be based on the principle of true federalism such that the regions and the councils play critical roles, and relieve the centre of its huge burden on roads maintenance.