Kokoma and break dance on the highways
No. I am not referring to road show, the one organised by show biz people, the film stars and pop musicians to show case their talent and achievements. No, not the one with its concomitant razzmatazz, the glitz and the glamour, nor am I saying anything about the investment bankers and issuing houses who are promoting their new products in various parts of the country.
Not that road show. Road travel, that is what am talking about. Am saying something about the real show, the raw deal for the poor and the pauper who have no alternative means of movement from one town to another, the one that involves the uncanny ability to dance break dance, to dance the kokoma dance and who do so with grit and gut wrenching anguish. That is what I am talking about.
The road travel which is a pleasure for fun seekers and holiday makers in other climes has become a fitting testimony to the poor man’s sense of endurance or persecution in our own land. In a sense, it is an endurance test, the one that seeks to bring out the job syndrome in us; the one that seeks to test our patience and perseverance and our ability to survive in agony and hardship.
Let us take the history of road travel from as recent as the time of independence, some 57 years back. Those of our generation who, for one reason or the other, had reason to move from one place to another, contended with trucks and assorted mammy wagons, the type that carried logs of wood and agricultural products as vehicles fit for human transportation. You sat uncomfortably in the said truck with your back to the driver and facing where you were coming from. You were not supposed to see your front or face the direction you were going. May God bless your soul in the event of any crisis.
When it rained, your journey could be halted for more than 12 hours because your vehicle would be unable to cross a rickety wooden bridge. Usually there was a sign which proclaimed “Road closed. No crossing for 12 hours after heavy rain.” You were then forced to sleep on the road for the night. Road close was just one of the innumerable impediments to the joy of road travel.
But with advancement in the economy and sophistication in governance, some improvements came to road users. Cars that were the monopoly of government workers, top civil servants and rich business men became common place and young men in transport business started to use them for commercial purposes. The common man breathed a sigh of relief. He was not so common any more. With money in his pocket, he could afford the luxury of car travel on fairly good roads.
The good living came to its height during the military regimes. Good roads sprang up across the county. Graduates from the universities had the luxury of car loans once they started work. With their own cars, life was becoming meaningful because they were no longer at the mercy of these mechanical contrivances on four wheels. They were on the roads day and night enjoying their youths. And they always looked forward to weekends to travel home from wherever they were eking out a living. Hardly would any one of them, even if driving at a snail speed, spend a night on the road because of bad road or traffic snarl.
All the same, they had trailers and other such leviathans to contend with. They also had numerous police check points to deal with. But not armed robbers. And there were no kidnapers. In fact, for some adventurous ones, it was more pleasurable to travel in the night, alone or accompanied. From Lagos to my village in today’s Kogi State, on the average took me six hours through Ore and Benin to Auchi and to Aganebode from where we crossed to Idah in a small ferry that carried the car and its owner across the River Niger. Alternatively, the journey could take you through Lokoja with a ferry crossing to Shintaku. Then came the Iron Steel Industry at Ajaokuta to the rescue. And with it the double lane road from Okene to Ajaokuta and a bridge on the River Niger linking the steel complex to Igalaland. No more ferry service. There was now improved journey and improved pleasurable drive.
From the time of the military regime of General Yakubu Gowon, through Olusegun Obasanjo’s military government and the President Shehu Shagari’s four year civilian interregnum back to the military diktat of General Muhammadu Buhari through that of President Ibrahim Babangida and Sani Abacha, the roads were truly like heaven on earth. And the wonder of all wonders, even the bespectacled General Abacha, the most hated dictator, utilised oil money in a most creative way using the Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF under the chairmanship of General Buhari, now president. The PTF opened up new roads and added to the pleasure, safety and comfort in road travel.
But like all good things, they were too good to last. Enter democracy in 1999 and we started to get “dividends of democracy.” Instead of good roads, ironically we got bad roads as dividends of democracy. Pot holes morphed into craters and huge gullies in some places. The journey between Lagos and Ibadan which hitherto took maximum of one hour on good days, started to elongate to two hours until it reached a peak of sometimes more than six hours.
There was a whole one year in which no road was rehabilitated and no new one was constructed. Democracy dividend ensured that the money voted for road that year was not used for roads. It was not used for anything that we know about and it has not been accounted for till date.
I used to do six hours from Lagos to my village. Today, after 14 hours on the road, we are not home yet. Those who leave Lagos at 6.00 in the morning get home mid-night and spend the rest of the night at motor parks. And those who leave home 6.00 in the morning for Lagos sleep on the way or arrive Lagos 2.00 the following morning. Not only that the roads are bad and you travel on them with your heart in your mouth, but now you do so in mortal fear of armed robbers and kidnappers.
Some people are particularly unlucky. Like my people. Even if they can afford air journey, there is no airport near them. And the hapless residents of Adogo, a small settlement between Okene and Ajaokuta. I don’t know who cursed them.
There is a portion of the road right in front of the local government secretariat that has for eternity been impassable. If you navigate your way through the place in two hours you are lucky. It has been like that for more than 15 years. It survived Ibrahim Idris administration in Kogi State. The man who took over from him, Governor Idris Wada did not do anything about it. Now there is a son of the soil, Governor Yahaya Bello, at the helm of affairs in Kogi State. I will be surprised if he can summon the courage to fix the road.
Their only untenable reason for neglecting the road and leaving the road users to their own device is that it is a Federal Government road. And I call it a lazy and an unacceptable excuse. There is no earthly reason not to salvage your own people from stagnation, underdevelopment and all of manner of deprivation. I recall what other governors do to alleviate the sufferings of their people. They rehabilitate federal roads in their respective states and recover the money later. Their concern was the plight of their own people.
The picture I have painted thus far is a picture that is obtainable all over the country. If it is better or worse elsewhere it is simply a matter of degree. So what gives?
The current efforts of the Buhari administration in fixing the roads must be comprehensive enough to accommodate places that have so far not been captured in the programme of the works ministry. The Adogo danger spot, I can bet, has not been captured and may never be captured for reasons best known to government.
But the onus is on the Buhari administration to break this jinx and end this kokoma and break dance by road travellers. Obviously hardship occasioned by government’s criminal neglect is not one of those so called dividends of democracy.
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