Rage on roads
Until now I thought that the cutest insult delivered to Nigerians on the horrible nature of our roads was the one by a foreign automobile company that assembles cars in Nigeria. On every one of its Peugeot cars the company had a sticker that said: “Made for Nigerian roads.” We all swallowed the insult because we knew it was no insult at all since our roads are bone-shakers and bone-breakers. Now someone we are paying to make our roads worth riding on is delivering the real insult by telling us that the country’s roads are not as bad as we are saying they are. Mr. Babatunde Fashola, Minister of Works and Housing probably flies about in a helicopter. He probably has helicopter pads in his office and residence which would mean that he does not walk or ride on the roads below. Definitely he hasn’t seen the appalling nature of Nigeria’s roads otherwise he would not claim that the reports are exaggerated. His statement is the equivalent of adding insult-and salt-to the gaping wounds of accident victims occasioned by the rock-and-roll roads. He has also failed to avail himself of the facts on the ground.
The World Bank indicates that out of the 193, 200 kilometres of Nigeria’s road network only 280, 980 kilometres are paved. That is merely 15% compared that to the 80% paved roads in Malaysia, a country that started the race for development at the same time with Nigeria. It is not much of an excuse that while Nigeria is 32nd on the landmass map of the world Malaysia is the 66th. On every other life transforming index, Malaysia has beaten Nigeria which has more resources than Malaysia. But that is a story for another day. In July 2017, 13 people were dying from recorded car accidents each day in Nigeria while 1, 200 vehicles were involved in accidents that month due largely to poor roads.
If you consider that Nigeria is a country with an unhealthy disdain for statistics you can conclude that the actual figures of accidents and deaths must be far higher than those made available by the Police and Road Safety officials. But we who ply the roads everyday do not need statistics to convince us that the roads are an equivalent of an abortion clinic and any pregnant woman who carries her pregnancy around on these roads is asking for the premature termination of her pregnancy journey. These roads are punctuated by valleys, buckets, gullies, potholes and craters. No car rider needs any bump to slow him down. As your car creaks, squeaks and groans along the road you are bound to also creak, squeak and groan along with it as you bounce from side to side like a Japanese gymnast.
These are the spots where children attempt to fix the roads with hoes and shovels in exchange for a few naira notes from grateful road users. Some others set up emergency markets at these points where they sell groundnuts, oranges, bananas, boiled or roasted corn to motorists who, willy-nilly, have to slow down or simply go at snail’s speed. This situation also becomes a favourite point for armed robbers and kidnappers. These roads have no respect for the quality of your car. You may be riding a tear-rubber Rolls Royce or Lamborghini or a tokunbo and badly panel-beaten Mercedez Benz or Lexus, it doesn’t matter. The roads will damage them for you and send you scampering for the office of the nearby roadside motor mechanic.
A few years ago, two of my colleagues and I were to go to Makurdi for a function. We toyed with the idea of flying to Abuja and doing the last leg of the journey by road. We abandoned it and opted to go by road from Lagos. Makurdi has an airport but no regular flight goes there. If you are rich you can charter an aircraft/helicopter and may be you can land there. Since my colleagues and I do not belong in that league we had to go by road so that we can absorb the endless beauty of Nigeria’s countryside and also go through the torture of a thousand checkpoints on the way. As we stepped out of Lagos we decided, seeing how bad the road ahead of us was, to do some road mathematics.
The three of us, Yakubu Mohammed, Soji Akinrinade and I decided to record on the car’s kilometre reading any 10-kilometre stretch of road without potholes. We went through eight states or so and we did not succeed in our mission to find a 10-kilometre flawless travel space all the way from Lagos to Makurdi. As part of the fun when we passed through a particular town on the bad road we would name some big politicians who are indigenes of that town. One of us told the story of one big man who couldn’t go to his village to see his mother because the road was impassable. He simply checked into a hotel in the city and sent for his mother to come and meet him in the hotel.
And yet he was in a position to do something about the road to his village. His old mother should go through the rigour of the dangerous road while he waited in his suite in a 5-star hotel. The World Bank thinks that if the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa would connect their major cities by upgrading their primary road network there could be an increase in regional trade to the tune of $250 billion in five years. Most African countries don’t think long term and Nigeria is probably the worst culprit in this respect. Our business today is not with roads in Sub-Saharan Africa. That can wait. Nigeria’s roads are really horrible, especially federal roads. I have travelled on some of them: Calabar-Itu Road, East-West Road, Port Harcourt-Yenagoa Road, Lagos-Ibadan-Ife Road. It is no fun to be on those roads at any time, day or night.
For a long time our roads have been badly neglected by the Federal Government. The roads in some of the states are better because the people are close enough to harass their Governors. But who can get into the impregnable Aso Rock to harass President Muhammadu Buhari? Besides, many Nigerians do not even know the difference between Federal and State roads. But a few years ago, Babatunde Fashola who was the Governor of Lagos State allowed us to know the difference. Wherever he was repairing any Federal Government road in Lagos, he mischievously planted a sign board that said: “This is a federal road but we are fixing it. Please bear with us.” That was when Dr. Goodluck Jonathan of the PDP was the President.
So Fashola’s tactics was good opposition politics. It would be magical if Fashola could kindly plant a sign board on a state road with the inscription “This is a state road but we are fixing it. Please bear with us.” That will not happen. But we request him to do the less magical one by placing a board that says “This is federal road and we are fixing it. Please bear with us.” That is what people would want to see him do: fix federal roads and not bother whether or not people are exaggerating about the horrendous and horrifying state of our roads, because they are truly horrendous and horrifying.
Right now some states are repairing federal roads. That is an anomaly, evidence of our untrue federalism. But they repair the roads because the bulk of their people ply those roads. So why does the Federal Government want to own roads that it is not ready, willing or able to maintain? Why would the Federal Government not give up responsibilities that it knows it is ill equipped to handle by pushing for a redistribution of responsibilities between it and the States? In the 2018 federal budget, the Government said it would spend about N295 billion on road construction, expansion and maintenance. It also decided to raise a debut sovereign Sukuku of N100 billion to fund the construction and rehabilitation of 25 high impact roads across the country.
We seem to hear of these fabulous figures only at budget time. No one, not even the National Assembly, tells us whether or not these monies were released and the projects executed or whether the monies simply put on their wings and flew away from the treasury. No accountability. No transparency. We are simply flying blind. Several people have called on the Federal Government to declare an emergency on roads. That is the height of their frustration. Other people have also called for an emergency on education, health, electricity and infrastructure. That is a potent evidence of our all-round decline in virtually every aspect of our national life. But we can’t take the country into an emergency ward for surgery because there is no such surgeon in the world that can do the operation.
The government has threatened to re-erect toll gates that were dismantled a few years ago. I have no problem with toll gates if the money collected would be used in fixing the roads. Every government in Nigeria charges motorists for road-worthiness certificates on their vehicles. Yes, we are compelled to drive vehicles that are road worthy but the governments never provide us with roads that are vehicle-worthy. Mr. Fashola and all the other persons in charge of roads in the country should pay attention to giving us roads that are vehicle-worthy instead of telling us stories that will not stop us from showing our rage on the state of our ramshackle roads.
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