Roads: Federal Government as dog in the manger
The recent declaration by the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, that the Federal Government will not refund states that rehabilitate federal roads is in bad taste. The decision is misguided, ill-informed and can only worsen the pain and suffering of Nigerians on the nation’s deplorable roads. Not even in a war situation would roads degenerate so badly.
It is abundantly clear that the Federal Government is overwhelmed by the appalling condition of the roads across the federation. Let’s be honest, Federal Government can’t do all the roads. But rather than seek a way out by collaborating with the states to rehabilitate some of these roads, it chose to adopt an unfriendly posture, threatening not to refund states for federal roads they rehabilitate.
Consequently, we are left with a situation whereby the Federal Government is unable to do the roads and at the same time disallows willing states from doing it, thereby becoming a Dog in the Manger. The pictures of hellish roads all over the television screens portray the ugly situation we face.
I can’t fathom why the Federal Government is playing politics with critical infrastructure like roads, the same way its politicking has ruined the power sector. There is no way this country would develop its infrastructure if the states should sit back and wait for the minister and his cronies in Abuja to do the roads. Twenty years in this political dispensation have not seen a significant change in roads development or other infrastructures. This is sad.
It is obvious that the federal government is not doing the roads as it should. It, alone, can’t develop the country. The states must be involved. The minister is aware that the roads are in terrible state despite his denial the other day and the people are suffering. For how long will the states sit on the fence and watch things deteriorate? The dog in the manger attitude of the federal government is drawing the hand of the clock back.
What the minister is saying, by implication, is that it is right for the federal government to abandon the roads even when it is not in a position to do anything. At the beginning of each year, billions are allocated to the Ministry of Works and Housing for infrastructure repairs and development but at the end there is nothing to show for it. The federal government has failed to live up to expectation in maintaining the trunk roads it claims belong to it. At the same time, willing state governments are not allowed to maintain the roads. What type of disgusting governance structure is this?
Looking at Lagos, its status as a former federal capital placed it above other cities. Because Lagos is a primate city and the former capital, most of the roads in the state are federal roads. The federal government built the flyovers and bridges. Also, the federal government built the Lagos-Badagry Expressway under contention. Nobody is quarrelling with the federal government over ownership of its roads. The issue is that these roads have been abandoned and are not being maintained. It is only a lazy man that would be there watching while his roof is leaking and collapsing. The so-called federal roads pass through the states. That is why some states desire to repair the roads.
For instance, the 48-year old Lagos-Badagry Expressway is a major international highway that links Nigeria with the rest of West Africa. The road is a major arterial route for importation of goods through the land border with Benin Republic. The importance of the road cannot be overemphasized. But sadly enough, the road has deteriorated beyond expectation. In contrast, the Benin Republic side of the road is well maintained. A ride from Cotonou to the Seme border makes a smooth journey until one crosses over to the Nigeria side, where bad road presents itself.
It is against this background that the Fashola administration decided to expand the road from the current four to 10-lanes dual-carriage international highway, with provision made for light rail and Bus Rapid Transport system. Action had started on the road. Buildings and other structures blocking the road were demolished. No doubt, that action caused untold hardship to many families. Three contractors were selected to execute the project estimated to cost N220 billion. A large chunk of the funds would come from internally generated revenue.
The project, which is being executed under a World Bank assisted program, is divided into three lots. Lot One is about 7.5 kilometers running from Eric Moore to Mile 2. Lot Two, which is 24 kilometers, starts from Mile 2 to Agbara. The third Lot runs from Agbara to Badagry. Each of the three contractors would execute one phase. That would engender competition. The project was expected to be completed in three years but that is no longer feasible as the project was abandoned after Fashola left until it was revisited recently by Governor Sanwo-Olu. There is no doubt that the completion of the road would spur economic activities by attracting investors in the western axis of the state.
It is clear from the Minister’s remarks that he is opposed to roads rehabilitation. He is only interested in what the law says and not what is expedient. It would have made sense if the minister had mentioned any major highways he is rehabilitating. There is public outcry over the deplorable condition of major highways in the country. The highways are death traps like the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway whose reconstruction is unending, Ibadan-Ife highway, and Lokoja-Abuja highway. If the minister were to give account of his stewardship, what would he give as his achievement? Proposals to do this or that road doesn’t amount to doing the road. The country has no operational railway, which is under another minister.
The posturing of the federal authorities whenever a state government wants to work on the abandoned highways in their jurisdiction is counterproductive. Nigeria is too large for one agency in Abuja to supervise the entire road networks. It would be a different thing if the federal government is maintaining the roads but it is not doing that. The states should be allowed to take charge of the roads within their jurisdiction. The job of the Ministry of Works should be to set standards and guidelines for roads. It is absolutely wrong for the Ministry of Works to stand against any state that wants to rehabilitate dilapidated roads.
Ordinary Nigerians are not interested on who owns the road. What the people want to see are good roads that make travelling smooth and safe. Over the years, successive governments in Lagos had wanted to build befitting roads and light rail infrastructures but were frustrated by the Federal Government. As far back as the early 80s, the Jakande administration wanted to embark on the Lagos Metro Line project to enhance mass transport but was frustrated by the Federal Government.
Similarly, the Tinubu administration battled the federal government that never wanted him to implement any of the lofty projects he mapped out. The problem is that the federal government appears to be only out to frustrate viable projects that would have enhanced the status of Lagos without providing any.
The Federal Government should learn to team up with any state government that decides to embark on any viable developmental project. If it is not ready to do that, it shouldn’t frustrate the project. Let the project be executed in the first place and thereafter, other issues would be sorted out. The Federal Government should wean this dog in the manger attitude that is not helping matters.
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