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State of Nigeria’s roads

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A portion of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway being reconstructed. PHOTO: NAN

A portion of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway being reconstructed. PHOTO: NAN

The lamentation by road transport workers on the deplorable condition of roads in the country and their consequent threat to increase transport fares should be understood by all Nigerians.

Recently, luxury bus owners and association of private companies of Nigeria announced plans to increase transport fares by as much as 70 per cent, citing unbearable rising maintenance costs and terrible road condition in the country.

Certainly, the deplorable state of roads in Nigeria has become a national shame and an unnecessary embarrassment as there is hardly any part of the country that can boast of motor-able roads. Most all the roads – Trunk A (federal), Trunk B (state) or Trunk C (local government) – are in terrible state even after almost 17 years of uninterrupted democracy in the country. Because of poor leadership and woeful planning, existing railway system is not only dysfunctional, it is under-developed. Besides, the aviation sector that has been operationally inefficient is on the verge of collapse as only four local airlines with few aircraft in their fleet operate at the moment. In fact, one of the oldest surviving airlines, Aero Contractors, suspended operations a few days ago after more than 50 years, citing harsh business operating environment. With an estimated 193,200 kilometres of roads in the country and the Federal Government is in charge of about 34,000 kilometres, leaving the rest to the states and local governments, unfortunately, no tier of government has done well on matters of roads construction and maintenance.

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It is a national tragedy that does not shock anyone anymore that scores of innocent people are killed daily in avoidable accidents on account of bad roads. The same poor road network has resulted in poor productivity as immeasurable man-hours are lost in traffic. The national economy suffers incalculable losses as a result.

It is high time government at all levels treated road infrastructure as a priority to enhance economic development and secure life and property.

This is also where corruption has dealt another devastating blow on Nigerians. Since 1999, a whopping N1.4 trillion ($8.5 billion) has reportedly been spent on road construction or maintenance with very little evidence of the money spent. In the 2015 budget, the Federal Government reportedly slashed the Works Ministry’s budget from N100 billion to N11 billion, which many criticised as a disaster for roads maintenance. But even at that, N11 billion could have made some difference if allocation was judiciously used.

Without a functional railway system, roads are the only means of movement for people and goods. And so when the roads are not in good shape as is seen all over the country, the nation’s economy is sure to be the first victim.

Specifically, some of the worst highways include the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Shagamu-Ore, Onitsha-Enugu-Port Harcourt road, generally believed to be the most strategic economic routes in the country as Lagos seaports are the only viable ones. Others include Ikorodu-Shagamu road, Okene-Lokoja-Abuja and Rijau-Kontagora road in Niger State. With a few exceptions, indeed, virtually all the highways in the country are in terrible state. Not to mention the majority of Trunk B roads that have not received any attention for decades.

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What is more traumatic than travelling through Nigerian roads, especially, during the rainy season? Vehicles break down; heavy-duty trucks overturn or get stuck in the mud. Motorists disembark at such horrible spots to push crippled and articulated vehicles. The result is traffic gridlock on both sides of what seems like a jungle and loss of many lives.

Almost 56 years after independence, it is indeed a shame that Nigeria, despite the huge revenue earnings from oil, is yet to develop a good transportation system. From 2008 to June 2014 alone, Nigeria reportedly earned N44.655 trillion. Add this to another N2.5 trillion reportedly earned by Nigeria in the last quarter of 2015. That is why it is quite pertinent to ask the kind of premium government places on roads as economic assets that should aid national productivity!

There are very few African countries with Nigeria’s shameful status with regards to roads. The Lagos-Badagry highway, for example, which links Nigeria with the Republic of Benin, underscores this ugly narrative. Whereas the Nigerian side of what should be a super highway, linking the whole of West Africa, is dilapidated and impassable, the Republic of Benin’s portion is not only in good condition, it advertises a certain irresponsibility on the part of Nigeria. And Benin Republic leaders often mock Nigeria as its ‘role model’ and tower of strength, declaring, almost tongue in cheek, that Benin Republic is Nigeria’s 37th state.

In every respect, we sympathise with the agonising road transporters. The Nigerian authorities are culpable and they should show responsibility.

It has been said often that the building of concrete roads with cement, especially in the southern states where erosion is rife is the way to go. This is what experts have been recommending as a solution to uncertain durability of asphalt roads. But it appears that no one listens or cares about this. Such insensitivity nurtured by corruption, of course, explains a situation in which roads are still being built at prohibitive costs without considering quality. Whereas, the World Bank’s benchmark for building a kilometre of road is N238 million, the same one-kilometre is built for about N1 billion in Nigeria.

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The structure of road ownership and maintenance has always been a controversial subject. The policy that the three tiers of government have responsibility for roads development and maintenance is in place but execution of this arrangement has been unfortunately flawed. No tier of government consistently maintains its own share of the roads, leading to overlapping of duties, conflicts and eventual neglect. But specifically, the Federal Government has been markedly negligent as all its roads in the country are deplorable.

While the debate rages over who should take responsibility for the roads within a state even when they are supposedly federal, the people, as well as the economy, suffer. Therefore, the federal roads issue, currently on the exclusive legislative list, should be reviewed concomitantly with revenue allocation formula. This way, citizens in the states will be able to demand responsibility from their governors on road infrastructure.

The maintenance of roads in Nigeria must improve or else the nation’s development objectives will remain unattainable. The federal and state governments should enunciate a policy that will involve private sector operators in a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model that can also attract foreign investment. Already, the Federal Government has launched a road concessioning scheme that accommodates private sector participation. There is a commission responsible for this and should be made functional to serve public interest in this regard.


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