Sunday, 1st October 2023

Tears, jeers for Nigerian roads!

By Editorial Board
27 July 2018   |   3:55 am
The plight of motorists on Lagos-Badagry Expressway is a sad illustration of the agony, pains and tears experienced by Nigerians on roads in their beloved country.

The plight of motorists on Lagos-Badagry Expressway is a sad illustration of the agony, pains and tears experienced by Nigerians on roads in their beloved country. The road networks suffer from insufficient funding caused by a persistent failure to implement the necessary reforms proffered by experts for over 60 years. Consequently, the road is the only transport mode without its own semi-autonomous agency for management. This policy hiatus prevents the harnessing of revenue from road-user contributions and thus slows down road projects in the most populous black nation on earth.

The other transport modes are able to achieve greater success on capital projects because they have boards and are not being hampered by the sluggish pace of bureaucracy and the horse-trading tactics in the legislature where values are allocated for critical infrastructure. This trend has been compounded by the power elite’s penchant for flying over the roads. So they don’t see them – even as a source of reproach for democracy, their democracy. This is very unfortunate.

The Lagos-Badagry Expressway was initially conceived and constructed by the Military Government of Lagos State, under Mobolaji Johnson, as one of the State’s projects in the 1974-1980 National Development Plan. The unitary military government allowed the involvement of the Federal Government such that the Murtala Mohammed/Olusegun Obasanjo administration keyed into the project and extended the road into the territory of Benin Republic. Given its strategic importance for the integration of ECOWAS Region, the road was absorbed into the federal networks. It was also listed as one the Trans-African Highways conceived during Adebayo Adedeji’s tenure as Secretary-General of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).

As there has been no executive will to establish a federal roads authority or review the classification of roads, in this regard, state governments have made proposals to rehabilitate and improve some segments of federal roads within their states. In this vein, Lagos State conceived, planned and designed a three-phase reconstruction of the 64-kilometre road from Iganmu to Seme Border; to be spread over a period of seven years. The first phase from Iganmu to Mile 2 Interchange was awarded to Julius Berger Nigeria and was completed on schedule. The second phase to Okokomaiko was awarded to a Chinese construction company, with provision for a light rail and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lanes. Segments of this second phase have been completed but not yet opened for use. On account of inflation and increased cost of the project, the State Government is reported to be seeking a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement for the third phase.

The details of the approval given by the Federal Government for Lagos State to embark on the project are still sketchy. However, given the strategic importance of this road as the gateway to ECOWAS countries, is it justified that the Federal Government would have a hands-off attitude? On its part, is the Lagos State Government cognizant of the need to review its plan for funding this major project, beyond seeking an alternative option? Is there sufficient interaction with the Federal Government on the progress and challenges of this international route? Should such an international route be ceded for private participation? This newspaper is of the view that the Federal Government should consider the Lagos-Badagry road strategic project a priority.

These questions take us back to the issues that have been left unaddressed for years and that resulted in the present state of roads in the country. What is even inexplicable is that we have in both the executive and legislative arms of government, individuals who had served as state governors. Certainly, they know the challenges but are yet to step out to endorse and ensure the actualisation of a Federal Roads Authority.

In 2008, a Final Stakeholder’s Workshop concluded the proposal for the Road Fund and Federal Roads Authority, with benchmarks for actualisation. In 2013, the minister responsible for roads then announced to the nation that the Federal Roads Authority would be established, to eliminate the duplication of functions by Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) and the Highways Department; which would improve efficiency in the administration of roads.

Curiously, nothing has been heard on the matter from the ministry and its leadership since the present administration came into office in 2015.
A few months back, Senator Kabiru Gaya from Kano spoke enthusiastically and expressed optimism that the Road Fund and Federal Roads Authority were receiving attention in the Senate, with a second reading of the Bill. What is the present position? While this critical matter has not been treated, we have had speedy passage of other bills including youth participation in political leadership. This is a matter of commitment to priorities.

Is it any wonder that major road projects across the country are not progressing, while the minister is summoned, like a bywoner, from time to time, by the National Assembly to defend or explain one issue or another? The other day, there were counter-accusations about the National Assembly reducing the figure in the budget for the rehabilitation and expansion of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Across this vast country, there are many federal road projects with no certain completion date, due to insufficient funds. This is no surprise as experts have stated that budgetary extractions can provide only 15 per cent of funds needed for road infrastructure.

In addition, development economists have brought to our attention, the deficiencies in our present implementation of budget for capital projects, which always run over many years. Although figures are allocated to each project in the annual budget, considering our present low performance of less than 25 per cent, we must hearken to the call of the experts and change the status quo. For this, we must go back to development-planning regime that was jettisoned and replaced by the obsequious policy of rolling plans.

There have been many cases of collaboration between the federal and state governments for the construction and rehabilitation of some roads. The completion of the world-class Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos was spearheaded by Lagos State governors who solicited the approval of the then military Head of State. In the same vein, the duallisation of the Abeokuta-Sagamu Interchange federal highway was a result of collaboration between Ogun State and the Federal Government. The Lagos State government should therefore swallow its presumptuousness and consider the expediency of how to involve the Federal Government on the Lagos-Badagry Expressway. After all, on February 3, 1976, while proclaiming Abuja as new Federal Capital, the then Head of State, Murtala Muhammed said Lagos would be treated as Nigeria’s Commercial Capital and would be treated as a Special Area in terms of budgetary allocation. The federal authorities should always be reminded about this covenant with Lagos people and government.

The road has not received the requisite attention from successive federal administrations since the federal military government did not endorse (in 1972) the recommendations for the establishment of a Federal Highways Authority and a National Road Fund.

With the end of the oil boom years and its attendant mentality, funding has remained the major setback for road development. Over the years, the Federal Government had resorted to ad-hoc sources and measures such as defunct Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructure, (DFFRI), Petroleum Trust Fund (PTF), Sure-P, etc whereas what is required is an institution with long-term planning and sustainability.

To arrest the continuing deterioration of roads across the land, this matter must be given priority. The executive arm of government must recognise and declare a state of emergency on roads. It must show leadership in the effort to establish the National Road Fund and the Federal Roads Authority. This will enhance the realisation of many financial packages for funding roads and ensure the harmonisation of road programmes in Nigeria. This should receive more priority attention than revival of or establishment of a new Airline, which only the power elite can benefit from.