• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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BusinessDay

Seeking a halt to carnage on our highways

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ALEXANDER CHIEJINA

As torrents of rain, showered by the ‘open heavens’ continue unabated, transporters nod that they are truly in for gruelling times on the nation’s collapsed roads, necessitating the call on government to urgently expedite action on road repair works in the interest of the economy, writes ALEXANDER CHIEJINA

There is no gain-saying that provision of good roads is fundamentally important to the economic development of Nigeria, as well as the well-being of its inhabitants. According to a recent analysis, road transportation in Nigeria controls over 95 percent of all surface transportation spread across the geopolitical zones of the country. However, the network of Federal roads in Nigeria is not only limited, but the few available ones are in deplorable state.
During the oil boom, the Yakubu Gowon-led administration increased the number of Federal roads by transferring roads that were state-owned. Some of these roads were gazetted as Federal roads. But as time went on, the oil revenue increased and less attention was given to infrastructural development. In spite of the huge resources which this sector offers, in terms of transfer of goods and services, the sector has been beleaguered with a plethora of other problems.
Naturally, any government functionary from the different tiers of government would always identify “the unhidden hands” of saboteurs in the continued dilapidation of some of the roads, while a transporter would see the persistent ineptitude on the part of the government as the chief reason behind the collapse of roads in the country. Ordinary road users in Nigeria, meanwhile, would blame the two, hinting at the criminal neglect of road development by successive governments, corruption and lack of policy direction as chief slip of the government. Abuse of road schedule or failure to adhere to it by heavy duty vehicle owners or drivers would easily fit in as transporters’ contribution to the decay. Indeed, all the sides agree that individual road users contribute to the decay of road infrastructure through various forms of abuses.
This, interestingly, is how far the dispute will go. However, stakeholders and infrastructure experts believe that rather than follow the path of unending recrimination, two main things should be the principal concern of all concerned parties: the carnage and costs inflicted by the poor state of the roads and what should be the possible timely solutions to the decay.

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This is because recently, the state of federal roads in the country has become an embarrassing stigma. Insensitivity on federal roads, perpetuated by road engineers, professionals, users, and politicians both at state and national level, has left the roads in a deplorable state. In many parts of the country, normal interaction has been frustrated due to the awful condition of our roads. Vehicle owners and travellers are no doubt in distress as they transverse these roads, which are now death traps of some sort.
Following the failed state of the country’s roads, isn’t it common for thieves, rapists and other miscreants to root themselves in bad portions of the roads where vehicles would virtually come to a halt? Moreover, these many potholes and diversions translate to the fact that more and more vehicles keep breaking down, leading to the upsurge of the emergence of many emergency road-side mechanics pretending to assist stranded commuters – of course, often leaving in their trail more disastrous consequences.
The Lagos-Benin Expressway, a major road that links the Western part of the country to the East and Niger-Delta region has become so bad that vehicles plying that road, invariably retire to the mechanic workshop at the end of every journey. As it is, transporters say they lack the right words to describe how appalling the road is, particularly around the Benin-Ore axis. Transporters are hurt and bewildered that despite their payment of all road taxes to the Federal Government and the various rates to the state and local governments, little is being done to repair the roads upon which the livelihood of many Nigerians incidentally depend upon. Sometimes, the roads are littered with overturned trailers, tankers and containers. Accidents involving trailers often lead to untold traffic jam. Armed robbers, expectedly take advantage of the situation, constituting themselves as a threat to transporters and commuters at anytime of the day, but particularly, more at night.
Okafor Anthony, while narrating his experience along the Lagos-Benin Expressway said “since the onset of the rains, there had been several diversions made by drivers due to several failed portions on the road. This led to an accident between a trailer and an L-300 bus, carrying passengers going to Ibadan”. Commuters are also in trouble whether in the city of Lagos or on interstate highways as bad roads make it virtually impossible to plan a journey or predict arrival time. Commercial activity is suffering as goods and services are now in short supply, leading to price increases in practically all consumer items. These are just but a few of what some travellers experience while on the road.
Aside the Lagos- Benin route, the route from Lagos to Port Harcourt which used to take about seven-and-half hours now takes a whole day or more. Okeke Francisca, while describing her experience last week said the East-West road linking Warri to Port-Harcourt which takes about two hours now takes more than three hours. Reason for this, she noted is deduced to the narrowing of the road that was initially designed to be a dual-carriage way. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway is not left out. Some portions of the road have now become a death trap, despite the concession to private developers that spans 25 years. The Abeokuta road via Sango-Ota is a scene of confusion with unplanned road works, halting flow of traffic. The dualisation of the Onitsha-Owerri road is almost as old as the last administration of Olusegun Obasanjo, yet the road is still to be completed.
For the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, built 33 years ago with little or no major maintenance, it is now a sorry tale. Failed portions of the road from Cele Bus stop to Mile 2, which connects the nation’s gateway, the Murtala Muhammed International Airport and the two major seaports- Apapa Wharf and Tin Can Island port have led to people spending long hours in the traffic. Recently, the President Musa Yar’Adua angst was expressed in a meeting with Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, while on his way to commission projects at Ogun State. The meeting with the governor came only few hours after the Governor had also met with Minister of Works, Hassan Lawal.
Fashola had told airport correspondents that the president was very concerned about the bad state of the expressway which he described as the artery of the nation and state’s economies. In his words: “It is the major artery to evacuate goods from the ports; it will affect the economy of Lagos for business and transportation. I believe sooner rather than later, very concrete steps in the short, medium or long term will be taken to address the problems. I have also emphasised the need to act very quickly with Mr. President.” These tales of woe are replicated on other federal roads in different parts of the country.
The Federal Government at least on paper has voted billions for the rehabilitation of our road network. Previous federal ministers of Works have assured that contracts had been awarded, but nothing concrete ever happens on the ground Provisions were made for other important federal roads such as the East-West Road in the Niger-Delta, the Kano-Maiduguri Road and Abuja-Lokoja Road but little has been done in terms of total transformation of the roads. At present, over-weight vehicles that ply these expressways are regarded as a leading factor in the destruction of the road bed. With time, they create more potholes, failed sections and ultimately, accidents.
This matter, stakeholders insist becomes very timely and urgent, “because our country cannot develop with rickety infrastructure and will not succeed in attracting direct foreign investment or tourism when things are this bad. Federal roads across the country need urgent attentions, considering that an average of 50 people die everyday by road accidents, as claimed by a recent survey.
“With all the foregoing highway reforms, propaganda and\campaign, we have to ensure that we build the ones we want, not the one we could have avoided by unnecessarily adopting collated reforms of other developing country. It is the responsibility for several agencies, such as the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), the Federal Ministry of Works, to construct and maintain roads within the country,” noted a source.
To underscore the worrisome concern to this sore thumb, it has been suggested that the EFCC should be persuaded to look into what happened to the billions allocated for road works, in order to bring about transparency.
The lack of maintenance of roads in Nigeria has become a public issue as Nigerians daily continue to lament the abysmal failure of leadership. Good roads are a basic component of good governance. Nigerians are routinely being put at risk everyday as a result of the failure of the states to provide adequate amenities for its citizens. Concerned authorities involved in road construction and maintenance should buckle-up and do something to remove this blot on Nigeria’s image.