BusinessDay

The 25 tollgates from Lagos to Enugu: Signs of a failing society!

Even against all warnings but determined to experience what other Nigerians pass through on a regular basis, I travelled to Enugu by road on Sunday 20th December. We left Lagos at 6.30am and got to Enugu at 9.42 pm making a total of 15 hours 12 minutes- a most regrettable, sad, painful and revealing journey. Nigeria is really under siege and there is no future with the way we are going. Anybody that supports the continuation of the present quagmire we call our country is likely insane and a sadist deeply against the progress of Nigeria. In 1998, the same distance took me about 6hours. The question we should then ask is: Are we progressing or retrogressing in Nigeria? Twenty years after and with expected improvements in technology and infrastructure, should the journey time not be shorter? Alas, this is Nigeria where the more you look, the less you see and where we seem to prefer retrogression rather than progressive development.

 When a critical assessment of some government’s decisions is done, one normally wonders if we are bereft of innovative and good ideas in Nigeria or is it that we deliberately prefer to exploit a situation to do the wrong things

For this avoidable and horrifying experience, two basic things are sadly responsible. First and mainly are the unbelievable and unneeded numerous security checkpoints on the road deceitfully justified with the pervasive insecurity situation in the country. Second is the dilapidated situation of our roads. While there is no question of the high insecurity situation in the country, the question is if our approach in addressing the problem is the best. When a critical assessment of some government’s decisions is done, one normally wonders if we are bereft of innovative and good ideas in Nigeria or is it that we deliberately prefer to exploit a situation to do the wrong things. While there is no doubt of the need for security on the highways, a situation where you have a security checkpoint almost every kilometre cannot be said to be the most effective way of addressing the insecurity challenge. And most disturbing is the way the security checkpoints are structured and the operations of the security agencies. A situation where you have over 25 security checkpoints from Ijebu-ode to Enugu with the attendant delays cannot be said to be the appropriate and in the interest of Nigerians and the economy.

With the three main security agencies (The Police, Army and Customs) and the Federal Road Safety operating in silos like ‘to your tents O Isreal’ (every agency on your own), a closer observation of the way they carry out their tasks reveals that they are more interested in what they can get from commuters than the security of the commuters. It is more of tollgates to collect and exploit commuters than security. Frustrated with the disappointing approach of the security agencies, a commuter lamented that it is like the Federal government has formally approved the exploitation of passengers on our high ways with the guise of securing the roads. If we truly want to secure our roads, should we have the number of checkpoints we have, and should they be stationary or patrolling? Things are just upside down in this country, and there seems to be no hope, another commuter bemoaned.

As many elites and top government functionaries hardly travel by road these days, it will be difficult to understand what Nigerians are passing through on the roads. To assess if the policy of having numerous security checkpoints is working, I think that it might be important for key ministers of the government to take a disguised trip around the country like from Lagos to Enugu. The trip should include the Ministers of Transportation, Internal Affairs, Works and Housing, Defence, Labour and Productivity and Health, Inspector General of Police, Director of State Security Services and Comptroller General of Customs. This will help them to understand what Nigerians are going through as a result of wrong policies.

If we truly want better security on highways, there are few innovative things that we can do. As every part of the highway is owned by a state and local government, the question is: What states and particularly local governments can contribute to the security of our highways? A key reason why kidnappers and armed gangs succeed in their operations is the bushy nature of our highways. For instance, is it not possible to mandate all local governments to ensure that all side bushes along our highways are cleared at least 500 meters from the highway and used for vegetable farming? Not only will this reduce the violent crimes on the roads, it will also help in creating visibility for the commuters and security patrol vehicles to see far along the highways and expectedly better prepared to avoid or tackle the insecurity challenges. Is it also not possible to say that the many security checkpoints should be a patrol rather than stationary? Imagine the productivity lost every day from the time wasted at the numerous checkpoints?

Just as the first cause of the terrible experience can be better managed, so is the second one. It is so difficult to understand, even with other many governance challenges, why the federal government is still insisting on being responsible for construction and repair of roads. With the rapid growth of Nigeria, repair of roads should be completely left for the states. As the federal roads in most parts of Nigeria are mainly used by indigenes of the bordering states, it will serve Nigeria better to relinquish the repair of the roads to states. This will help remove the excuse of non-repair of our roads and the excuse that the roads in question are federal roads. Very good examples are the Epe-Ijebu-ode Road and the Awka-Enugu Road. With the increasing vehicular movements along these roads, there is no reason why Governors Dapo Abiodun of Ogun State and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State should not fix the above roads. If we want Nigeria to develop and grow, we cannot continue to do the same thing that has failed over many years and expect a different result! As argued many times, the benefits of power devolution particularly moving some items from the exclusive list to the concurrent list cannot be over-emphasised.

Dr. Ngwu, is an Economist/Associate Professor of Strategy, Risk Management & Corporate Governance, Lagos Business School and a Member, Expert Network, World Economic Forum. E-mail- fngwu@lbs.edu.ng,

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