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What manner of yuletide amid kidnapper-infested, devastated highways?

As a country, Nigeria excels in superlative description of self. If an average Nigerian, especially those who steal from the common pot, is not telling you that the country is the most populous black nation in the world, he is telling that it is the largest economy in Africa.

It is, indeed, a fad in the country for even individuals and institutions to ascribe big names or qualify themselves in superlative terms with little or no consideration for the implications, demands and even moral burden such epithets or labels place on their shoulders.

So, Nigeria is the big brother in Africa with the largest economy on the continent. When its economy was rebased in 2014, it was valued at $510 billion, putting it ahead of South Africa which, in real terms, is the largest and best managed economy on the continent.

But Nigeria is a lame-duck even with largest economy in Africa and its 200 million population. The country has very disquieting statistics that belie its acclaimed status on the continent. For its large-size population, Nigeria has no house for its citizens; no electricity to power its economy and, above all, no roads to walk or drive on.

With about 198,000 kilometres network of roads, Nigeria has the largest road network in West Africa and second largest in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Only 2,627 kilometres of these roads are dualised.

Roads in the country are owned by the three tiers of government. Approximately 18 percent is by the federal government, 16 percent by the state governments while 66 percent is owned by local governments. That is, however, not the road story in the country.

The story, instead, is that the condition of these roads is so poor that only about 35 percent of the network is motorable. “And that is the crux of the matter,” noted Camillus Okon, a social affairs commentator, who also expressed worry over the level of insecurity on the nation’s highways.

“For want of better words, the state of Nigerian roads can best be described as deplorable and it is a national shame and embarrassment. Whether you are talking about Trunk A roads which are federal, or Trunk B which are state roads or Trunk C roads which are local government roads, all are just bad,” Okon said.

All over the country, federal roads have become highways to hell where people get killed or kidnapped for either ransom or death or both. Highways such as Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Lagos-Abeokuta Expressway, Ibadan-Akure Road; Shagamu-Ore, Enugu-Onitsha Road, Enugu-Port Harcourt Road, Abuja-Lokoja Road and several others have become nightmares to people who use them.

Only two months to Christmas, travelers are already having ugly experiences on the roads. Abuja-Kogi-Lokoja Road particularly has become a metaphor for insecurity. Every traveller that uses that road would have his heart in his hands till the journey is concluded.

The Abuja-Kaduna highway is also unsafe for travelers. Even though this has the advantage of boosting the newly introduced rail system on that route, that road captures everything wrong with a nation that thrives by the riverside yet washes its hands with spittle.

The condition of roads in the South Eastern part of Nigeria is even worse. According to Ejike Anyaduba, a public affairs analyst, whether it is a bumpy ride on Enugu-Onitsha or Enugu-Port Harcourt, Aba-Owerri, Aba-Port Harcourt, Aba-Umuahia, etc, the truth is that no federal road in the zone is in good condition.

He said that the deterioration of the roads has now reached a critical stage where people can no longer understand why they should still be paying tax to the government. Temper is running high because people’s patience, like a taut muscle, has been stretched to its limit.

“What is more, everybody in authority is now an accursed of the people. Even the sane minds, blinded by anger and frustration, find it rather difficult to make a clear distinction on who to blame on the matter,” Anyaduba noted.

In the South Western part of the country where Lagos is the centre of virtually everything, the condition of the roads is not any better. The Lagos-Badagry Expressway stands out as the shame of a nation. This expressway is very strategic economically as it is a gateway to Nigeria’s West Coast neighbours. It is a major aide to regional trade and commerce. But the expressway is a nightmare.

It is unfortunate that of the country’s nearly 200,000 kilometres roads network, only 15 percent is paved which is far behind Malaysia’s 80 percent and 13 percent in Ethiopia.

“Ethiopia, Nigeria, and Malaysia are ranked as the 27th, 32nd and 66th largest countries in the world by landmass. Though the data is inconclusive, one would imagine that larger countries would have more roads – and more paved roads,” noted Martha Sambe writing on ‘Rethinking Roads in Nigeria’.

For Nigeria’s failure to pave its roads and secure them for travelers, there are consequences which Sambe says is the danger it poses to human lives. As the Christmas approaches, government should spare no efforts in terms of resources and time to secure the roads for travelers.

This has become necessary because, according to Sambe, “while numerous causal factors are at play, frequent road travellers would finger the deplorable state of Nigerian roads as chief among them.”

Herdsmen still on the prowl

Since the murder of Funke Olakunrin in July this year by suspected killer herdsmen, Nigerians have been celebrating a somewhat respite in the senseless attacks on innocent travellers, especially on highways across the country.

For many observers, one of the reasons for the respite in the attacks may be fear of reprisal attacks in the South Western Nigeria by the Odua People’s Congress (OPC), because the late Funke was the daughter of Reuben Fasoranti, chairman of Afenifere, the Yoruba socio-cultural organisation.

“It seemed the death made the leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria to ask its members to retreat across the country as tension was so high then and could lead to reprisal attacks. But the herders seem to be back now”, an observer, who pleaded anonymity, said.

In line with the observer, AkinloyeOjolanre, a community leader in Ekiti State, explained that the ceaseless deaths also resulted in the formation of local vigilance groups by communities to protect themselves as they feared that government response would come late.

Others think that the offering of grazing reserves to the herders did the magic. But Mathias Terfa, a Benue State indigene, who grew up and still lives in Kaduna, thinks that the herdsmen will not restrict their movements to grazing reserves because they see nomadic life as a cultural heritage.

“For me, the only way to get them organised in a grazing reserve is to convince their leadership and show an example of what they can benefit from staying in a place instead of roaming across the country to rear their cattle”, Terfa said.

He also explained that since nomadic life is cultural to the Fulani, it would take a strong Fulani to convince his kinsmen on the trend in cattle rearing globally.

Probably, that was what Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, sensed when he took the leadership of Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria in the state to Denmark for two weeks to understudy the ultramodern, all-inclusive, more lucrative and peaceful Danish cattle rearing model.

“The nerves are calmed in Kaduna now because herders are now being encouraged to learn the modern way. It will be difficult for those herders to leave nomadic life, though El-Rufai is a strong governor, he can enforce it and nothing will happen”, he said.

It would be recalled that at the height of herdsmen attacks and controversies trailing RUGA, Governor El-Rufai signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Arla Foods International, a Denmark company, to flag off a modern livestock production model in the country and to boost dairy production starting with one of the 15 grazing reserves in the state.

At the MoU signing, the governor said: “Our hope is that what we started with Arla leading to the development of the grazing reserve in Kubau Local Government; and we want to develop jointly with them, and will show the itinerant nomadic herdsmen that it is possible to engage in modern livestock production without having to go up and down the country.

“We want to show that it is possible for livestock production to be a business rather than a culture or habit or lifestyle but something that can empower and enrich our herdsmen and women”.

Apart from Kaduna State, the Central Bank of Nigeria has commenced a flagship partnership on livestock development initiative in Bobi Grazing Reserve in Niger State. The reserve is one of 26 grazing reserves in the state with a land area of 31,000 hectares, about 700 families and 300,000 heads of cattle resident on it.

At the flagoff, Godwin Emefiele, CBN governor, noted that Friesland Campina WAMCO and Neon Agro agreed to take 10,000 hectares of land each, while Chi Limited and Irish Dairy are to develop 4,000 hectares each while the State Government retained the remaining 3,000 hectares for its development programmes. The CBN, according to him, will support and integrate smallholders, subsistent and nomadic herdsmen through its Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) to boost livestock production.

While these projects are ingenious, BulusMadaki, an Abuja-based economist, said that their success would provide a template that can be replicated across other grazing reserves in Kaduna, Niger and across Nigeria. “If Kaduna and Niger succeed with the model, it will impact Nigeria greatly because herdsmen/farmers problem is not just an economic or political problem, but now a national security problem that needs to be tackled”, Madaki said.

He also thinks that most herdsmen retreated up north to listen to the campaign of grazing reserves by their leaders, a development, which according to him, required herders to visit the proposed grazing reserves to see things for themselves.

Now that attacks on travellers by suspected herdsmen have resumed, Madaki said that it may be a sign that the herdsmen rejected the grazing reserve idea.

“If governments in the northern part of the country are offering grazing reserves and even going to the extent of partnering foreign diary companies, I don’t see why herders will not buy into the idea because of the numerous benefits except some strong influences are telling them to reject it”, he said.

ObidikeOrakwe, a telecom engineer, said that the attacks should not resume, especially few weeks to Christmas when many families will travel, meaning more casualties from the attacks.

“It seems there is ceasefire agreement. Let it continue for long because the people killed in the attacks are breadwinners, they have families that will suffer afterwards and it encourages hatred as nobody will love murderers of  his or her relations”, Orakwe said.

Closure of Enugu Airport will compound Easterners’ woes

 As Christmas nears, passengers travelling to Enugu have lost hope of having an easy travel experience as the earlier announcement by Hadi Sirika, minister of aviation that Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu will be re-opened December 2019 is no longer feasible with the change in date to April 2020.

The minister last Wednesday said Enugu Airport which is undergoing rehabilitation will be ready for use by April 2020, four months beyond the earlier announced date of its re-opening.

Airlines have had to divert flights from Enugu to Port Harcourt, Owerri and Asaba airports, following the closure of the airport on 24th of August, 2019.

Fifty-four days after the closure of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu State, President Muhammad Buhari announced his approval to the request made by the Ministry of Aviation for N10bn for repairs of the airport.

Prior to this time, concerns were raised on why the Federal Government showed little seriousness with the Enugu Airport repairs, which is the sixth busiest airport in Nigeria after Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano and Owerri. In 2018 the Enugu Airport processed an average of 273,000 local passengers and 41,000 international passengers.

The situation of the Enugu Airport is in sharp contrast with what transpired during the closure of Abuja Airport for repairs.

The Federal Government shut down Abuja International Airport on March 9 2017 and work began the following day by Julius Berger.  Flight operations began a day before the six-week deadline given by Sirika.

Moreover, before the shutdown of Abuja Airport, the Federal Government upgraded Kaduna Airport. In February 2017, navigational facilities at the Kaduna Airport were upgraded by NAMA ahead of the closure of Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja. The runway was also repaired to absorb the increased volume of traffic to be diverted from Abuja to Kaduna airport, said Mathew Pwajo, NAMA general manager, Safety Management Systems/Quality Assurance.

While business owners around Enugu Airport are experiencing low patronage this period, it seems to be a merry moment for business owners and airlines that operate into Port Harcourt, Owerri and Asaba Airports.

Passengers appear to be the worst affected by the development as they are forced to either travel through the alternate airports or travel by road.

Before President Buhari granted approved the special grant request of N10billion for repairs frequent travellers to the region who are already feeling the impact of the closure expressed worry over the delay of the airport repairs before.

“Since the airport closure, it has been very difficult to get to Enugu because of the bad condition of the roads which will get worse by Christmas. Our fears have worsened since the silence of the federal government over the repair of the airport.

“It is so bad that the repair of an airport very significant to the South East region was being delayed for a period of time. Those responsible need to wake up to their responsibilities and stop playing politics,” Obi Amos, a frequent traveller told BDSUNDAY.

Already, ticket prices to Port Harcourt and Owerri during Christmas season is already seeing a slight increase.

A one-way ticket booked as at today for December 24th and 25th from Lagos-Owerri or Lagos-Port Harcourt flight is currently selling between N53,000 to 55,000 as against N30,000 to N35,000 average cost of air ticket.

Aviation experts say for prices of tickets to be this high three months before Christmas, smells doom for travellers as these prices may increase by 50 to 100percent during the period.

Some other passengers who spoke to BusinessDay said since the development, they have had to change their travel plans pending when the airport is ready as a result of incessant attacks, insecurity and the bad condition of the roads.

Tayo Ojuri, chief executive officer of Aglow Limited, an aviation support services company, said travel is driven by businesses and if there is a need for people to travel for business reason, they may have no choice but take the pain of going through the alternate airports to get to Enugu.

Ojuri however, said there are some passengers who may rather decide not to travel looking at the risks on the roads and as a result, passenger traffic may be slightly affected.

John Ojikutu, member of aviation industry think tank group, Aviation Round Table (ART) and chief executive of Centurion Securities, told BDSUNDAY that if government must make heavy, main repairs or reconstruction for Enugu runway, it has to be upgraded to accommodate heavy aircraft.

“Runways are constructed with periodic maintenance programmes but how many of FAAN airports have the maintenance programmes? That explained why PH was closed for two years for reconstruction purpose. That is the Nigeria way that cannot be compared to that of Scotland or anywhere else,” he said.

Ojikutu explained that proper planning means having maintenance programmes which Nigerian airports do not have on its runways, adding that since 2017 after the Abuja runway experience, FAAN has been asked to provide maintenance programmes for runways but has failed to do so.

Hadi Sirika said for the airport to be ready by April, he will be relocating his office to Enugu temporary to directly supervise the rehabilitation of the airport which he said will be completed before the end of April 2020.

The minister who spoke while defending his ministry’s budget before the House on Aviation said with the approval of N10 billion for the Enugu Airport by the President, the contractors are expected to mobilise to site as soon as possible, adding that the President has already directed all agencies associated with the smooth work on the airport to work together to ensure it was delivered on time.

The Minister disclosed that the rehabilitation work on the Enugu airport will be done in such a way that the airport will be the best in the country, adding that all houses located close to the airport may have to give way for increased safety.

 

CHUKA UROKO, OBINNA EMELIKE and IFEOMA OKEKE

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