By Helen Ovbiagele Woman Editor
The batons have changed hands and we have new heads at the FederalÂ Ministry of Works, a federal body which is supposed to be in charge of federal roads all over the nation.Â Until a person ceases to exist, you have to keep hoping that thereâ€™s a shining light at the end of the dark tunnel which has been a hindrance to our well-being in this country.
So, weâ€™re hopeful that the conditions of our roads will improve visibly and we shall have cause to thank God for allowing these people to occupy these positions at this point in time.Â Or shall we?
A colleague is quite sure that they are not going to effect any earth-shaking improvement to our roads.
â€œWhy do you say so?â€
â€œMadam, most federal roads, including the now notorious Benin/Lagos road, which have been claiming many lives through accidents and criminal attacks, began to deteriorate seriously when civilians came backÂ to rule.Â Cast your mind back to the mid-nineties, ma.
Federal roads were rehabilitated and you could travel any time, day or night, and youâ€™d get to your destination safely. Night travel was at its peak then because the roads were good and free, and there were hardly any attacks.Â Â Â But come 1999 when the much trumpeted democratic rule returned, and the conditions of federal roads began to deteriorate because the government didnâ€™t give them any serious attention.
They still donâ€™t give roads the attention they deserve, and thatâ€™s what has got us to the odious situation we find ourselves.Â This new group will not make a difference.Â A minister wept when she saw the state of that road some years ago, but what did the government do about it?Â Nothing.Â How can a responsible government not do anything concrete and speedily about such a road which is an important gateway?
We still have that same government in power today and weâ€™re expecting that it will have a change of heart.Â Â Iâ€™m sorry, ma, I donâ€™t share your enthusiasm that these roads will become Trunk A roads again.Â For any serious work there, you need the military doggedness.Â Period!â€
â€œYou may find yourself alone in that stand,â€ I told my colleague.Â â€œDemocratic rule is what is being advocated all over the world, so that citizens can move about freely and be free to express themselves without being jailed or killed.â€
â€œMadam, are you moving about freely in this country right now, without any fear?â€
â€œWell, joblessness lead to criminal activities so, …………………………â€
â€œAnd are you sure you can express your mind truly and freely without being persecuted in one way or the other right now?â€
â€œThatâ€™s it then. Military rule may be condemned by the western world, but in the Third World, it gets things done, and gets people to behave.Â Iâ€™m not saying we should bring it back, but we want people who can tackle issues boldly.â€
Iâ€™m sure we all would welcome rulers who identify our problems without any fear or favour and then go on to do something about it.
The Federal Minister for Works, and his Minister of State, did recently what others in their positions have done in the past.Â That is, go on inspection of federal roads in the country.
I was happy to read in the papers that when they paid a visit toÂ the Oba of Benin, His Royal HighnessÂ told them that he was disappointed that in spite of appeals by him in the past to their predecessors to rehabilitate the Lagos/Benin road, nothing concrete was done.Â He then urged this current team to do something about it.Â Will they?Â I understand that the Minister of State in this Ministry, is an engineer from Edo State.
This is good news.Â Iâ€™m sure that even if he hadnâ€™t been going to his home state by road from Lagos, he must have friends and relations who have been using that road, and he must have heard of the deplorable state of the road.Â Â All federal roads should be of concern to him, of course, but it would be to his credit if during his tenure, we can ply that road happily and safely.
â€œBut madam, a political chieftain from that very state was Minister of Works much earlier, and people are saying that he didnâ€™t do anything about that road,â€ my colleague was quick to point out to me.Â â€œIf he had done his utmost about it, the condition wonâ€™t be as bad as it is now.Â Why should we expect any different from the incumbent?Â After all the hullabaloo about inspecting federal roads, they will take zero action.Â Mark my words.Â Donâ€™t raise your hopes, ma.â€
Well, Iâ€™ll keep my hopes alive that the duo of Senator Dagaash and Engr Ogiemwonyi will make a difference, and that after going about seeing the state of these roads, they will go to their drawing board and map out a line of action and seriously pursue it.
These two ministers of works shouldnâ€™t join the ranks of those who came, saw and dozed off.Â They have been achievers so far; they shouldnâ€™t fail us now that they have the opportunity to serve the nation in these very important positions.
They should see that perfect work is done on our federal roads, with bridges and their railings being part of the rehabilitation.Â Also, there should be official supervision of these road works.Â Contractors should not be allowed to get away with shoddy work.
I recently used the Lagos/Benin road, and I was impressed that RCC, the construction company handling the project was working in heavy rain and also on Sunday, but the failed portions on both sides, before and after Ore,Â have deteriorated so much that theyâ€™re still death-traps.
Driving through them is a nightmare as drivers zigzag, trying to negotiate their way.Â This of course leads to chaos, confusion, traffic jam and rising temper.Â Itâ€™s a frightening experience, and you need lots of prayer to avert disaster.
When Engr Ogunlewe was Minister of Works in 1999, he went round the country inspecting federal roads.Â A useful advice he gave the communities was that they should get involved and monitor the quality of work being done in their areas, and report anything amiss to the relevant quarters, because it was public money being used.
I think this is important.Â Not only should the communities be vigilant about projects in their areas, they should ensure that there is no sabotage because these projectsÂ will improve their living conditions.