By Tonie Iredia
In major cities of the world, highways are usually beautifully expansive. Each one is built to serve as a dual carriage-way with multiple lanes of traffic in each direction, separated by a central barrier.
In Europe, such an express highway is called the Autobahn- a German word- that has also been adopted in other nations such as Austria and Switzerland. Our own autobahn consists of such highways as those of Lagos-Ibadan and Abuja-Kaduna.
But, whereas Nigeria is more concerned about a handful of only its few big cities, a town does not need to be big to attract development in Europe and America. They cater for all their cities. In Germany, for example, the autobahn network has a total length of approximately 12,200 kilometres; yet, it is not the world’s biggest.
Rather, it is the third-longest behind the Interstate Highway System of the United States and the National Trunk Highway System of the People’s Republic of China. The remarkable thing about the highways of the developed nations is that they enable a large proportion of the population to drive long distances in their own cars, enjoying the countryside along the way. For the developed nations, therefore, road construction is people-oriented.
In Nigeria, on the other hand, roads which link communities to one another are not important. In Abuja, which is obviously one of Africa’s most developed cities; there are no roads in places like Nyanyan, Mararaba, Karu etc. Some would argue that these are not core Abuja areas but settlements as if people who work and reside in such areas are neither citizens nor voters. Interestingly, within the so-called metropolis there are several areas with embarrassing roads.
If you find yourself driving on the roads leading to the ever-busy Jabi Park, as well as Dakibiyu or Efab Estate you cannot but wonder which part of the globe you are. Our leadership does not appear bothered about such areas. They are fulfilled once there is a kind of autobahn that links an airport to a city centre.
This explains why the Federal Government not long ago embarked on a multi-billion naira expansion of Abuja Airport road to 10 lanes. But “what do you want to carry on the 10-lane road”? That was the poser for the government two months ago by one of the nation’s uncommon statesmen, Dr. Christopher Kolade, who was guest speaker at the Abuja Zonal Dinner/Alumni Session of the Lagos Business School.
He told the gathering that the expansion was unnecessary as the government would have rather diverted such huge amount of funds into the re-habilitation of the ‘long neglected’ Benin-Ore road, which is obviously more important and key to Nigeria’s realisation of Vision 20:2020. In the words of Dr. Kolade, “the expanded road will only enable you zoom into town and you crawl as soon as you get into town.”
I hope the former Nigerian High Commissioner to the United kingdom does not in any way imagine that if he had spoken much earlier, he may have saved the day. Nothing like that. Even if Dr. Kolade had spoken before the project took off, he would not have been listened to. This is because a road linking an airport to the city centre is so conspicuous that any activity there would be quite visible to convince the gullible public that government was working
One reason why this strategy of playing to the gallery works is because the rather docile Nigerian society does not bother about how long a public project takes. More often than not, there is no project at all. So, that a project like the expansion of the Abuja airport road was even thought of is good enough and that it was able to take off is more like a miracle as far as our people are concerned.
The project may, however, never end. But since the Abuja airport road project is being handled by an international construction company, is there any cause for fear? Of course, the first reaction would be positive considering the reputation of the company which was incorporated as far back as 1890. It started doing business in Nigeria with the construction of the Eko Bridge, Lagos, in August 1965.
It is managed by a team of experts and a well-trained labour force which operates in accordance with international practice. It has its own quarries, mixing plants, large fleet of modern construction equipment as well as a large land and water transport fleet. Unfortunately, in spite of this commendable profile, the impact of the Abuja airport road project on the people is not salutary.
That it appears to be taking far more time to complete than it would have taken in other countries is not the real point to worry about. Nigerians have come to accept that in our country, a road project is hardly ever completed because due to excessive delays, by the time one part of the project finishes, the second part which was in good shape earlier is already in need of repairs.
The real point to worry about the Abuja airport road project is the level of avoidable hardship being experienced by people. Before the commencement of the project, it could take as long as one hour to drive on the road to the city gate. Today, it takes up to three hours. The construction company is busy operating in a manner it cannot do elsewhere.
In other parts of the world, Oyinbo contractors provide alternative paths before working on a road. In addition, they work on roads during weekends and, at night. In Nigeria, they operate our civil service system. They are at work from Monday to Thursday with their construction vans actively in operation during ‘school run’ and lunch break times thereby creating avoidable traffic congestion.
On Friday, its half-day so as to give room to their Muslim workers to go to the mosque. By Sunday, they serve as Christians and do not work at all. Whether, they are at work or not, half of the good portion of the road is covered by bill boards with inscriptions like “Slow Down Men at Work.”
We need to conclude this piece with two soothing points. The first is that unlike the continuation of the project inside the city centre, there are no heavy bumps or speed breaks along the airport road project that can send vehicle owners to weekly repairs of items like exhaust pots and shock absorbers.
Good point. The second point is that we should grumble less because the people in government owe us little. Why? Did we vote them into power?