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Nigeria’s highways to Golgotha: Travellers unending tales of despair

By Jude Njoku & Kingsley Adegboye
Those who see trailer or lorry drivers as agents of death are less informed; the real culprit of the rising accidents is the government who has failed to deliver on road infrastructure and railway system.

Between Lagos to Ibadan one can count more than 400 very deadly potholes, and these drivers who carry heavily loaded trucks must deliver goods to as far as Kano, Maiduguri, and other parts of the country, their challenge is to continue meandering through these deadly potholes until they get to their destination point”.

This statement attributed to the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Association of Road Transport Owners, NARTO, Mr Emmanuel Gowon aptly captures the feeling of most Nigerians on the epileptic state of roads infrastructure in the country. Some communities have actually been cut off from the rest of the country because their roads are completely impassable. This has often resulted in commuters being stranded or made to spend days on journeys that would have lasted only a few hours.

The deathtrap condition of Nigerian roads and bridges have often led to the increase in road accidents, menace of armed robbers using the bad spots and reduction in the life-span of vehicles plying the roads.

Criminal neglect

Oshodi-Apapa expressway before the on-going rehabilitation

Gowon’s views were partly corroborated by Kayode Akinsowon, a civil engineer who described the state of roads in the country as criminal neglect on the part of the government. Mr Akinsowon who was the pioneer black engineer to be employed by Julius Berger Nigeria Plc. told Vanguard Features that most roads in the country are in deplorable co nditions because those who were charged with the responsibility to maintain them, indulged in all sorts of corrupt practices.

Specifically, he stated that the parlous state of Oshodi- Apapa Expressway which is currently being rehabilitated by the Federal Ministry of Works, arose due to what he called the criminal neglect of the ever-busy Expressway by successive governments

. Akinsowon who worked with the construction giants from 1974 to 1983 and was part of te Julius Berger team that handled the construction of the Expressway between 1974 and 1976 said the road was designed to last for ever. The road which was built in preparation for the Festac ‘77 Arts and Culture Festival told Vanguard Features VF, that politics is also having its toll on the poor state of roads in the country.

According to him, standard roads all over the world including Nigeria are expected to serve at least a minimum of ten years before either palliative repair works or comprehensive routine maintenance are carried out on them. “Basically, roads are categorized into three all over the world. In Nigeria, we have Federal, state and local government roads.

Construction of drainage channels is paramount

All roads to be constructed are expected to have drainage channels on each side as well as shoulders on both sides of the road known as walkway. Construction of drainage channels is the first aspect of road construction. This is to enable the drainage channels drain water that is not supposed to stay on asphalt surface after it (asphalt) has been laid on the road.

This is because as water is the worst enemy of the road. So, the longer water stays or remains on the surface of asphalt, it wears off the asphalt and causes decay of the road. This is why it is very important that drains must be constructed first before actual construction of the main carriageways with asphalt overlay,” he said.

Continuing, Akinsowon explained that “any standard road whether Federal, state or local government is supposed to be designed, constructed and maintained thoroughly before palliative or comprehensive rehabilitation works on the road after ten years. This is the standard everywhere. This does not necessarily explain the life span of a road.

A road should last for ever

The retired Julius Berger engineer stated that “a road should last till an almost eternity”.

“ What I mean by eternity is that if a road is maintained regularly, such a road should last forever. Let me give you an example, the Ijebo-Ode-Ijamure Road was constructed since 1967 when Maj. General Adeyinka Adebayo (rtd) was governor of old western region and till date, the road has remained the same because of the thoroughness of the job that was done on it during construction. This is about 46 years after the road was constructed.

Apart from minor repair works on the road at some portions, no major collapse of the road has been reported. The same thing is applicable to te Akure-Ondo Road. You can only find little patches on them These are examples of roads that are constructed to last till eternity. With regular maintenance and repair works where necessary, any standard road should last till eternity,” he said.

He posited that “if roads are constructed using the right engineering formula and right ingredients such as construction of drains on both sides of the road and shoulders on both sides of the road as pedestrian carriageways before the actual construction of the main carriageway which can be single lane, two, three, four or even five dual carriageway, the road is expected to serve at least a minimum of ten years before repair works can be carried out on it, and it should last till eternity with continuous maintenance.

Corruption bane of road failure

The problem of Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, according to Akinsowon is pure criminal neglect on the part of the Federal government.

“That road as I know, has been in existence since 1976. I happened to be posted to the arm of Julius Berger that handled that road. The intent of the construction of the road is to last till eternity with routine maintenance. But the Federal government has failed in its duties on the road over the years.

The Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in its wisdom in those days, used to have maintenance budget with which they carried out routine maintenance on its roads. But corruption being the bane of the society today, you only hear of this routine maintenance on papers without its actual execution. This happens year in, year out. The same thing that happens at Federal level percolates down the states and local government councils across the country. This is why I used the words criminal neglect. If these roads are being routinely maintained over the years, we will not have the kind of decay as we are having now on our roads. Before a road is constructed, you first bulldoze the carriageway.

Original underground level

You have what is called the sub-grade level which is the original underground level. The sub-base which is the first earth work or sand fill which should be the next stage of work on the carriageway, should be about 150 mm thick. After the sub-base work, there should be course base of another 100 mm thick of chippings before underlying course and asphalt overlay. The asphalt overlay on this expressway because of tanks and trailers on it should be at least four inches thick. This is exactly what was done on that road since 1976 without routine maintenance by the Federal government.

Playing politics with roads

Mr Akinsowon lamented that rather than thinking about how to maintain and improve on infrastructure across the country, the Federal government plays politics with virtually everything in Nigeria. “For instance, when Ogunlewe was Works Minister, he did not touch the Federal roads in Lagos because Lagos State was not a PDP state. And even the Federal roads Tinubu rehabilitated with state money, the money was not refunded to the state because of politics.

In the last 12 years of civilian rule in Nigeria, this has been the problem in Nigeria. Ordinarily, this should not be the case. This is why Oshodi-Apapa Expressway is in this deplorable condition, which boils down to the same corruption that permeates in all fabrics of our national life.

Specifically on Oshodi-Apapa Expressway

The Oshodi-Apapa Expressway, he said, should not be the way it is today if the Federal government is not playing politics with the road. There is the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) created by Obasanjo to maintain Federal roads across Nigeria. But is the agency doing anything?. The answer is no!

The primary function of FERMA is to carry out regular maintenance on Federal roads all over the country starting from the drains to shoulders to the main carriageways. But how many officials of FERMA do you see on the road either clearing the drains or the main carriageway?. Starting from Rainbow Bus Stop up to Apapa end is always flooded during rainy season because the drains on the dual carriageway are blocked due to lack of maintenance. The drains are supposed to be evacuated on monthly basis but this is not so. FERMA officials are on the pay roll of the government but they are not doing anything. The same thing is happening on Lagos-Ibadan Exprerssway. Before the concessioning of the road to Bi-Courteny two years ago, no attention was paid to the road. I know all is politics. The most painful aspect of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway is that the road leads to the main hub of economic activities in Nigeria. That is talking about both Tin Can and Apapa ports.

This is the goose that laid the golden egg. Why should the federal government have that kind of laxity on the road? This beats my imagination. The fact that the seat of federal government has left Lagos does not mean that Lagos should be treated this way. America will not say because Washington D.C. is no longer the capital of United States of America, Washington D.C. should be neglected. It is only in Nigeria this kind of thing can happen,” the frontline engineer bemoaned.

Also reacting to the plethora of deathtrap roads in the country and what their life-span should be, another Lagos -based civil engineer, Afolabi Adedeji explained that “for a tarred road, an asphaltic concrete road or a macadamized road, the design life or life span is between eight and 15 years is often assumed by reputable promoters usually public sector clients and highway design engineers. For concrete and steel bridges, the design life is at least between 15 to 25 years”.

Causes of premature failure of roads

The common causes of early or premature road failure in Nigeria, according to Adedeji include: problems of supervision and construction on site, heavy axle load issues (or over-loading especially by haulage vehicles), poor drainage especially with our heavy tropical rains, poor maintenance as well as institutional and political challenges. He explained that institutional and political challenges have a more dominant impact on road, highway and bridge development in Nigeria and most emerging economies.

But what should be done if a road has reached the end of its design life and has started to go bad or deteriorate? Adedeji who is a facility management expert said the relevant Federal, State and Local Government agencies should commission a study and design for the upgrading of such roads followed as soon as practicable by its reconstruction. “The bitter truth however, is that hardly do our roads in Nigeria fail solely because of design life challenges. There is no denying the fact that a lot of our roads, highways and bridges are a heritage from our colonial past and are bedeviled by problems of age and under-capacity, since many more people own cars now. To me, the question of neglect of regular maintenance, poor drainage, over-loading/excessive axle loads and over-dependence on roads for meeting our transportation needs in Nigeria, particularly over the last 20 years is nearer the root cause of the matter,” he said.

Adedji enjoined Nigerian governments to focus on achieving more results with the limited budgets available. He also advised politicians and policy makers to always seek professional advice from qualified engineers as well as facilities managers and adhere to such pieces of advice..

He noted that although most Nigerians describe the budget for roads construction and rehabilitation as mind boggling, he explained that “the truth is that this aspect of engineering and infrastructure work in general is capital intensive with a lot of foreign components”

He suggested the enforcement of the local content act on multinational players in the construction industry.

Last line

“The unmet and unsatisfied needs of Nigerians in the area of road construction, road and bridge maintenance, road rehabilitation, highway development, and transportation in general are likely to persist unless and until we do something about the embarrassing fact that at least 80 percent of all movements of goods and services in Nigeria is still being done by road. The railways need to be revived/revitalised and an integrated approach to transportation adopted that will involve other modes such as water transportation and light rail.

That is the modern trend worldwide. Urban dwellers should also start considering “car sharing” (with neighbours that work in the same vicinity) to reduce congestion on our city roads and environmental pollution.

With current advances in information and communication technology [ICT] new ways of working, such as telecommuting and job sharing which are already commonplace in Great Britain, North America, France, Germany, the Asian Tiger nations, could also be introduced into Nigeria. These approaches will take more pressure off our roads especially from commuters that go out daily in pursuit of their livelihood,” he said.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.