The road system began in the early 1900s essentially as a feeder network for the new railroads. Over the decades, the roads networks have increased totaling about 200,000 kilometres stretch, which include the paved and asphalted.
The true state of Nigerian roads today is however deplorable. The 35,000 kilometre Federal roads across the country are barely in good condition to survive another comfortable period of time. Many of them are fast ageing or overdue for rehabilitation.
The dilapidated roads already awarded for rehabilitation and reconstruction have either been abandoned by contractors or remained permanently on the go_slow… called, on_going projects. Contractors and government officials will tell you this is because of paucity of funds. Some on_going projects have crawled on for over a decade.
The 60 kilometre Kaduna Eastern Bypass road awarded to Eksiogullari Construction Company since 2005 is a gory site as an abandoned project. Works have either slowed down or stopped at the Suleija_Minna road, the Otukpa_Ayangba_Ajaokuta road, the Abuja_Abaji_Okene road among others.
The beehive of truck activities along Oshodi_Apapa expressway, Odukpani_Ikot Ekpene road, Port Harcourt_Aba road, Onitsha_Enugu road, Bida_Mokwa_Jebba, etc shed light about the overbearing pressure on Nigerian roads by the increasing ungrateful motorists. If roads could ever speak, Nigerian roads will ask truck owners how much they ever contribute to make them motor able.
Minister of Works, Arc Mike Onolememen recently lamented that about one trillion naira is the total contractual commitment on all on_going road contracts that were awarded by the Federal Ministry of Works, out of which only about 50% have been paid in the last five years or so. Yet, many others in deplorable condition and awaiting award require hundreds of billions of naira to put them in good state.
The Benin_Shagamu road for example needs about N30 billion to put it in good condition. The same road was constructed in the early 70s and commissioned by former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon. The road was actually constructed with a lifespan of 25 years, and meant to be maintained majorly every 12 years interval to improve on its designed life span. No such periodic maintenance was carried out in the last 30 years!
The Ilorin_Kaduna road is another economically viable road in the country. It is the major link between the South_West and the entire Northern part of Nigeria. Onolememen says that the road requires over N148 billion to reconstruct and upgrade into a dual carriageway as a continuation of the Ibadan_Ogbomosho_Ilorin dual carriageway.
Even as commuters grieve over their agonies on this dilapidated road, their hope for full rehabilitation may be another illusion if the funds are expected from budget.
As population continues to soar, road transport will increasingly stay put as the most veritable and popular means of transportation among Nigerians. If the demand continues to rise in the face of inadequate funding, the fear is a total collapse of the sector. But Onolememen says there is hope if only Nigeria can wake up and manage its roads sector like others even within the sub_region.
First, he came up with the idea of a Road Fund and a Road Fund Authority which will manage the resources like what is obtainable in the private sector. The Road Fund Authority he argued will be constituted of stakeholders like NARTO, NURTW, RTEAN, FRSC, Police, VIO, NSE, Federal Ministry of Works, etc. The idea is for them to manage every resource from the road like toll_gate collection, adverts, license charges, fines, etc in developing the roads. It is laughable that monies collected from the road in the past were shared among the tiers of government instead of re_channeling them into road maintenance and redevelopment.
The Minister has also been commended for resurrecting the toll system which every right thinking Nigerian is in tune with as the best practice the world over.
The toll system was abolished by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo, not because the idea was undesirable or corruption in toll management, but to settle political scores at the time. Clearly, this is not how to be a statesman! For whatever reason, scrapping the toll system by his government was like throwing away the baby with the bath water.
The consistency in our democratic practice has led us into realizing the errors of the past and which must be corrected. That is also the beauty of democracy.
Tolls on our highways are not anything near anti-populist programmes. They are rather populist programmes intended to keep the masses working. The thought is to drive road users to pay for the services of the road just like electricity tariffs, water rates, telecom charges, etc.
It is a universal fact that the more services you subscribe the more money you pay. The more cars you drive, the more money you should pay on the roads and the heavier the vehicles (by way of axle_loads) the higher you pay.
Those trucks and trailers plying our highways day and night help to destroy the roads without paying for the wear and tear. These deplorable roads soon turn out to be enemies of the masses when they become death traps.
One will not forget even in a hurry that toll_gates serve as the most potent form of security out_posts on our roads. Since the dismantling of toll_gates nationwide, Nigerians have had bitter stories about the invincibility of bandits on the roads. Armed robbers laying siege on passengers on the roads and the ugly developments of using humans (passengers) as shield and trap for other road users to stop and be robbed on our highways in recent times underscore the need for the toll gates to return for enhance security on the highways.
With the toll_gates on our highways as observation posts, the common man will surely heave a sigh of security relief. This added to the fact that the roads will once again be guaranteed of timely maintenance, are enough to give the Federal Ministry of Works some pat for the political will to bring back the toll_gates.
Godson Aliyu writes from Abuja.