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No more roads to Turkestan

IN his classic 1927 travelogue, The Desert Road to Turkestan,  Owen Lattimore narrated his intricate journey through the Gobir desert in the old Mongolian land. Lattimore’s experience has been qualified by several readers and reviews in several adjectives from harrowing to gruesome, all in an attempt to paint a vivid picture of travelling in that dreaded part of Central Asia.

For those who are endowed with the patience to follow The Desert Road to Turkestan to the end, it is clear that the traveller was determined to make a point to his readers, that the disappearance of caravan travel in China was imminent. How true he was, rail and other modern travel systems have since taken over the once marauders-infested journey through the ‘Winding Road’.

In Nigeria, a couple of months back, Lattimore’s conclusion about the inevitability of a transition in the mode of travel through the desert of Gobir was beginning to win converts among citizens of the country.

Dilapidated and in utter state of disrepair were most of the country’s roads, especially those conspicuously and sometimes for political gains, mischievously labelled: ‘Please bear with us, this is a Federal Government road,’ that most Nigerians were losing hope and travels by roads, where possible, were completely avoided.

From the North to the South, the East and the West, the tales of woes rang out like a broken pot which pieces could not be fixed again. Now, to tell the truth, there were federal, state and local roads in this cluster forming a terrible ring of bad roads across the land; but the federal roads received the biggest lash because of their conspicuous positions, length and perceived huge appropriation for their maintenance and repair announced in the annual budget.

Some of these roads were outrightly labelled death traps. And unarguably the busiest road in the country, the Shagamu-Ore-Benin expressway was caught in this vortex. Each day, heart rending reports of loss of lives, goods, vehicles and valuable man-hour inundated the people.

Journeys that were supposed to last a few hours dragged on endlessly such that when people travelling from Lagos to the East and southern fringe states like Rivers, Cross River, Bayelsa and Akwa Ibom got to their destination in two days, they were celebrated with pomp.

The numerous unpleasant accounts of loss of lives on the Shagamu-Ore-Benin stretch is better forgotten because of the deep emotions that it  evokes.

Then suddenly, all that tale of journey-to-no-where has become a thing of the past.

Between July last year and this August, it would appear that more works have been done to maintain and repair Nigerian roads by the Federal Government than was the case in the last 12 years.

And this is because there is a clear understanding of what the situation is, what should be done and where we should be in terms of road infrastructure as a nation by a man who is not only  equipped with the appropriate skills but has totally fallen in line with President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda.

The critical part of this agenda include: The completion of about 160 on-going road projects across the country, highlighting priority road projects for the network and their development, taking steps to ensure promptness and good quality of works being executed, and reforming the process of road management and financing, among others.

An architect, Mike Onolememen has exhibited a deep understanding of the situation which is not common place in the country’s public sector. The result is the flurry of works that is going on across the country simultaneously on Federal Government roads.

With a roadmap of where he would want the Nigerian roads to be in the next couple of years, he shunned the endemic partisan disposition towards road maintenance and repairs over the years and brought commissioners of works of the various states in the federation for a discussion, intimating them of the new federal –

It would have taken more than a miracle for the national honours to be awarded without criticisms. What weakens present criticisms is that the proponents pretend the standards for the awards are new or that the high number of awards is necessarily an abuse.

Doubtlessly, there are many things to criticise about the awards. The key one would be the selection process, which could be extended to the criteria for the type of honours bestowed.

Criticisms of the honours are mostly on the high numbers. Last year, 365 people (the record for highest number of awardees in a year) were awarded honours, while only 149 made the list this year. Did the critics notice the 40.82 per cent drop in number of awardees? Does the lower number mean that a higher quality of awardees in 2012?

The emphasis on numbers bears little relevance to the awards. We think that the concern should be more on the contributions of awardees. The 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours List alone had 1,201 people, yet the Queen hands out two sets of national honours in a year, one for the New Year and the other at her birthday in June.

For a country of 160 million people, the number of awardees does not reflect the contributions of many Nigerians to the development of the country. The awards appear more like privileges, dispensed at the pleasure of the authorities, along political affiliations and other indiscernible criteria.

Only five awards were made in 1964 when the awards started, though they were backdated to 1963. The 1964 event had 248 awardees and 267 were honoured in 1965. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2008 honoured 275 people.

The honours list could be saved from dishonour, but the approach should be such that does not bring it to further disrepute. Orders from President Goodluck Jonathan for the awards committee to list those to strip of their awards is curious.

Since a law establishes the honours, the only way to proceed is to amend the law to specify criteria for withdrawing honours. For the Queen’s Honours, a forfeiture committee addresses complaints against awardees. Another important amendment to the law should be clear and measurable criteria for nominating awardees.

Awardees should be role models. The President used two awardees to illustrate this — businessman Mike Adenuga, whose telecommunication company employs thousands of Nigerians and Muhammad Zakari, a senior information officer in the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, who last November, returned N6 million paid to him in error.

If criteria for selecting awardees are improved, the national honours list could make a major difference by spurring Nigerians to serve their country better.

Mr. SEHINDE OMONIYI, a journalist, wrote from Abuja.


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