By Josef Omorotionnwan
MANY have since concluded that the Federal Highways across the nation have become a metaphor for the worst of every situation. In the first part of this article, which appeared in Thisday Newspapers of August 28, 2009, page 16, we dwelt exhaustively on the Lagos-Benin Highway that was adjudged the worst road in Nigeria at the time.
We have seen divergent views at the highest level. On August 6, 2007, Diezani Alison-Madueke, Minister of Transport, as she then was, wept profusely when she came face-to-face with the failed portions of the road. At the point of rationalisation, former President Goodluck Jonathan maintained that bad roads don’t cause accidents, perhaps oblivious of the fact that failed portions of any road are harbingers for armed robbers, extortionists, kidnappers and beggars.
Our Highways have been getting incrementally worse, with portholes expanding to pigholes and more roads have become a lot worse than the Lagos-Benin Expressway, so-called.
We recollect, with nostalgia, that in the Second Republic, a journey from Benin to Lagos took less than three hours of smooth drive; but today, that same journey has become a whole day’s punishment with hard labour.
A few days back, a friend travelled from Abuja to Benin. Just before noon, he phoned to say he had reached Ekpoma. We were elated because ordinarily, he had less than 40 minutes to go. Little did he know that the journey had just begun.
These roads now defy time-honoured rules of mathematics. In elementary Geometry, we learnt the theorem that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points; but not anymore. By today’s practice, a straight line between Ekpoma and Benin would take you from Ekpoma–Uromi–Igueben–Ebele–Ogua–Ujogba–Ugieghudu– Eguaeholor–Ugoneki–Benin – – an endless navigation! Lest we forget, our friend finally arrived Benin just before midnight. The main township road in Ekpoma is totally obliterated!
If only the Federal authorities realised the immeasurable damage they are doing to States and Localities by their negligence, they would have a rethink. The State roads are not built for those heavy articulated vehicles and equipment. But because of the negligence of the Federal authorities, their inadequacies end up being transferred to States. Just imagine how that beautiful road between Ugoneki and Ugieghudu and the Evbuobanosa–Oghada–Igbanke road built by the Edo State Government at enormous costs, have so soon been torn to shreds! And nobody is talking about that! The State governments will soon learn to put a charge on them.
Travelling anywhere in Nigeria has become an ordeal, no thanks to the failure of Big Brother. The so-called East – West Highway has since become a mirage, only seen on the pages of budgets. The other day, we travelled from Port Harcourt to Benin. Just before entering into the Delta State belt at Patani, the road had caved in and was totally blocked. We had to meander our way back to the Owerri-Onitsha route. We later ran into a terrible gridlock at the bridgehead in Onitsha. A journey that was originally planned for some four hours ended up extracting more than 15 long hours from us.
Those travelling from Benue to Edo State cannot celebrate being able to meander through the Ninth Mile axis in Enugu. They must wait till they get to Upper Iweka area of Onitsha. On a fairly busy day, they would be lucky if they spent just four hours on a single spot.
Nigeria keeps repeating the same mistakes year after year. At the peak of these mistakes, we resort to what has become popularly known as palliative measures, which simply involve spreading sand and gravel over the portholes, only to be washed off by the first rain. To us, it is criminal to keep talking of palliative measures when we can provide permanent remedies – even where the palliative measures pay higher dividends to field practitioners.
We have observed elsewhere that in the Southern part of Nigeria, the Federal Highways run across major rain forests; and road construction in these areas could be capital-intensive. We are reminded by the lessons of history that Europe and America have passed through similar experiences. We remember John McAdam (1756-1836) who invented the macadamized roads in which road cross sections were composed of compacted sub-grade of crushed rock designed to support the load, covered with surface of light stones to absorb wear and tear and shed water to the drainage ditches. People talk of the high cost and ask if we can afford it. Of course, it is affordable if only we steal less and work more in the interest of this nation. There is an aspect of macadamization by the Imo River between Port Harcourt and Aba, which was provided during the colonial era.
Every part of the system is interwoven. We do not require any cult of experts to tell us that our bad roads are products of poor budget cycles. For as long as we have budgets that are approved into the heart of the rainy season when public works are on hold; and for as long as we produce budgets that are operational only for an infinitesimal part of the budget year, naturally, we have no right to expect much improvements on our highways.
Need we say, therefore, that we have missed it again this time around? The 2018 Appropriation Bill has just been presented to the National Assembly. This is coming too little too late! Those calling on the National Assembly to pass the Bill before the end of the year are ignorant of the budgetary process; hence they are trying to stampede the National Assembly into doing a shoddy job and to rubber-stamp the Budget. In real terms, no magic will produce the 2018 Appropriation Act before May 2018!
Above all, the Nigerian transportation system can only be developed within an integrated context. If we must have enduring roads, this is the time to add meaning to the development of our Railways which will remove some of the strains on the roads.