Proliferation of universities despite government’s poor funding of varsities (2)

By Aare Afe Babalola

ON October 18, 2022, the media widely reported Dauda Ali Biu, acting Corps Marshall of the Federal Roads Safety Corps, advising motorists to avoid Ekiti State. In a write-up titled: ‘Avoid Ekiti Route when travelling from Abuja to Lagos, FRSC Advises Motorists’, Biu advised “motorists travelling from the Western part of the country through Ekiti State to the North to ply Akure-Ondo-Ife-Ibadan-Lagos or Lagos-Ibadan-Ife-Ondo-Ore Benin because the Igbara-Oke-Ilara-Mokin route was totally blocked”.

Biu, a principal agent of the Federal Government, cited “road blockage” as the reason for his blanket order. In effect, Biu urged motorists to avoid going through Ekiti. It must be emphasised here that Biu was speaking in his capacity as the acting corps marshall of the Federal Roads Safety Corps, which is the federal agency established through Decree No. 45 of February 1988 as amended by Decree No. 35 of 1992 “to operate in all Nigerian States as well as the Federal Capital Territory with the statutory responsibility for road safety administration and management in Nigeria”.

Its statutory functions include: “Making the highways safe for motorists and other road users, checking road worthiness of vehicles, recommending works and infrastructures to eliminate or reduce accidents on highways, as well as advising federal and state governments, including the Federal Capital Territory Administration and relevant government agencies, on the locations where such works and devices are required, and educating motorists and members of the public on the importance of road discipline on the highways.”

Most surprisingly, the Federal Government, which Biu represents, has not debunked this unconstitutional, dangerous and calamitous statement up till now. The effect is to directly or indirectly isolate Ekiti State, a development which will aggravate the plethora of problems that have been confronting the 26-year-old state.

To be honest, things are falling apart in the state, where many communities have been without electricity for nearly a decade, a critical component to their well-being, welfare, business interests, and industry. What Biu has done is to directly isolate Ekiti State from other states of Nigeria, and by so doing, Ekiti is bound to suffer and is already suffering.

Let us look at this scenario: When tankers laden with petrol, diesel, and/or kerosene cannot come to Ekiti State, that will have adverse effects on everybody, including, but not limited to housewives who will no longer be able to cook for the family, students who will find it difficult to access taxi cabs and okada to ferry them to their various schools, pepper grinders, vulcanizers, barbers and farmers who will find it increasingly difficult to move their farm produce to the market.

Apart from the above-stated categories, investors will be further discouraged from coming to Ekiti which is landlocked without an airport, seaport, railway system, or good motorable roads, thereby flushing away any iota of hope of any viable investment in Ekiti State. Unknown to Biu, what he has done, directly or indirectly, is shutting down the economy of Ekiti State. 

Functions of the Federal Road Safety Corps: With the statutory functions of the Federal Roads Safety Corps already spelled out at the back of our minds, the question will naturally arise as to why Biu is pronouncing the outright closure of all the roads leading to Ekiti State, thereby isolating the state, when all he is empowered to do is inform the people about the nature and state of the roads, when and where to slow down, among other statutory functions allocated to it by the law setting up his organisation.

In addition to the above, the duty of the FRSC boss is to advise the Federal Government that all the four federal roads from Ado-Ekiti to Otun and Kwara State, from Ado-Ekiti through Effon-Alaye to Ilesa in Osun State, from Ado-Ekiti through Ikere-Ekiti to Akure, Ondo State, and from Ado-Ekiti to Ijan, Iluomoba, Ode, to Lokoja, Kogi State, constructed over 100 years ago, are in a deplorable condition and have been rendered impassable.

It is not his duty under the law to stop people from using the roads. From these and sundry other reasons, it would appear that the Federal Government, by its silence, has acquiesced to the isolation of Ekiti State by its agency, the Federal Road Safety Corps. The tragedy is that all four federal roads, which have been serially neglected by successive central governments, have since become impassable death-traps. This has led many users of these failed federal roads to navigate their ways through bush paths to get to their various destinations.

 Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA: Having examined the functions of the FRSC, let us look at those of the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA, the federal agency established by the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (Establishment) Act 2002.

Section 7 of the Act establishing FERMA gives its functions as “ensuring that efficient and effective maintenance of all existing federal trunk roads or such other roads as may be declared, from time to time, as federal trunk roads by the National Assembly” while Section 8 provides as follows: “Without prejudice to the generality of the following, the Agency shall enter into a road concession contract for the purpose of executing relevant projects, set guidelines for the workings of the concession contract, plan and manage the creation and application of road safety standards; plan and develop strategies to ensure efficient and effective traffic movement on federal trunk roads, and then ensure their implementation.

Make policy recommendations to the Federal Government on matters relating to the maintenance of federal trunk roads, and, carry out such other activities as appear to be necessary or expedient for the full and efficient discharge of its functions under the Act.“ Looking at it from all rational and pragmatic angles, the FRSC, and, by inference, the Federal Government of Nigeria’s order that the motoring public should avoid plying all the routes leading to Ekiti State, a state created by the Federal Government on October 1, 1996, is unconstitutional, backward-looking, dangerous, and calamitous. 

Several calls on the federal and successive Ekiti State governments on the road: As a firm believer in the Ekiti Project and as one of its founding fathers, I have made several attempts to get the Federal Government and successive governments in Ekiti State to appreciate the need to make the state, which is among the least developed and neglected states in the country, more accessible. Unfortunately, there has been no appreciable response.

As a person, I went out of my way to maintain the 8.5-kilometre stretch of road from Ado-Ekiti township and Afe Babalola University/Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti between 2009 and 2019. I had to stop when, following our complaints, the Ministry of Works and Housing referred the matter to FERMA in 2019, after which FERMA promised that the road would be dualised and modernised.

Most regretfully, up till now, nothing has been done on the federal road where we have many institutions, including the following: Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, the ultra-modern 400-bed ABUAD Multi-System Hospital, which has been acknowledged by major healthcare stakeholders as “the most well-equipped hospital in sub-Saharan Africa,” the Federal Polytechnic, Ado-Ekiti; and the Ado-Ekiti Campus of the National Open University of Nigeria, and the Federal Government-owned multi-million naira silo.

It is on record that I have written several letters to different Ministers of Works and Housing, Ministers of Transport, the leadership of FERMA, and many Governors of Ekiti State drawing their attention to the unbearable and deplorable nature of the roads in the state. As a matter of fact, on January 24, 2022, I wrote another letter to the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, SAN, to authorise our university to use the resources and the highly qualified and competent personnel in our world-class College of Engineering to repair the road, construct a new bridge while the Federal Government would pay the cost of repairs. Most regretfully, there has been no acknowledgement or response to that request.

The way out: To lay the axe to the root of the problem and to ensure that Ekiti State is not completely crippled, the following should immediately be put in place: The acting Corps Marshall of the Federal Roads Safety Corps, Dauda Ali Biu, should recant his October 18, 2022, pronouncement that motorists should avoid going to Ekiti State.

The said FRSC Chieftain should instead advise the Federal Government, his principal, to declare a state of emergency on Ekiti Roads. The FRSC boss should henceforth stop usurping the functions of other Federal Government agencies, especially the FERMA, on the use of the federal trunk roads in Ekiti State.

The Federal Government should, as a matter of urgency, embark on an immediate repair of all federal roads in the state through an emergency allocation of funds for the repairs. FERMA should borrow money, as provided in Section 20 (1) of the Act establishing it, to repair the roads, and advise the Federal Government to allow contractors and/or well-to-do Nigerians to rehabilitate the roads or a portion thereof and be allowed to collect tolls to recover their investment, like I have suggested in the past.

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