The Shame Of Nigeria's Roads
culled from THISDAY, October 30,
Beyond the current statistics of
growth rates and foreign reserves, the reform agenda of the Obasanjo
administration will be measured retrospectively in a few months time by some
glaring indices. Unfortunately, the verdict may not be complimentary. We are
talking here of issues that relate directly to the quality of lives of the
Prominent among the indices are those of job-creation, resolving the energy
crisis as well as revamping infrastructure. The implementation of the
National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) was projected
to create seven million jobs. Yet, regardless of the official play on
statistics joblessness remains the socio-economic scourge of our time. It
would be great if a good mix of policies can still create a few thousands of
jobs more before the end of this administration in about six month time. The
administration says its the power sector reform will meet the targets of
generating 10, 000 mega warts only at the end of next year. Experts who
should know tell us that the full benefits of the power sector reform might
not be within the reach of electricity consumers until possibly five years
from now. After almost six years of deregulation of the downstream sector of
the oil industry, fuel is still being imported with official warnings that
pump prices might be raised again next year. There are no news yet of
private refineries swinging into operation.
Maybe it is too late for the administration to consummate its reforms in
some areas. It is, however, not too late for the administration to still
“do something” about the decaying infrastructure.
To be sure, no one expects any magic wand from the Obasanjo administration
to solve all problems before it takes its exit. But the state of physical
infrastructure demands urgent attention in the remaining days of this
government’s tenure. It is no idle talk to ask the government to halt the
In this respect the state of our roads stands out like a sore thumb. The
roads are collapsing. In different areas of the country, the roads are
dangerous to ply. The national picture of the roads is simply scandalous.
President Olusegun Obasanjo himself once said he was ashamed of federal
roads. Today that would be putting the matter mildly. The media have been
awash with mind-boggling photographs and pathetic stories of hapless road
users. For instance, there is the story of a funeral party that was trapped
with the corpse at a point on the terrible road between Lagos and the east
for two days. Some parts of the east have reportedly become inaccessible by
road. Such is the excruciating experience of those who helplessly use the
bad roads. In the last few months a pothole on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway
near Ibafo has claimed several lives including those all the members of a
family, in one instance, before those responsible for road maintenance woke
up to do their job. There are many of such deadly spots on highways across
The state of these highways is a narrative of poor maintenance. The other
day Works Minister Chief Cornelius Adebayo inspected federal roads in Lagos.
It would be interesting to know what went on in his mind as he was driven on
the roads leading to the premier seaport and the international airport. How
did he feel about the portion of the federal road at a central point like
The good news is that Adebayo said his ministry was only waiting for rains
to begin work on these roads. Even with the few months remaining to make a
difference, he should be encouraged to roll up his sleeves. Let him aspire
to leave the roads better than he met them. After all, General Murtala
Muhammed is remembered today for the difference he made with just six months
of governance. That is the point to stress. There is the temptation to give
up on the government saying that with politics thick in the air, there may
be little or no room for delivering on governance. As we await the census
figures, party primaries and eventual elections, there is a lot that can
still be done to mitigate the disaster that many of the roads have become.
This is a challenge to Adebayo. Good enough he is not known to be aspiring
to any elective office and he is not engaged in any running battle with his
state governor. So he can face the job squarely and win some credits for the
Obasanjo administration with what is possible to be done about the roads in
the next few months.
Really, the riddle about state of the roads is that although so much has
been spent officially on them, yet the condition gets worse in many places.
According to the President in his review of this year’s budget, as at August
31, government ‘had released N52 billion or 71% of the N73 billion
appropriated for capital works for the construction, rehabilitation and
repairs of roads nationwide” The outlook is even more optimistic in the
proposed budget for next year. The allocation for works is N191 billion
which amounts to 110% increase over the allocation for the current financial
year. The Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) is to be provided with N17
billion for jobs to be done. Provisions have also been made for important
roads such as the East-West Road in the Niger Delta (N36 billion), the
Kano-Maiduguri Road (N21 billion) and Abuja-Lokoja Road (N6 billion). So a
lot of funds have been earmarked for the works. And in fulfilment of the
policy contained in its NEEDS document; the administration is seeking
private sector investments in the road sector. The NEEDS envisages the
“adoption of build-operate-transfer” in the road sector among others. The
President said in his budget speech at the National Assembly a fortnight ago
that proposals from the private sector are being appraised for the
construction of the second Niger Bridge and a bridge across River Benue.
Evidently, the virtual collapse of infrastructure is not due to lack of
budgetary allocations to be bring them back to live.
In the particular case of roads, if the federal allocations on maintenance
and construction are judiciously spent and state and local governments
perform their own responsibilities in making roads motorable, the picture
wont be as dismal as we have it today. Some state governments seem
satisfied making a fetish of filling a few potholes here and there. They
should take road construction and maintenance as a development challenge.
The conditions of the roads nationwide call for a more honest approach from
all tiers of government.
An economic strategy cannot be said to be working when roads are impassable.