If you suffered the harrowing experience of a 40 minutes drive that turned into nearly seven hours of sheer nightmare, it seems highly unlikely that you’ll be taken in by the extravagant photo-op session staged by Governor Ibikunle Amosun at the Warewa end of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway in the wee hours of Wednesday last week. Yes, I can report that the journey which began around 9 pm – somewhere in Mushin and which at the very worst would take an hour and half to make, ended at 3.15 am the next day! And the reason? Canyon-sized craters that have taken residence at the Warewa end of the long bridge on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway!
To the hordes of motorists – including yours truly – pinned down by the forces that spoke more to our pervasive institutional failure (certainly not some acts of nature or citizens’ famed indiscipline), puzzling would be an understatement to describe the ‘sympathy visit’ by the governor and a team which included his wife to that failed portion of the highway at the ungodly hour as widely reported.
So much for the well-publicised visit, I can testify that the giant craters said to be the chief cause of the problem have not disappeared, nearly a week after. As for the heavy equipment deployed, they may have remained visible at the site, they are actively on the ‘sleep mode’ right up till the time of writing this as many a passers-by will readily testify. Yes, a giant, on-site billboard proclaims the ‘mercy intervention’ by the Ogun State Ministry of Works and Infrastructure, but then, there is really nothing to show for any activity. And to imagine that the entire paraphernalia of administration in Ogun State had only last week relocated to that very spot supposedly to ‘facilitate’ a routine task that a more public service-minded councillor in charge of works in Obafemi-Owode Local Government would have undertaken without the accompanying fuss!
By the way – if it came to any real relief, the very next day after the highly publicized visit, it took yours truly more three hours to cover the same barely five kilometres stretch of the long bridge stretching from Berger to the journalists’ estate at Arepo! This time, the problem was a minor accident involving two trailers. With little space left for other motorists to manoeuvre, it soon became a familiar return to bedlam – no thanks to the legendary impotence of the men of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) – who could only ‘stand and stare’ in the absence of tools to work with! This time however, I was relatively luckier to have made it home in one piece at 1.30 am the next day! I know a lady who was stabbed in the arm after her handbag was seized by hoodlums who feigned to be helpers when her car broke down!
The story of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway obviously mirrors the dysfunctions at the heart of the nation’s crisis of development. It explains why the job meant for everybody never gets done by anybody. That was the moral behind the suggestion last week by Governor Amosun that the state government was moved out of pity than duty to act! Of course, the governor is right!
It explains why the country would expend billions on projects without as much as a thought to keeping it running. In the days of yore, we had the Public Works Department with their ubiquitous gangs that fixed manholes before they develop into killer-craters. I recall the road camps where those men congregated before the day’s job only to converge after a hard day’s job. Today, what do we have? An Abuja headquartered Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) that rather than fix roads –would rather be found recruiting militias for politicians to rig elections – an agency that has lost its rationale!
No less can be said of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC) – that ubiquitous agency that has become a nuisance on the road than anything else. Today, not only is the FRSC ineffective as a road safety agency in any true sense, it is operationally incapacitated to undertake the most routine of safety maintenance on the highways. For lack of the basic equipment in search and rescue, our own one-time elite paramilitary commission now finds itself veering into non-operational issues ranging from checking vehicle particulars to drivers’ licensing to manufacture of licence plates – occasionally spending time on the chaotic highways to while away time!
Are we not in trouble? At this time, the question that should bother everyone –is why a country so vast and so endowed and which aspires to move men into space cannot even begin the elementary task of taking care of little things? Everywhere you go across the federation, the story of our roads is the same. It is the story of neglect and abandonment. The other day, it was Senator Barnabas Gemade and his committee lamenting the state of the roads in the South-east. Yours truly on a visit to Jos, the Plateau State capital last week could not imagine the state of the road from the airport to town! At a point, I thought I was in Mogadishu or some far-flung country in a state of war! It was, to put it mildly, terrible. The same adjectives, I guess, would describe the Jos-Abuja highway! I once wrote about the death corridor called Ilorin- Kabba highway where bands of Fulani marauders operate at will simply because the roads have become impassable.
What we have at the moment is a national emergency. The challenge is as simple as finding a sustainable framework for road maintenance. Without that, all our efforts to transform the economy would come to naught. That is why other nations take road maintenance seriously! This is one thing that the Buhari administration would need to take seriously. And if I may suggest, there is no use pretending that the current framework which has failed would ever work. New thinking is what is required.
As a final point, what would it take FERMA to work effectively? Is it that the nation is lacking in manpower? What special skills are needed to fix a broken road? Or is it that the nation does not have sufficient bitumen to fix the roads? Isn’t bitumen one of the derivatives of oil? Or funds? What about the billions annually voted for that? Does anyone know? And does anyone care?