WITH only a few weeks to the end of the year, the pressure on federal highways in the country is bound to increase. Because rail transport remains abysmally low, restricted, inefficient and slow, the people, especially traders, farmers, businessmen and women, and manufacturers still prioritise travel by road. Sadly, the condition of the highways is, to say the least, terrible and horrific. They have turned into deathtraps because of criminal neglect by successive governments, coupled with unbridled corruption and crass politicking. Although huge budgetary allocations were earmarked for repair, rehabilitation, reconstruction and maintenance over the years, the condition of the highways has remained horrendous. Clearly, there is nothing to show for the huge expenditure.
And what is more, the prolonged and heavy rainfalls this year have further exposed the underbelly of the political leadership’s deceit and hypocrisy. Many of the highways have become impassable and abandoned. Motorists and other road users spend precious hours in gridlock occasioned by deep gullies, potholes, craters and ditches. The blockage of drainage facilities and the absence of such facilities cause serious flooding that often render the roads useless. Of course, there is the factor of poor maintenance culture despite the existence of the interventionist body, Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA).
The worsening condition of the highways has exacerbated the insecurity of lives. Hardened criminals, including kidnappers and armed robbers, lay a siege to travellers on the collapsed roads. Only a negligible percentage of the more than 32, 000km federal highways across the country has a semblance of service and purpose. That cannot be said to be encouraging even though the Minister of Works, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), seems to disagree that the condition of the roads have become alarming. He has attempted to play down the misery of fellow compatriots, saying that the roads are not as bad as people make them. This is highly unfortunate.
There can be no doubting the fact that the dilapidated highways cause aggravated and collateral damage to the psyche, health status and physical wellness of the citizenry. The trauma does not include the rising rate of motor accidents that claim scores of lives and cause physical injuries that lead to incapacitation of the victims. Goods worth millions of naira are also lost as a result of frequent accidents on the highways, just as precious hours that should have been put into productive ventures are being wasted on incessant and perennial gridlock.
A trip that should normally take 30 minutes now requires two to four hours or much more. It is evident that the road situation in the country requires the declaration of a state of emergency. It confirms leadership failure and demands urgent rescue through critical thinking and pragmatic actions. Recently, the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) confirmed that 275 people lost their lives in the North-East geopolitical zone between April and September this year, while others sustained varying degrees of injuries. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) has asserted that the country lost no fewer than 1,538 Nigerians in road accidents in the fourth quarter of 2018 alone. And the seriousness of the deplorable state of the highways was underscored by the public protest staged by the Ikorodu chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) on the national calamity.
The usual excuse of the vagaries of nature for the poor condition of the highways is puerile, flimsy and pretentious. Rains can only slow down the pace of work, as modern technology makes road construction, rehabilitation and repair feasible virtually in all seasons in every part of the world. In the case of Nigeria, the lack of vision, planning and consistency in policies constitutes a stumbling block, just as paucity of funds poses a serious problem. The assessment of stakeholders like the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) and the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NACA) on the state of the highways should be appreciated by the works minister and the government that he works for. They have only echoed the lamentations of the generality of Nigerians about the pain, sorrow and tragedy that the bad roads have caused.
Sadly, like the federal roads, most of the state roads are nothing to write home about. They are mere deathtraps. They are a huge embarrassment. It is time that state governors and chairmen of local councils, where they exist, woke up and smelled the coffee. The bad roads portray the country as a hellhole. There must be a change, and very fast too.