THE current state of the Okene-Lokoja road is a sad commentary on the state of highways in Nigeria and the country’s deteriorating culture of road use. On August 25, the section between Itakpe and the façade of the Federal College of Education, Okene, became impassable after some articulated vehicles were bogged down in a bad portion of the road. From that moment, things got worse, as a combination of trapped trucks, terrible road conditions and impatient driving rapidly eventuated in a snarl which stalled traffic in all directions.
To their credit, officials of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) responded admirably to the emergency. For instance, the Kogi State Sector Commander, Mr. Olusegun Martins, promptly redeployed officials from Kabba and Lokoja to help in untying the logjam and making traffic smooth again. Yet, for all their valiant efforts, it wasn’t entirely clear, heading into last weekend, that they had succeeded.
This should not come as a surprise. Whenever a vehicular logjam of the kind seen last week on the Okene-Lokoja highway occurs, as they do with increasing frequency on highways across the country, it is often due to the same underlying causes: roads dilapidated to the point of constituting a health hazard to commuters, combined with drivers whose impatience is only outmatched by their deep ignorance of traffic rules. Then, there is the fact that as a community, truck drivers tend to use the road as if traffic rules do not apply to them, and treat other road users as beneath their contempt.
The effects of such logjams are also predictable: loss of precious man-hours which does nothing to help an otherwise sluggish economy, prolonged human misery and further deterioration of the road. It goes without saying that, as with other logjams witnessed repeatedly across the country, the latest incident on the Okene-Lokoja road could have been avoided. The handwriting was on the wall as far back as April this year when the contractor handling the reconstruction work on a section of the road reported that, fearing for their lives, its Chinese expatriates had abandoned the site following incidences of kidnapping. The abandonment of the road by the Chinese expatriates and the subsequent stoppage of work most probably contributed to its poor state.
Frequent logjams like this portray the country in a bad light and send the wrong message to foreign investors. They suggest that, contrary to the empty pieties emanating from the government about strengthening the economy, maintenance of physical infrastructure remains low on its list of priorities.