The East-West road symbolises the tragedy of our peculiar political economy
In many respects, the criminal neglect and complacency over the East-West road is tragic. Awarded in 2006 to Setraco Group at the cost of $1.5billion by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, the 338 kilometre road, which traverses seven states must have gulped twice or thrice the initial contract sum. What is even more tragic is that despite the fact that a son of the region which produces oil, the mainstay of the Nigerian economy, was president for five years, little or no efforts were made to complete this vital road.
The East-West road symbolises the tragedy of our peculiar political economy. It is literally the only project around which the Niger Delta Ministry was created with a specific regional name tag. And from inception, almost all the ministers manning the portfolio have been indigenes of the Niger Delta. Out of the 11 years that it has taken since the road contract was awarded, five years were under President Jonathan who hails from Bayelsa State, the heartland of the Ijaw nation. At every budget cycle in recent years, huge sums of money were voted for the road yet it remains an eyesore with commuters spending several hours every day in agony.
In our view, a combination of sickening corruption, crass incompetence and lack of enlightened self-interest by politicians should explain the fact that this road remains incomplete. It is the same combination that has marooned the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) while the Niger Delta remains in a worse state than before it was established. Yet as things stand, to complete this important project and release the full economic potential of that part of the country, the federal government may have to set up a dedicated fund in the 2018 budget with a time bound extra-ministerial task force.
While lamenting the terrible state of the Eleme Refinery junction section of the road recenlty, the NDDC Managing Director, Mr Nsima Ekere said: “It is so bad that a 10-minute journey on that axis now takes three hours. That section of the road has failed and we will get contractors to the site immediately.” He said that over N70 billion was needed to complete the road. But there are questions as to where the money would be sourced, especially when the talk is about the private sector. Which private lender will put their money on such a bottomless financial pit? Besides, under what arrangement would the road be handed over to a private concern after the hundreds of billions of naira already expended by the federal government?
However, beyond the East-West road, there is an urgent need to find a solution to the deplorable conditions of most of the nation’s highways. From the Eastern part of the country to the West and the North, travelling by road is now a major nightmare as journeys that should ordinarily not exceed three to four hours become a whole day of horrific experience. The roads have also become such a danger that in the last five months, the rate of daily carnage has become a major cause for concern.
Yet, it is not just that most of these roads are so impassable that is disturbing, it is the fact that the dangerous spots along them have also become convenient operating centres for highway robbers who lay siege on unsuspecting motorists and other road users. This is aside the notorious fact that the poor state of these roads hampers economic activities as several tonnes of farm produce and other products cannot be transported either to the markets or to areas where they are needed.