Following years of criminal neglect, roads under the charge of the Federal Government, just like those controlled by the lower tiers, have suffered deterioration and degradation on a sustained level. Instead of serving the critical purpose of reducing passenger travel time, vehicle operation cost and traffic-related fatalities, while also boosting the economy, the roads have become a source of intense emotional and physical trauma to the millions of users. In a country where 95 per cent of the movement of goods and humans is done by road, experts say, the suffering is becoming insufferable.
Yet, rather than come up with some creative and concerted action to solve the problem to the benefit of all, the Federal Government recently issued a stern warning to state governments, which sometimes offer to undertake repairs of the roads on behalf of the central government, to steer clear. “Tell them (the state governors) not to fix my roads again if they are going to claim compensation,” the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, quoted the President, Muhammadu Buhari, as saying.
Obviously, this is a no-win situation that will only compound an already desperate situation and multiply the woes of commuters and businesses who rely on these roads for the movement of their goods across the country. Fashola explained that the President was miffed by the habit of governors inflating the cost of such road rehabilitation, citing a particular instance where bills, amounting to almost N1 trillion, were submitted when the President assumed office. Alarmed by the humongous bills, Buhari had ordered an investigation, which resulted in the authentication of only N44 billion, the minister explained.
Of course, this is condemnable. Any attempt to run government activities in a less-than-transparent manner should be seriously denounced. Yet, it should not be forgotten that the situation could have been avoided if the Federal Government had taken its responsibilities as a government very seriously. Of the 200,000 kilometres of road network in the country, according to the records of the Road Sector Development Team, the Federal Government is responsible for only 33,000 km. While states own 50,000 km of the highways, the local governments are in charge of the 117,000 km feeder roads.
Of the entire road network, very few compare with the federal roads in terms of the level of neglect. Journeys that should ordinarily take minutes end up taking hours, while some that should take a few hours could last days. A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Afe Babalola, claimed recently that federal roads in Ekiti State were the most neglected in the country. He said he had been deploying his personal resources to maintain some of the roads. Citing a particular bridge which collapsed in the state, he said, “That narrow bridge which collapsed on Monday (last week) was built over 100 years ago.”
However, he is not the only private citizen who has undertaken the job of public road repairs. In Lagos, businessman, Aliko Dangote, has also taken up the responsibility of maintaining roads on behalf of the government. Dangote who stated three years ago that Nigeria was losing $1 billion annually as a result of the poor state of roads across the country, is funding the reconstruction of the Apapa Wharf Road in partnership with the Nigerian Ports Authority and Flour Mills of Nigeria Plc to facilitate movement in an area of high economic activities that has been abandoned by successive administrations.
Across the nooks and crannies of the country, the critical inter-state link roads, considered very important for business, are in very deplorable conditions. They include the Enugu-Onitsha Road; Odukpani-Itu Road; Oyo-Ogbomoso-Ilorin Road; Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa Road; Benin-Sapele-Warri Road; Enugu-Port Harcourt Road and Benin-Auchi-Okene Road. These roads have become death traps and reasons for many fatal accidents. Kidnappers and armed robbers also lay siege to travellers who cannot move fast as a result of the failed portions of the roads.
The very busy Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, whose contract for rehabilitation was awarded in 2009, is still not completed. This is the road that serves as the gateway to the commercial capital of the country and deserves to be in tip-top condition because of its strategic importance to the economy. In the case of Apapa area, which is the seat of the country’s main seaports, business has almost ground to a halt as a result of the chaos caused in part by bad roads. Most importers have, as a result, now resorted to bringing goods into Nigeria through the neighbouring countries.
The Federal Government has to find a way of fixing these roads. The World Bank describes roads as “arteries through which the economy pulses.” Not only do roads link producers with markets, they are also crucial to the development agenda of any country. It is therefore not surprising that some state governors, anxious to bring development to their domains, feel compelled to embark on the reconstruction or rehabilitation of federal roads. Fashola himself, as the Lagos State Governor, and Godswill Akpabio, who held sway in Akwa Ibom State, performed creditably in the maintenance and reconstruction of some federal roads in their states.
To start with, Nigeria requires a huge sum of investment to bridge the widening road infrastructure gap in the country. A report quoting the Financial Derivatives Company last year said Nigeria needed to invest $15 billion annually (much more than half of the national budget) to be able to bring her infrastructure to an acceptable level. This is definitely not what the Federal Government can afford at this stage.
This is why the Public Private Partnership option should be pursued. This option is popular in many countries across the world. But, in the meantime, the federal and state governments should find a way of working together to tackle the problem. Since the roads are actually located in the states, they are the ones that feel the impact the most. Therefore, both states and the Federal Government can work together to ensure that quality roads are delivered at reasonable cost.