Monday, July 20, 2009

Deplorable state of Federal roads

With the advent of the rains, the deplorable condition of most of the Federal roads across the country has reached critical dimensions. From different parts of the country, calls for the repair of dilapidated Federal roads have reached a crescendo, as some now constitute a threat not only to the lives of motorists, but the economy of the nation.

Key among the roads that have become a threat to motorists and the national economy is the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, which leads to the country’s two major seaports – the Tin Can Island and Apapa Ports, as well as the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. Trailers and tankers sometimes derail on the failed portions of the pothole-riddled expressway, with attendant loss of lives.

Other dilapidated Federal roads which have become a source of anguish to motorists include the Benin-Ore Expressway which links the West to the Eastern part of the country; the legendarily-failed Onitsha-Owerri Expressway and the Kabba-Akutupa-Abuji Road, which links the North Central to the North and South of the country.

Roads, generally, have been a constant source of acrimony between the people and the Nigerian government since the end of the civil war. The nation’s expressways have, since that time, been liable to failure, probably because the builders did not factor in the texture of the soil before their construction. The integrity of the roads, then and now, was easily compromised, with erosion, especially, taking an awesome toll on those in the Eastern part of the country.

To worsen the situation, Federal roads are not properly and regularly maintained, but abandoned until they fail, abysmally. The unsalutary situation has not been helped by the ubiquitous ogre of corruption, with huge funds voted for road development and rehabilitation often ending up in the bottomless pit of graft.
The problem is further exacerbated by the crass disregard of the importance of professional background and competence in the choice of Ministers for the Works and Transportation ministries. There is also too much pressure on the roads on account of the failure to develop the rail sector, despite several promises from the government.

We need to ask what exactly institutions like the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) are doing to justify their existence when the nation’s major expressways are riddled with craters. Nigeria is talking of developing her economy and opening up the rural areas when link roads are not motorable.

The Federal Government should change its strategy if better roads are to be delivered to the people. It needs to include a maintenance clause for about 15 years in road construction contracts to ensure that contractors do quality jobs. President Umaru Yar’Adua should demonstrate greater commitment to addressing this problem, especially as transportation is a key component of his promised 7-Point Agenda.
The toll that bad roads takes on Nigerians is, indeed, heavy. Lives and properties are lost, time is wasted, vehicles are spoilt, motorists are frustrated and business is stymied. The security implications of the terrible roads are incalculable, as thieves seize the traffic hold ups occasioned by the failed portions to chance upon innocent motorists.

It is a big relief that the Federal Government has promised to carry out limited repair work on the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, and the repair of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, which has been concessioned, is to begin next month. The promise to appropriate supplementary funds for comprehensive repairs of the road should be fulfilled. Similar commitment should be shown to the repair of other existing Federal highways.

Everything should be done to ensure that all roads scheduled for repair are properly done, with the contractors and engineers who approve the performance certificates for payment in the ministries held accountable for the projects. No one should be allowed to get away with shoddy execution or approval of road projects. The deal should also include drainages, preferably, covered ones to counter the peculiar propensity of our people for turning drainages into dustbins.

Above all, government must expedite its programme on concessioning of the railways to provide an alternative to road transportation, especially for haulage of heavy goods. The condition of Federal roads has become an emergency and it should be treated as such.