Nigeria: Bad Roads, Bad Governance

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The quality of Nigerian roads must be around the worst in the world. It is a shame that we have become so used to living like animals that the powers that be appear not to be perturbed at all by the perilous roads Nigerians are forced to risk their lives on daily.

Have we no shame? Have we no respect for human lives? If sections of the Appian way are still seen today in Italy, why is it that practically no road constructed just 30 years ago in Nigeria is in good shape? Yet, for the 1960 Summer Olympics, the Appian Way served as part of the men’s marathon course that was won by Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia.

1960? Appius Claudius Caecus, the Roman Censor who began and completed the first section of that road that has been named after him, as a military road to the South of Italy in 312 BC. Yes, the date is no misprint; It was started in 312 BC. That is, 312 years before the birth of Christ. And Christ was born around 2019 years ago. And parts of that road still exists in Rome today and tomorrow.

In the entire Nigeria, perhaps only the city of Abuja, has a good network of well-paved roads. All other cities, and all the roads linking the other cities and villages, are shameful death traps. They look as though human beings do not travel through them.

In a survey of the quality of road in 140 countries, Nigeria occupies the 133rd position. Nigeria beat just seven unfortunate countries; Chad, Guinea, Yemen, Angola, DR Congo, Haiti and Mauritania. Yet, we puff up as if we do matter in the comity of nations.

Singapore leads the globe in good road network. The others among the first ten are, Switzerland, Netherlands, Hong Kong, Portugal, France, Japan, Oman, Austria, UA Emirates. USA comes on this list at number 11. Britain is number 26. Germany is at the 18th position.

A Central Bank of Nigeria research finding held that: “The annual loss due to bad roads is valued at N80 billion, while additional vehicle operating cost resulting from bad roads is valued at N53.8 billion, bringing the total loss per annum to N133.8 billion (Federal Ministry of Work & Housing). This figure does not take into account the man-hour losses in traffic due to bad roads and other emotional and physical trauma people go through plying the roads and the consequent loss in productivity. Overall, the poor state of roads in Nigeria impacts negatively on cost of production, and represents a major trigger of cost-push inflation. The primary mandate of the CBN is to maintain price stability. It is evident that this mandate will not be achieved if the problem of bad roads in the country is not addressed”. That came from APRIL 2003 Central Bank of Nigeria (research department occasional paper no. 27) HIGHWAY MAINTENANCE IN NIGERIA: LESSONS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES.

2003? That document will be 20 years old in fours time, yet Nigerian roads have become worse, not better since then.

What really has been the trouble with road maintenance? Nigeria has been setting up commissions which have been setting up more and more bureaucratic networks as though bureaucracy alone would solve the problem. There was the Wey Commission of 1971, which examined the organizational structure of highway development and management in five selected countries and thereafter recommended the formation of a Federal Highway Authority for the administration of all Federal Roads in the country.

A 1979 panel, recommended the setting-up of a parastatal (The Federal Highway Authority) under the Federal Commissioner of Works and Housing. Its functions would include the planning, designing, construction, maintenance and surveillance of Federal highways.

A 1996 workshop launched the Road Vision 2000 and recommended the establishment of an autonomous road agency that will be responsible for road maintenance; and The 1999 Presidential Policy Advisory Committee (PPAC), which recommended the establishment of a central body to ensure high standards in highways development and maintenance. Also, the committee recommended that funding of highways maintenance should be improved by establishing a Road Fund (RF), which will derive its funds from the following sources:

In fact started making road policies in 1965; “Statement of Policy on Transport”. This was the first attempt by the Federal Government of Nigeria to express concern about the operating condition of the Nigeria’s transport system. The policy statement was an outcome of the Stanford Research Institute study commissioned by the Federal Government in 1961.

1993 saw the Transport Policy for Nigeria christened “Moving out of crisis.”

The 2003 Draft National Transport Policy Document was commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Transport to address the visible competition between transport modes especially Road and Rail transport. But this document exists today only in draft form.

Then there was the 2008 Draft National Transport Policy. This document was commissioned by the Bureau for Public Enterprises following the decision of government to withdraw from provision of services including transport. Like the 2003 document, it also did not go beyond the draft stage.

It must be pointed out that though the 2003 and 2008 policy initiatives may not be regarded as official policy documents for the country, government investment and funding decisions, including management techniques during the period reflected the aspirations and desires expressed in these draft documents.

The Gen. T Y Danjuma headed PPAC advised President Obasanjo as he was coming in in 1999 that year 2000 was to witness “aggressive development of Federal Roads and Highways, “Revitalization of the Nigerian Rail Transport system”, etc and the linking up of all state capitals with expressways.  Those recommendations still remain empty dreams.  It must be noted that late President Yar’Adua constructed the ten-lane Abuja-Kubwa and the Abuja Air-Port roads that reduced traffic gridlock in the FCT.

Even when toll gates were operative, the monies realised from them were not fully spent on road maintenance. The Federal Government received as toll gate revenue, N569.29 million in 2000, N779.84 in million 2001 and N742.72 in 2002. Yet, it released only N470.9 million in 2000, N401.2 million in 2001 and N474.5 million and 2002. Or did the rest go into paying the collection fees?

Unfortunately, the government of the day does not even believe that it owes Nigeria any service. It is busy acting out its triumphalism. Anybody who criticizes it is regarded as a renegade.  When I think of the Buhari administration, what comes to mind is serious debilitation. And in the fog of its debilitation, as it is being overwhelmed by security issues all across the country, simpler issues like pot holes on the roads may not even matter. Or really, why should roads be repaired when they have been colonised by kidnappers and bandits and murderous suspected herdsmen, that have been said to be non-Nigerians?

Debilitation? Oh, I laughed when I read in The Guardian (of London) May 21st 2019:  “Lots of bad ideas become popular, but the failure of mainstream politicians to demolish a truly appalling (Brexit prospectus) reflects intellectual debilitation and cowardice on an epic scale. The paper referred to British politicians. It should have saved the admonition for Nigerian politicians, public commentators and columnists. They have buried their heads in the sand.

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