When was the last time you drove for five kilometres on a good road in Nigeria? For me, I cannot remember, especially the so-called Federal roads. It seems as of now that all the Federal roads in the South-West are under re-construction or under re-consideration. I think it is time we end the charade and allow each state to take care of the roads within its jurisdiction.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Ife-Ibadan road was so good that Oyo State government had to set up the first Road Safety Corps in Nigeria mostly to control speed on that road. Chairman of the corps was the legendary Mr Wole Soyinka who also made it his duty to go on patrol. The corps marshals were discipline, firm, polite and almost incorruptible. They still are; an exceptional oasis on the Nigerian scene. Denizens of Ibadan quickly named the corps marshals, maja maja (dog catchers)!
That was the era of bursary awards and students lived like royalty on our university campuses. At the then University of Ife, re-named Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU. Those students who wanted to show class formed the Dare-Devil Club of motorcycle riders. Their field of play was the Ife-Ibadan Road which was then the best road in Nigeria. They always competed to see who would get to Ibadan within 30 minutes. Some of them, to prove a point, would take a cone of ice-cream along and boast that it would not even melt before they got to Ibadan. Mr Ojetunji Aboyade, our Vice-Chancellor, banned the club after some students died in fatal accidents.
The Ife-Ibadan road is still there only that you are not sure whether it is still macadamized. Government of Western Region under Mr Ladoke Akintola, started the project in the late 1960s and it was completed shortly after the Civil War by the regime of Mr Adeyinka Adebayo. It passes through Ile-Ife, to Ondo city and then Ore. In those days before the completion of the Sagamu-Ore Road, travelers from the East coming to Lagos would pass through Ore to Ondo, Ile-Ife, Ibadan, Ijebu-Ode, Sagamu, Ikorodu and then Lagos. Things are better now but the roads are worse.
The Ibadan-Ile-Ife-Ondo-Ore Road was constructed by an Israeli Company called Sonel Bonel. They were said to have given the government a guarantee of 20 years before the road would need any major repair. The road was also supposed to have a lifespan of 100 years. If the truth must be told, those roads are dead; killed by negligence and reckless indifference. Now our country is broke, the Federal government is bloated like a bread soak in water and the states have been reduced to beggary.
If you look at the lifestyle of our leaders you have the untrue impression that the party is still roaring. Our President lives in Aso Rock Villa, one of the biggest and most elaborate presidential palaces in the world. Our governors live like King Louis IV of old France before the revolution. Next year, the federal government has appropriated N125 billion for the National Assembly in the 2020 budget, bigger than the annual budgets of many African countries who have to fund their education, navy, air force, army, roads, health and all the responsibilities of a modern state. Yet there are only 469 members of the National Assembly and they are to have more money than the power sector for which N27 billion is appropriated.
Luckily for us, our law makers too occasionally drive on our roads. They need to drive through the Ado-Ekiti-Ilu Omooba Road in Ekiti State. This is the road that leads to the famous Afe Babalola University, Ado-Ekiti, Federal Polytechnics and many towns in Gboyin Local Government council including Imesi and Aisegba. Last week, Ureje River flooded its bank and threatened to carry away the old bridge near Abuad which is more than 60 years old. Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, who had visited other disaster areas in the state capital, drove to the place to see things for himself. He ordered his engineers and other workers to site and they gave the bridge some emergency bandages and other relief.
On Tuesday, the rain fell again with a vengeance and the bridge was further threatened. Unless something immediate is done, no one can confidently predict that the bridge would survive this angry raining season. Of course, the Ado-Ilu-Omooba Road is a Federal Road. So are the collapsing Omuo-Ado Road and the roads from Ita-Awure, Akure and other entry points to Ekiti State that are considered as Federal roads. No one is sure when and if the Federal government of President Muhammadu Buhari would remember that it has some roads to mend in Ekiti. The most important road in the South-West is the Lagos-Ibadan Express road. It has been under repair since 2000. Next year, that road would mark its 20th anniversary of being in the hospital. Yet the ailment persist and no one is sure when the job will be completed, though the job is ongoing with impressive meticulousness. The original road was started by the regime of Mr Yakubu Gowon in 1972 and was completed in 1978, a period of six years. It was officially declared opened by Mr Shehu Musa Yar’Adua, Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters in the military regime of Mr Olusegun Obasanjo.
There is a need to review the process of infrastructural development for our country. Up till now, Federal Government has not been able to complete Abuja-Lokoja-Akure super-highway. It is struggling with the railway. It is struggling with electricity. It is struggling with the airports. The federal government has taken in so much that it is now suffering from indigestion.
I suggest it is time regional groupings take over regional roads, electricity, railways, airports and critical infrastructures. The current system is not working. Let the governments of the South-West take over their roads and maintain them. Up till today, the old road from Ijebu-Ode to Ile-Ife envisaged by the government of the old Western State has never been constructed because it does not fit into the federal plan. It is time the governors wake up and stop acting as if they are totally helpless. They are not.
There are positive implications of having a regional body to take over our roads. One is that we would know whom to blame and hold responsible. The road between Ikorodu and Sagamu has been under construction for generations. Ditto the road between Otta and Abeokuta and the road between Ibadan, Iwo and Osogbo. These roads were once constructed, but they were neglected until they became very bad.
We not only need to take over our regional roads, we need to institute the old regime of quality control. In the past, roads were said to have lifespan. Now, most governments are making abiku roads, meant to last only one season. In 2005, President Olusegun Obasanjo visited Ekiti to commission the road between Aramoko and Erinjiyan constructed by the government of Governor Ayodele Fayose. Few years later, the road disappeared. We don’t know whom to hold responsible for such disaster.
Our leaders should also consciously promote local contractors who could be involved in great projects. The late Mr T.A. Oni, founder of T.A Oni and Sons Construction Company, was a giant duly promoted, not just by the colonial government but also the regional governments of Awolowo and his successor, Akintola. Today, all the big construction projects in Nigeria, all our airports, our roads and other projects, are handled mostly by Europeans, Americans and Chinese. This is shameful.
It is said that many of our contractors are unreliable. But we must allow them to crawl before they can walk. During the Second Republic, Governor Lateef Jakande of Lagos was campaigning in a rural area around Ikorodu. After his speech, the local leader complained to him that the road leading to another part of the community had not been completed. Jakande was surprised for the road had been completed on paper. He summoned one of the leaders attending the rally to climb the rostum.“This is your leader we gave the contract,” Jakande announced. He turned to the contractor: “Baba, when are you completing the road?”
The road was completed in no time. We need to know whom to hold responsible for our plight.