The Insight by Lateef Adewole
For several months now, this topic has germinated in my mind. While I kept ruminating over it and thinking of how best to put my thoughts across, which I believe resonates with millions of other Lagosians, I was secretly hoping and praying that a “miracle” will happen, and the problems will be solved. Then, we can let the sleeping dog lies. Alas! it is not so. It never happened!
Like the Yorubas will say: “kaka k’ewe agbon de, lile loun leesi” which loosely translates to ‘Rather than for the situation to get better, it is getting worse’. It has reached an unprecedented level that the main talk in town now is “no roads in Lagos”. There is even a joke going round that if a doctor prescribes that a patient shakes his drug very well before using it, that all the patient needs to do is to take the drug, travel in a car on Lagos roads and viam! All the drug will be more than shaken in his tummy, from the “jagajaga” of the bad roads.
As a resident in Lagos and as critical as Lagos is to many Nigerians and Nigeria, being the commercial nerve centre of the country, this Lagos unmotorable roads and their attendant pains and agonies, make them become my focus. I am a “victim” myself. Even if someone does not live in Lagos, such person must depend on things/goods coming from Lagos. The petroleum depots, Apapa wharf, and many manufacturing companies are all in Lagos. And their goods are transported by trucking on roads.
However, a battle ensued in my mind as to what to call the title of this article. This was consequent upon the comment attributed to our “star boy”, the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola (SAN), when he addressed state house press corps last week. He was quoted to have said that Nigerians are “exaggerating” the terrible state of our roads across the country. This broke the internet for some days. People were so infuriated with him.
Many transferred all the aggression and pains they have been carrying due to the suffering from bad roads across the country to him. He has since tried to correct what people said. He claimed to have been quoted out of context. His precise words from the press conference were: “..because, it is not as bad as sometimes we portray…”. What difference is this from the word “exaggerate” still confuses me. But then, I remember that Mr. Fashola is a “lawyer”, though found himself in “engineering works”.
I began to reconsider making the title: “Nigerian roads to hell fire”. This was to capture the situation of our roads across the country, beyond Lagos, particularly the federal government and interstate roads. Many of them are now death traps. Many have become impassable. Travellers now go through “hell” to commute from one place to another.
While I might have meant “hell fire” literally in the first place, I later felt it could mean the real thing actually. If anyone dies as a result of these dilapidated roads, such a person could actually go to “hell fire” if he or she is a “sinner” (according to the Islam and Christianity). Afterall, we are a overtly “religious” people.
However, the horrors, agonies and pains that people go through on these roads are extreme. Travelling from one city to another and within some cities are now like suicide missions. Lagos takes the lead in this. And that informed my decision to settle for this title. It is high time we talked about what Lagosians are going through for many months now. It is becoming life threatening due to the attendant stress.
The statement from Mr. Fashola has prompted a Non-Governmental Organisation, to write officially to him, requesting that he be on an all expenses paid tour of Nigerian roads across the country. An acknowledgement copy of that letter is in circulation. We are yet to get the response of Mr. Fashola. But given who our political leaders are, it will be a pleasant surprise if he agrees. Our fingers are crossed.
These bad roads have led to increase in the criminal activities along major roads, since they provide opportunities for criminals to attack passengers while slowing down because of the bad roads. Armed robbery and kidnappings are made easier.
Shamelessly too, many government agencies choose these bad portions of the roads as their “stop and extort” points, since motorists must be forced to slow down. Imagine the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) officials or Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) stopping vehicles on these bad portions and still have the temerity to ask vehicle owners for the road worthiness certificate of their vehicles. Isn’t that a shame? Are these roads cars-worthy in the first place? It is even the government who is supposed to be paying road users for the damages the roads are doing to their vehicles. We should begin to ask for car-worthiness certificates of our roads from these government officials. Rubbish!
On this year’s independence day, the Covenant Christian Center organised a public lecture programme; The Platform. The governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu was a guest. At the panel session where he has to answer questions, the convener, Pastor Poju Oyemade, with great diplomacy and subtleness, could not but ask about the terrible conditions of Lagos roads. He could not say it exactly as the people asked. Many Lagosians do query if we have a governor or government currently in Lagos.
Mr. Governor’s response was that they were waiting for the rain to stop before they begin to work on the roads. That looked disingenuous. That was about 47 days ago. It is non-reassuring for millions of Lagosians who go through hell daily, in the course of their day to day activities. The situation has worsened. In Lagos today, the extent of dilapidation of the roads are unimaginable. It is becoming unbearable.
Ordinarily, the problem of congestion which has become perennial as a result of overpopulation of Lagos is enough to battle with. Joining this road menace to it… “na die o”. Distances that normally should take less than an hour to travel, now take several hours as high as 4 to 5 hours or even more. I personally go through this regularly. So, I am writing from personal experiences. It is no longer funny at all.
Many people now leave their homes for work (especially those who live on the mainland but work on the highland) as early as 4am in the morning, just to be at their desks before 8am. They still get to their homes late in the night (9 to 10 pm or later), after closing around 5pm. There are occasions when it could get to midnight or early hours of the following day. Why won’t lifespans be shortened? These are apart from the monumental cost of repairs on our vehicles, almost on weekly basis. I know how much I have spent repairing my car this year alone. Huge!
Such comment attributed to Mr. Fashola can only be seen in the light of the aloofness of our political leaders from the realities on ground. Can anyone blame them? When many of them hardly travel by road, except where there is no airport. No wonder every state governor is making effort to build their own airport, even Osun State, at the height of its indebtedness, and owing several months of workers salaries. What an aberration.
Even on short distances within town, they sometimes use choppers to ferry them. When President Buhari came to Lagos in 2018, to commission some of former Governor Ambode’s projects, he was carried by chopper from Ikeja to Badagry. How would he have known what people in that axis, who have been crying for help for many years now, go through everyday? That was representative of Nigerian political leadership.
We can recollect the speed with which the Abuja runway was fixed when the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja, was closed, since it affected them directly. It was unprecedented record time. And since they were forced to travel through Abuja-Kaduna road too, for them to fly from Kaduna airport, that expressway was fixed immediately and security deployed throughout the length of it. That is the hypocrisy of our leaders.
I believe that Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu later realised his error of judgement about waiting for the rain to stop, which is not prepared to do so for now, because, he later declared emergency on road repairs. There is now an “operation tackle the potholes” on Lagos roads. Efforts are now being geared towards fixing the roads. An agreement has also been reached between Lagos and Ogun states to collaborate in fixing all adjoining roads that link the two states. How fast and how far that will be done remain to be seen. We are still seriously suffering from the bad roads.
We also acknowledge the efforts of the current administration in improving the state of our infrastructures like roads, rails, airports, etc. But that does not give the minister of works the audacity to tell Nigerians that they are exaggerating or whatever. It is he who wears the shoes that knows where they pinch most. He does not travel on these roads daily. Rather, he should focus on putting more efforts at fixing these damaged roads.
People have even suggested that all government officials, elected, appointed or civil servants, should be banned from travelling by air around the country. It was deduced that, if such is done, we will all see how all our roads will “magically” turned smooth, devoid of potholes and craters. The whole highways will also become very safe. Just like that time Abuja airport was closed. But who will make such law and who will enforce it? The same people who will be affected? Impossicant! That will never happen.
While we understand the constraints that rainfall constitutes to construction works, but with these unending rain as we are having this year, it will be like waiting in vain, if the Lagos state government or federal government or any state government for that matter, decide to do so.
The tragedies associated with the current state of our roads are too enormous. Massive wasted man-hours, health challenges due to stress, financial implications in this economically trying times, negative implications on economic activities (businesses are suffering as a result), risks of insecurities, accidents, and even deaths. These are unquantifiable. Something needs to be done about the roads very quickly. Enough is enough!
God Bless Nigeria.