OPINION: Buhari, Fashola’s legacy of killer highways

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On a fateful Friday, 28th of July 2023, a heavy blanket of sorrow enveloped the entire population of Eket Council in Akwa Ibom State. A burial was taking place at the Eket Stadium. But this was no routine funeral. It was a state burial, a mass interment of 13 indigenes, including a baby, killed on a journey.

THE EKET 13

Their Salvation Army-branded bus, “AKWA IBOM-KET-779AV,” travelling back from a church conference trip to Lagos, had joined the long queue of vehicles traversing the bad portion at the Ovia-River Bridge along the Ore-Benin Expressway that Thursday 29th of June. That spot had become notorious for accidents –whole families had been wiped out there; carcases of all makes and shapes and sizes of vehicles even now lie around there perished forever. Yet the cause of the accident was nothing a little effort could not fix. All it would take to patch that blood-sucking spot would be no more than two tipper loads of coal-tar. But day after day, vehicles are forced to queue up there in a snarling traffic jam, to navigate the potholed portion at snail-speed. That queue could drag for one whole hour.

Several days on which the road thirsts for blood, one careless heavy-duty driver would forget the routine, fly into the place at top speed and slam into queuing vehicles, spilling blood, death, cries and anguish.

Those homebound Salvation Army from Eket were killed, 13 of them. Of the returning church members, four missed death –a man and his wife and two others. The couple, who sat in front, had fortuitously taken the opportunity of the slowdown to climb out of the vehicle to ease themselves. Backs turned to their bus, they heard the deafening bang. They raced back only to behold the mangled, broken bodies of their brethren trapped in the bus underneath a heavy-duty trailer. Everybody in Eket knew everybody who died. The whole town mourned. One family lost four. Governor Udom Emmanuel turned up for the funeral at the Eket Stadium. He wept openly.

Neither Governor Emmanuel nor Eket’s Salvation Army mourners would be the first or the last to weep over the blood spilled unnecessarily at that killer spot of Ovia Bridge. Yet it would cost less than N20 million of an inflated contract to fix the bad portion. Even the FERMA or PWD arm of the Ministry of Works would make the repairs in less than 48 hours. On the day the Salvation Army travellers were killed, Lagos State’s former Governor Babatunde Fashola was Minister of Works and Housing.

WHERE DID THE TRILLIONS GO?

The girls of “YOUR VIEW,” the breakfast show at TVC just love, love, love Fashola. The ladies of the flagship breakfast programme of the Lagos-based TV station once had a show where they wondered aloud when Fashola would receive his call-up to continue his “meritorious service” with current President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. But truth is that after his eight-year stint as a “super” Minister under President Muhammadu Buhari, the SAN’s report card shows that, just as he did in Power and Housing, he ended up performing woefully in handling the roads construction portfolio at the Ministry of Works. What can this Senior Advocate boast of after eight years as Buhari’s Works Minister?

In September 2022, Information Minister Lai Mohammed informed that the Ministry of Works had constructed 8,352 kilometres of roads, rehabilitated 7,936 kilometres more, constructed 299 bridges, and maintained 312 bridges more. They reportedly spent some N1.584 trillion for Works and Housing in six years of Buhari’s government, between 2016 and 2021.

Can they point out the 8,300 kilometres of done roads? Where did all those trillions go? Today Northerners complain of bad roads. Southerners complain too. Where are the roads?

Even the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project the Buhari regime inherited from President Goodluck Jonathan, who inherited it from President Umar Yar’Adua, who inherited it from President Olusegun Obasanjo, remained unfinished till the tenure of Fashola expired. That road is just 128 kilometres. It remains Nigeria’s most important road, connecting the nation’s commercial capital and ports to everywhere upcountry! Eight years of Fashola left it a half-baked work-in-progress.

ALL ROADS LEADING TO LAGOS

However, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is not the only project in which overrated Fashola fell short. The man simply refused to avert his mind to the inlets into the state he once governed. Lagos-Abeokuta remains a death-trap that only those with a “death wish” dare to traverse. Articulated vehicles routinely crash on that hell highway virtually every day, spilling all their goods, several valued at millions of dollars.

Except that Dangote took over the road from Apapa Port and Tin-Can Port in Lagos, that axis would still have remained a forbidden zone. Even then, it remains unfinished. The less than 20 kilometres between Oshodi and Apapa Port is an international route. When the government failed to maintain the road, Dangote took it over for concrete matting. Today, it remains unfinished and has become a second home to drivers and motor-boys, whose tankers, trailers, haulage and articulated vehicles line up to access and exit the Apapa Port. They spend months per trip. They keep crawling on that impossible queue to access the ports and then spend an equal duration to exit.

Not less daunting is the nightmare of plying both the Badagry-Seme road or the Ijoko-Otta road to connect our next-door neighbour, Benin Republic. All these border roads constitute a disgrace. Imagine the disgust other West African citizens must feel when they come visiting, when their own countries boast of expansive autobahns. What then is the whole hype about Nigeria being Giant of Africa?.

READ ALSO:OPINION: ‘They don’t really care about us’

ALL ROADS LEADING TO ABUJA, EAST AND NORTH

Equally, all roads leading into the Federal Capital Territory Abuja suffer the same fate: The one from Kaduna. The one through Lokoja. The one from Suleja. The one from Jos and Keffi. Under Fashola, the Abuja-Kaduna road remained a write-off. Apart from the insecurity, the deterioration of the road caused travellers to massively embrace the train.

As I put together this piece, a video clip went into circulation, telling the same story of woe about the Nsukka-9th-Mile Enugu-Ngwo Expressway that connects the South-East to Benue and the North.

The Ibadan-Ilorin highway remains bad even after an expenditure of N23 billion.

The entire East-West-East route lies totally tattered and ruined!

The Benin Bypass remains a hellhole. Trailers and tankers perpetually park thickly on both sides. At that bypass, vehicles end up spending up to two and more hours to hip-hop through what should be a short 15-minute drive.

Similar fate befalls the Benin-Sapele road connecting Edo State to Delta State, ditto the highways from Delta to Rivers, to Akwa Ibom to Cross River.

Going to Abuja from the South-South remains a nightmare. Benin, through Ekpoma, Irrua, Auchi and Okpella in Edo State to Okene to Lokoja in Kogi State en route Abuja comfortably competes with the Hammer House of Horror. On the Benin-Auchi axis, smaller vehicles pass through inner roads of villages to escape the horror of heavy articulated vehicles that have languished on those evil spots for months.

That route new Works Minister Dave Umahi travelled recently and spent 12 hours for a five-hour trip, with all his blaring sirens, gun-toting MOPOL and daredevil soldiers.

In traversing the harrowing Yola-Maiduguri road, like several Nigerian roads, you would be funnelled into driving one-way, facing oncoming traffic, terrible go-slows and ACCIDENTS!

This writing did not set out to catalogue Nigeria’s deplorable roads, but mention needs to be made of notorious nightmare routes in the North like: Kano-Kaduna Road, Kano-Maiduguri Road, Kano to Hadjia in Jigawa State, Kano-Katsina Road, Yobe State’s 50-kilometre Damaturu-Tarmuwa road and Nangere-Jakusko roads, Maiduguri-Damaturu Road that leads to other states and the Bama Road.

Drivers also dread the Gombe-Biu Road, the Bauchi-Gombe Road that regularly claims the lives of commuters and motorists, and the Kaduna-Saminaka Road that links Jos, the Plateau State capital.

Can any insurance cover the wear and tear, man-hour loss and stress that man and machine suffer on Nigeria’s killer roads? Terrible roads have turned Nigeria into the graveyard of vehicles from all over the world. Cars used in this country lack second-hand value anywhere else. Have you ever heard of Nigeria exporting fairly-used vehicles to even “poorer” neighbours like Benin Republic or Cameroon?

Just when we thought Fashola and Buhari could salvage their tattered roads records with the completed Second Niger-Bridge, suddenly, the country woke up to hear the shocking news that N260 billion would be needed to make that bridge usable. This is a bridge that they did not start but ONLY completed.

DEMYSTIFIED

Pray what did Fashola and Buhari spend eight years and several trillions doing in the country’s roads sector?

The question begs for answers. However, like it did Buhari, the last regime clearly demystified Fashola. As former Works Minister, Fashola unfortunately will only be remembered by his legacy of killer roads. That is the testimony of passengers, goods and drivers wasting their days sleeping on bad roads North, South, East and West Nigeria.

That is the testimony as well from those 13 tombstones of the Salvation Army travellers in Eket, Akwa Ibom State, and from all those other unknown souls cut short in needless road accidents nationwide. Those deaths stand as epitaphs to that ingloriously disastrous era of Fashola as Works Minister.

By Felix Oboagwina

OBOAGWINA IS AN AUTHOR, JOURNALIST AND PUBLISHER,

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