Part of my schedule this week was that I wanted to render a blow-by-blow account of the now-famous Oghara debacle with the Nigerian Navy. But that would have to wait for another day. Reason is that these days, events take place at the speed of light to the extent that if you’re not up to speed with the lights around you, you get left in a quagmire. Therefore this week, I want to discuss a topic which has brought me direct glares from people who I know are more enlightened and more informed than I am. Since that experience, (the one which brought me those baleful glares and which left a very queasy feeling in my tummy), I still cannot get that Ibiwe Road in Benin City which looks like one constructed during the glorious reign of Oba Ovonramwen out of my mind. Recall that last week, I had said that most roads in Benin City still retained the stature and pedigree of roads constructed in the 18th Century. Since that experience, I’ve been hoping for some kind of epiphany, and to believe that somehow, the poverty of the mind which I described last week as prevalent at the highest levels of the social intercourse and engagement exists in my mind and not to anyone else’s.
That epiphany came in the form of a journey to a quaint little town known as Uzeba in Owan local government area of Edo. On this journey to Uzeba, I saw first-hand the politics and petty prejudices which influence decisions and indecisions that go into the construction of these roads. On a good day, with the weather fair and fine, a traveller should get to Uzeba from Benin in an hour or two. But that was not to be folks. All the way from the Airport road, and as you meander right through from Akpakpava Road to Ikpoba Hill en-route to Auchi or Ekpoma, you get a feel that there is actually governance in place.
But the nightmare starts from the road leading to Auchi, which I learnt is a ‘Federal Road’, having nothing to do with a ‘state Road’ or the chap presiding over the state. The story is that that dead road could not have been constructed – no way – especially with a president in party A and a governor in party B. Therefore, we slithered, squirmed and twisted on our seats from Benin to the outskirts of Auchi, only to turn right back because at some point the road became impassable outright. Therefore, a journey that should have taken two to three hours max took good five hours out of my life. That was not all that certain nasty culverts in Benin and the GRA in particular have taken from me. Even as we managed to make a detour and sneak into Uzeba via Ekpoma, there was really no difference between the so-called impassable Federal roads and the potholes and gullies and crevices known as roads in Edo State.
I know what roads are. I know the real meaning of a road. When I see a road, I do not see the asphalt or the granite and the tar. A road is a platform upon which we undertake our life’s journeys. For some people, their roads may be smooth and their vehicles sleek. Others find they are on roads of life filled with potholes and gullies. God help you, whoever you are, and however sleek your car is, if you drive on a road as mangled as some of the roads in Benin City. I love roads and I love them to be sleek and healthy. Roads remind me every so often of my own journey through life on roads that have not been as sleek as I have wanted them.
But as I stepped out of my house that morning before I hit the sleek airport road, I was first confronted by the massive gullies which have no right to still exist in this millennium. Asking around, very knowledgeable people have made it clear to me that governments hardly build roads where the common people live. The argument is that if you construct roads where the voters live and do not concentrate on those in the central business districts – just like those along the airport road in Benin City which connects Mission, Sokponba, Sapele, Roads in Benin – you’d stand a good chance deceiving visitors and ‘investors’ that you’d been doing a terrific job. What makes that kind of thinking really tragic is that roads where voters live, and where they conduct their businesses, and where they embark on the journeys to polling booths to vote, are the ones which have been neglected over the years.
It is a shame. And yet the greater shame is in the apology often offered by Edolites worst affected by the rugged road terrain in Edo state. They often say that Mr. Governor has ‘tried’. That one of his predecessors hardly ‘tried’. I agree – Mr. Governor has fixed some parts of the local library, renovated roofs of primary schools in Edo and provided a cheap transport system. I hear political opponents don’t get harassed as well. But the roads where we live are a no-no. I have lost a lot because of the poor roads in Benin and anybody who has gained should speak up. Let’s always compare failure with failure and a success with a success, not the other way round.
Etemiku, a development specialist and environment journalist writes from Benin City through @DsighRobert